Expectations are sky high for Jay Cutler heading into the season. However, doubts linger about the Chicago Bears defense. Is it 2008 all over again for him?
Denver Broncos collapse in ’08 ranks among the most devastating ever
It looked like everything was looking up for the Denver Broncos in 2008. After a three-year absence from the playoffs they seemed back on track. Sitting at 8-5 with three games left, they needed only one win to officially take the division title over the San Diego Chargers who were fighting desperately just to stay alive. What followed is viewed by many as one of the greatest collapses in recent NFL history. Denver would end up losing every game down that stretch, including one at home against a Buffalo Bills team that had already lost three-straight themselves on the way to a 7-9 record. Spurring it all on was a toothless defense that allowed back-to-back games of 30 points before coming apart completely in the season finale when the Chargers hung 52 on them. Ugly isn’t a strong enough word to describe the memory.
Marc Trestman trying to avoid same fate and Mike Shanahan
The thing of it was that in the midst of that disaster, Jay Cutler was having the best season of his career. Aided by Brandon Marshall, he finished with over 4,500 passing yards, 200 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. It was good enough to get him into the Pro Bowl, but not good enough to save the job of his head coach, Mike Shanahan. Denver fired the man who won them two Super Bowls after what happened that season. It started a chain reaction that resulted in Josh McDaniels coming in, trying to secure the services of Matt Cassel and an indignant Cutler retaliating by forcing the Broncos to trade him to Chicago. It is certainly a situation that head coach Marc Trestman wants to avoid. The question is are the Bears in danger of fielding a similar type of team?
The Bad News
Similarities between the two are hard to ignore. Denver had an atrocious defense that season, finishing 29th overall, 30th in points allowed and 27th against the run. Chicago is coming off a season in which they were 30th overall and dead last against the run. The Broncos managed to post just 25 total sacks on opposing quarterbacks. The Bears had 31 last season. To top it all off, they had one of the worst special teams units in the league too. Chicago is dead last so far this preseason.
The Good News
Fortunately, things may not be as bad as they look. For all the eerie similarities the two teams share, there are some marked differences as well, differences that could prove vital in the success of Chicago. First of all, the ’08 Broncos were not a good running team at all. Their leading rusher was Peyton Hillis who finished with just 343 yards and five touchdowns. Conversely, the Bears have Matt Forte who ran for 1,339 last season and has never had fewer than 929 in his career. Never mind his value as a receiver as well.
There is the prospect of a deeper receiving corps for Jay Cutler. Aside from Brandon Marshall, the Broncos second best pass target was Eddie Royal who finished that year with 980 yards. Last season, Marshall was actually the second best receiver on the team as Alshon Jeffery outdistanced him with over 1,400 yards. Tight end Martellus Bennett also beat out Denver’s Tony Scheffler at 759 yards to 645. So offensively the Bears are better off than the Broncos were, barring injury of course.
The even better news is things may not be as bad defensively. Thanks to a series of free agent moves, Chicago has assembled a defensive line that collectively had 23.5 sacks last season by themselves. As stated above, Denver had 25 total as a team for the entire season. In other words, the Bears should have a stronger pass rush.
The keys will be in the turnovers and the tackling. Led by Pro Bowlers Dre’ Bly and Champ Bailey, the Broncos still only managed six interceptions in 2008. A note to remember with is that neither starting safety had one. Then there’s the tackling. Not being able to wrap up was the primary theme in Denver being so bad defending the run. Their leading tackler had just 74 that season. Prospects for the Bears linebackers and safeties are also murky.
If 2008 proved anything, it’s that Jay Cutler has no problem leading an offensively potent attack. He just has to hope that the defense can make more impact plays than they did for him six years ago. Otherwise both teams could end up the same after all: 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
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