3

January

Big Changes Coming in 2012 for Packers’ Rivals to the South

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz resigned on Tuesday.

There may not be drastic personnel changes for the Chicago Bears in 2012, but two of the more recognizable faces in the team’s organization won’t be around next season.

On Tuesday, the Bears announced that both general manager Jerry Angelo and offensive coordinator Mike Martz will not be back with the team in 2012. Shane Day is also out as the team’s quarterbacks coach.

Head coach Lovie Smith will be retained for next season, however.

Angelo had just finished his 11th season as Bears’ GM, one that saw Chicago start 7-3 but nosedive to an 8-8 finish after both quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte were lost to season-ending injuries. Angelo did little to remedy the Bears’ situation at quarterback after Cutler went down, instead trusting in Caleb Hanie to get the Bears back into the playoffs for the second-straight year.

Hanie lost all four games he started and was later replaced by Josh McCown, who hadn’t started an NFL game since 2007. The Bears scored 21 or fewer points in each of their final six games of 2011.

Angelo’s failure to lock up Forte over the long term may have also factored into his firing. Forte, a free agent this summer, was unable to come to terms with Angelo over a new contract. The dispute turned public after Forte declined an offer during the 2011 preseason in the range of $13-14 million guaranteed and the entire matter was a lasting issue into the regular season.

News trickled out later that Martz, the Bears offensive coordinator over the last two seasons, had resigned from his position because of philosophical differences with the organization. Day, the Bears quarterback coach who was hired the same day as Martz, is also walking away.

Previously the mastermind behind the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, Martz often took criticism in Chicago for his handling of Cutler and the offense. Under Martz, the Bears offense never ranked higher than 17th in points scored or 22nd in total yards during the two years.

The Bears will begin the hunt to find replacements for each, but former Colts GM Bill Polian has been rumored for Angelo’s position and offensive line coach Mike Tice could be promoted to coordinator.

1

December

Around the NFC North: Bears Hanging in, Lions’ Attitude, Vikings Irrelevent

Caleb Hanie takes over for Jay Cutler in Chicago.

For a while, it looked like the NFC North might send the Packers, Bears and Lions to the playoffs. There’s a chance that still could happen, but it’s a longshot. With the Packers cruising, the Bears and Lions have some work to do if they want to grab a wild card slot.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are holding down the bottom of the division while trying to get a new stadium.

It’s time for a trip around the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

Remaining schedule: Chiefs, at Broncos, Seahawks, at Packers, at Vikings.

Biggest issue: Making adjustments. Jay Cutler is out for at least the rest of the regular season, leaving Caleb Hanie to try and lead the Bears to the playoffs.

Analysis: The challenge the Bears face is actually twofold: Is Hanie capable of taking the Bears to the playoffs and is offensive coordinator Mike Martz capable of adjusting his gameplan to maximize Hanie’s strengths and mask his weaknesses?

Hanie was bad last Sunday against the Raiders, but Martz’s gameplan was worse. You know how Mike McCarthy refuses to adjust his gameplan when an offensive lineman goes down, even if the backup lineman is struggling? Martz is the same way, only he is refusing to adjust to a backup quarterback. There’s a big difference between a backup offensive lineman and a backup quarterback.

The Bears have Matt Forte, a great defense and dangerous special teams. They’re more than capable of making the playoffs if Martz does a better job adjusting his offense to the reality of having a backup quarterback instead of Cutler.

Prediction: 10-6. Even if Martz keeps his head buried in the sand, the soft schedule and the aforementioned defense, special teams and Forte result in another playoff berth for the Bears.

Detroit Lions

Remaining schedule: at Saints, Vikings, at Raiders, Chargers, at Packers.

Biggest issue: Attitude. It’s not often you want a football team to relax a little bit, but head coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions need to chill out.

Analysis: When the Lions were rolling early this season, their swagger and bravado appeared to represent a new era of toughness in Motown. No longer were the Lions the doormat of the NFL.

