Good Bears need great Cutler
The good news is it looks like the Bears will score more points this year than they have in a long time.
The bad news is it looks like the Bears will give up more points this year than they have in a long time.
Welcome to your 2012 NFL season.
It's nothing new that you must possess an elite quarterback and a superb pass rush to win the Super Bowl, but what's become clear is that even flawed teams can now bring home the big prize with a great quarterback, top-notch pass rush and mediocre defense.
So where does that leave the Bears?
Probably in a pretty good place if you believe they can count on their pass rush, which is a question heading into the opener Sunday against the Colts and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
While it won't matter much in Game 1, the next contest arrives quickly a few days later against the Packers, and that's when the Bears and their defense will get their first big test of the season.
It's never been a secret that for the Lovie Smith defense to work, the Bears must get consistent pressure from their front four, but it's even more significant this year as everything behind the defensive line is up for grabs.
With Brian Urlacher fighting knee problems, there's no telling from game to game — or maybe play to play — what the Bears are going to get, and with their middle linebacker at less than Pro Bowl level it will put more pressure on his fellow linebackers and especially on the safeties behind him.
As for those safeties, good luck finding one solid player, let alone two, while their cornerback situation is only slightly better.
Charles Tillman is a genius at creating turnovers, but his coverage has never been great and he looked terrible during the preseason. That's no time to judge and maybe Tillman will be his usual self, but if he's not it makes a leaky secondary downright awful.
So it will be up to Julius Peppers, who's battling plantar fasciitis, to carry the defense and make certain the secondary doesn't have to be in coverage very long. It remains to be seen whether the Bears will find a consistent rush from anywhere else on the line.
But while the defense seems poised to finally show its age, the offense should be better than it's been in decades, and much of the improvement is due to the addition of Brandon Marshall and the subtraction of Mike Martz.
Marshall is so unbelievably good that he's going to make everyone around him better; a cliché often spouted by the Bears but on this rare occasion happens to be true.
Jay Cutler played the best football of his life last season after snatching the offense away from the maniacal Martz, and during that five-game winning streak before his thumb injury Cutler looked as good as almost any quarterback in football.
Now, we have to assume the offensive line will be fine because the head coach and GM promised us it would be while completely ignoring the line during the draft and free agency.
So with that grand assumption standing in front of him, Cutler should improve this season simply because the offense is not farcical and Marshall will get anything thrown his direction.
That immediately creates more space on the field for Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and anyone else the Bears throw out on offense.
The Bears' special teams are always among the best in football and if that's the case again the Bears should win a lot of games, probably double digits, and that will get them in the tourney.
And once you get in the tourney, just about anything can happen.
So much of it is about health and so much of that is about luck, so with a little luck the Bears ought to be in the tourney with a shot to go to the big dance.
The NFC is wide open, with favorites Green Bay, Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco all laden with flaws, just like the Bears. At least six or seven teams, including Atlanta and New Orleans, can make a case for emerging from the conference this season.
The Bears have a right to consider themselves in that conversation.
Obviously, they must have Cutler and Marshall on the field for any of this to work, but if they can manage their health, the Bears can manage some big numbers offensively.
As the window begins to slam shut on the Bears' defense, the offense must carry the season and there is much pressure on Cutler and Marshall to live up to their promise and their contracts.
There have always been excuses for them in the past, and many of those have been removed for this season.
The time for talking and explanations is over. The time to perform, especially for Cutler, is now.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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