By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Success for the Bears is likely to rest on Jay Cutler and the offense. When the Bears fired Lovie Smith and hired Marc Trestman, it was more than general manager Phil Emery bringing in “his guy.”
It was about the metamorphosis of the Bears from a defense-centered team to one that depends on consistent offensive production.
No argument with that change in philosophy. That is the only way to go. Rule changes and strategic advances have made it clear that even the best defensive teams can’t play the shut-down game anymore.
Playing good defense is about coming up with key stops and takeaways. If that type of defense is combined with a productive passing game, a team has a chance to win.
The old, conservative way – a ground-and-pound running attack and a ferocious defense – went out the window in 2001.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were the last dominant defense to rule the NFL. Head coach Brian Billick was one of the best offensive minds in the game. However, his mark as a head coach came with a defense that was probably one notch below the 1985 Bears.
Defense is still important, and that’s what the Bears often excelled in during the Smith era. But when he was shown the gate at the conclusion of the 2012 season, the Bears needed to come up with a new way to play defense.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is respected in the business, and he’s going to run something quite similar to the Cover-2 defense that was the dominant part of the gameplan during Smith’s regime.
Tucker should be running his own defense, and not the former head coach’s set-up. Brian Urlacher is gone, and he was the primary beneficiary of the Cover-2 throughout the majority of his career.
Trestman and Tucker still have DE Julius Peppers, 33, OLB Lance Briggs, 32, and CB Charles Tillman, 32, to anchor the defense, and perhaps the thought process was that it was not a good idea to change the defense with players who are established in their ways.
That’s not aggressive thinking. That’s asking players to remain in their comfort zone and not strive to be something more.
This is likely to hurt, especially when the Bears have to face the Bengals, Vikings, Steelers and Lions in their first four games.
Each of those teams presents a different type of challenge, and each one could expose the Bears defense. The Bengals could take over the AFC North from the Steelers and Ravens, thanks in large part to the accuracy of Andy Dalton and game-breaking ability of wide receiver A.J. Green. The Bears are going to have to put significant pressure on Dalton if they are going to hold the Bengals in check.
All the Bears have to worry about with the Vikings is Adrian Peterson, who nearly broke the all-time single-season rushing record last year and could accomplish that feat this year. If Briggs doesn’t overpower Minnesota blockers and stop Peterson in his tracks, the Bears are in trouble. The linebacking crew is not what it once was.
Going to Pittsburgh in Week 3 has all the earmarks of an old-fashioned slugfest, and perhaps these two teams will bring out historical tendencies. If that does not happen, it’s a matter of shutting down speedy WR Emmanuel Sanders and pounding Ben Roethlisberger. Sanders caught 44 passes last year, but head coach Mike Tomlin is expecting much more from him in 2013.
In the Bears’ Week 4 game at Detroit, the Lions should be at their best. There’s little reason to expect Reggie Bush to be a consistent and explosive player for all 16 games this season, but he should be peaking in Week 4. If he gives them the outside burst with the running game, Matthew Stafford is going to be a happy man. He will have a legitimate threat who can take pressure off of unstoppable wideout Calvin Johnson.
The Bears need excellent years from Corey Wootton, Shea McClellin and Stephen Paea on the defensive line. If they don’t, it won’t be enough to depend on their three defensive stars.
Tucker needs to have a Plan B ready if the old Plan A is no longer going to work for this team.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.