The team's week 17 loss to division foe Green Bay, 10-3 at Lambeau Field, may have been the result of having no motivation (already clinched division) and facing a team battling for a playoff spot.
Quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns for the fourth consecutive season, and while at it he saw his interception total drop from 26 in '09 down to 16. A significant change indeed.
Despite a much improved Cutler and an increased run game led by Matt Forte's 1,069 yards and six touchdowns, Chicago's offense dropped from 23rd overall the year before, to 30th this past season. That's why it was so crucial that head coach Lovie Smith and the Bears' organization revamp the defense.
They did just that over the offseason, adding top tier pass rusher Julius Peppers and promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator. Overall, the Bears' defense went from 17th overall to cracking the top 10 at No. 9 this past season. They allowed just 286 points in 16 games, good enough for fourth in the league.
With a revitalized Brian Urlacher leading the pack, Chicago allowed less than 20 points on 10 different occasions. If the Bears were losing, it was because of a lack of offensive production on Cutler's part. Going 6-2 on the road surely helped the cause, as well.
Beating out the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers for the division title was quite a feat on Chicago's part, but with Cutler's leadership skills and toughness being questioned after his actions in the Bears' conference championship loss to those same Packers, will Chicago still be able to get things together and repeat as division champs?
When you look at the whole picture, I think it's a simple no. I believe they have the ability to return to the playoffs if Forte can get himself together. The offensive line has huge question marks as well, and will certainly need to be addressed through the draft this April. Allowing a league-high 52 sacks of Cutler surely made a difference in how the season played out.
Improving the offensive line and adding a formidable weapon or two to add to Cutler's arsenal should be Chicago's main concern in the draft. As for the defense, replacing defensive tackle Tommie Harris (released earlier today) seems to be the only troubling thing I can see, other than adding another cornerback. If Brian Urlacher remains in health I think the Chicago defense will be okay.
At this point, Chicago's chances at repeating seem very slim. Not because the improvements needed to be made wont be made, but simply because Green Bay is the team to beat. Any time a team wins the Super Bowl, they are automatically the team to beat the following season.
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers is just hitting his prime, and with most of his weapons likely to make a return in 2011, I think this Green Bay offense is as dangerous as ever. Not to mention the return of running back Ryan Grant. The emergence of James Starks and return of Grant is enough for Green Bay's run game to set up the play-action very nicely for Rodgers in 2011.
Move over, Chicago. Green Bay is back and ready for a fifth Lombardi trophy at Lambeau.
Jay Cutler: AP Photo/Klichiro Sato
Greg Olsen: Mike DiNovo/U.S. Presswire