What Went Wrong, and Where To Go From Here
First, while my score prediction was half wrong, my analysis was generally correct, and since the Bears only executed on one of the three points, they lose.
The Colts executed on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They were the better team. Period. The Bears had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, and if not for a couple of key interceptions, may have been able to win this game. The line between champion and also-ran is usually very thin.
So for 2007 and beyond, the Bears need to look at some things this off-season. My take, in no particular order …
(1) Offensive line is getting old, especially at tackle position, and they are unable to block for the running game against good, fast run defenses. They should draft young talent here, or sign good young free agents, and develop them as backups for now, with the ability to step in as spot starter, and eventually become the starter. This is almost an annual requirement.
(2) Depth at safety. Mike Brown is a great player, actually the most important player on the run defense, but he has missed large portions of multiple seasons. If the Bears want to stay with the Cover-2, and the speedy linebackers, they need someone like Brown as their safety, but they also need more depth at the position. Improve the backup players. The other safety is the rookie Daniel Manning, who has shown promise but made typical rookie mistakes, including one in the Super Bowl that led to the first Colts touchdown.
(3) Grossman needs to become more mobile, and continue to improve. His key weaknesses today are lack of mobility, and decision making under pressure. His upside is strong, though, and he can go vertical with a speedy receiver, and his players believe in him. He is basically where you would expect a good young quarterback to be after starting ~24 games, all the whining in the media to the contrary. Show me the list of quarterbacks who even went to a Super Bowl at such a point in their careers, or who demonstrated impeccable decision making. After his second full season of being the starter, his status should be revisisted. Not before.
(4) Lance Briggs is up for free agency, unless the Bears tag him as a franchise player. He is probably worth that tag. Sign him.
(5) Defensive line is good, but must be great in the Cover-2. Mark Anderson should be allowed to compete in training camp for a starting job against Alex Brown and Ogunleye (maybe that was already the plan). Tackle position is strong with Harris in, but without him, is only above average, and does not produce enough pressure up the middle on the pass rush. If it isn’t possible to improve here, must re-evaluate use of the Cover-2.
Other than that, much of what they have is a very good nucleus. Special teams are uniformly excellent, probably the best overall in the NFL. The offense shows signs of dominance and able to win games all by itself, by outscoring teams, with three quality backs in the two “starters” Jones and Benson, plus Adrian Peterson, and receivers and tight ends who can do all the important things well, like catching and blocking. Yards After Catch could probably use some improvement, though, and one wonders what Devin Hester could do with a screen pass. And, Mark Bradley has missed large pieces of the last two seasons, but he can be a game changer when he does play. Berrian is fine. Muhammad is getting older. The O-line is above average to very good, on both pass defense and run defense, but is exposed by extremely quick defenses like the Colts.
On defense, linebackers are strong, and cornerbacks are young and good, so can be expected to improve. They need more pressure from the D-line, especially up the middle, and need to improve their run defense. Tackling is sometimes suspect, and needs work.
Coaching is good, and the Bears need to sign Lovie Smith to a nice contract that doesn’t say “we love you, but …”.
GM Jerry Angelo must continue to be smart with draft picks and player evaluation.
So all in all, this team is well-positioned to be very good for a few years, and with some smart drafting and keeping current key players, could string that out even further. Especially in a weak NFC. But if they want to win Super Bowls, they can’t have the weaknesses they had this year, most of which can only be fixed with better depth. Rosters need to be strong top to bottom on championship teams.
With better depth, they win the Super Bowl this year, even with Rex Grossman playing the way he did. The defense at full strength, with both Brown and Harris, was nearly impossible to score on early in the season, because the two of them vastly improved both the run and pass defense, and both are playmakers. It would have been very interesting to see the Colts O-line and Manning trying to “hold” them back. 🙂