25

September

Packers vs. Bears Preview: 5 Things to Watch

The Green Bay Packers (2-0) and Chicago Bears (1-1) face off in Week 3 of the NFL season.

The basics

When: 3:15 CDT, Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL

TV: FOX, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman with the call, Pam Oliver on the sidelines

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network

Series: Bears lead, 92-84-6. Packers won last regular season game, 10-3, in January 2010 at Lambeau Field. Bears hold 20-19 record at Solider Field.

Five things to watch

1. Containing Forte

In six career games against the Packers, Bears running back Matt Forte has only averaged a little over 20 touches per game. The Bears will need to go over that number on Sunday to win. Forte is the focal point of the Bears offense, but too many times the Bears have went away from him.  Mike Martz isn’t making that same mistake to start this season. After asking for a new contract before the season, Forte has looked like one of the more complete backs in the game through two weeks. He’s averaging 4.5 yards on 26 attempts, but Forte is doing his real damage as a receiver, where he’s caught a team-high 15 passes for 204 yards.  If the first two weeks are any indication, the Packers might have trouble containing him in that role. Of the 851 yards the Packers have allowed to opposing quarterbacks, running backs are responsible for 235 of those. With the kind of film the Packers’ defense have put out early this season, you’d have to think Martz spent this week looking for ways to get Forte the ball in space.

2. Missing a playmaker

For all the nicks and bruises Packers safety Nick Collins has endured over the years, he’s played in 95 of the 98 regular season games the team has played since 2005. After suffering a neck injury in the second half against the Panthers, Collins will now miss the Packers final 14 games. I think most are underestimating how big of injury this could potentially be. Yes, Charlie Peprah played over 900 snaps for the Packers last season. Yes, Morgan Burnett looks like he could be a playmaker. But you simply can’t replace a two-time All-Pro who has 18 picks over the past three seasons with a journey man backup or a guy who really is in his first year at the professional level after an ACL injury. Making matters worse is the fact that the Packers now have undrafted free agent M.D. Jennings, who was expected to be nothing more than a practice squad guy, as the primary backup to both Peprah and Burnett. What was a position of strength for the Packers now appears to be a place opposing offenses could go to attack.

23

September

2011 NFL Season Week 3: Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears Preview: Chicago Can Hardly Bear It!

Yes, it’s the first Bear Week for the 2011 season.  The chance to once again rub salt in the wounds of Bears fans whilst polishing the Lombardi Trophy at the same time.  Life could not be any better if you are a Cheesehead.

That said, let’s stop picking on the infidels and focus on the game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears this Sunday at poorly renovated Soldier Field.

The Packers enter this game 2-0 after surviving a much tougher than expected battle with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.  The win was costly however as Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins was lost for the season (and perhaps longer) with a neck injury.  Running back James Starks continued to make his case to be the Packers featured back and despite the loss of Collins, the defense once again held tough when it counted and cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted two of rookie quarterback Cam Newton’s passes.

The Bears face their archrivals with a record of 1-1 after being beaten down by the New Orleans Saints 30-13.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler once again was thrown around like a rag doll after being sacked five times behind a very leaky offensive line.   The Bears are also suffering a bought of injuries with tackler Gabe Carimi and wide receiver Earl Bennett missing practice time while receiver Roy Williams  and safety Chris Harris had limited participation this week.

Breaking down Da Bears

On offense, you have to start with their beleaguered field general.

Cutler has taken a merciless beating since January, both on and off the field.  After exiting the NFC Championship with a knee injury, many current and former players brought Cutler’s toughness into question and those questions lingered all through the lockout and into the preseason.   On the field, Cutler once again is falling prey to far too many sacks behind a wounded yet still poor offensive line.  The loss of Olin Kreutz in free agency to the Saints apparently did more damage to the team than originally thought.

On the bright side, running back Matt Forte is one of the best backs in the NFC and will provide the Packers defense a huge challenge.  Not only is he a strong runner, but Forte has proven to be lethal in the passing game particularly on screen routes.   Stopping Forte will be crucial to the Packers keeping the Bears out of the end zone on Sunday.