1. Maybe Martz isn't as crazy as originally feared
Losing two straight games to mediocre-at-best conference opponents (Seattle and Washington) going into the bye didn't do much for the confidence of Bears fans, especially with regard to their pass-happy offensive coordinator that appeared to be living up to his throw-first reputation. But a month and a half later, Mike Martz has committed to the ground assault five games in a row and Chicago has five wins to show for it, even if said ground assault is still only averaging 102.9 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry – that's 22nd and 23rd in the league, respectively. Martz got used to winning games in St. Louis by lighting up the scoreboard with one of the most explosive passing attacks the NFL has ever seen, yet Jay Cutler has averaged only 212.4 yards per game through the air during this winning streak with an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10-to-3.
While he has only gotten more than 17 carries three times this year, Matt Forte is on pace to rush for 1,061 yards and should score double-digit TDs for the second time in his three professional seasons.
2. Nickel package as good as it's been in years
It didn't make a whole lot of sense on the surface when the coaching staff removed Corey Graham from the "starting" role at nickel back halfway through training camp and inserted D.J. Moore, as Graham is bigger, stronger, more experienced and just seemed to be a better fit for that specialty assignment. However, through 12 games, Moore leads the Bears with four interceptions and is a major reason why opposing passing games have had such a hard time making big plays downfield. Somewhat surprisingly, even though he is generously listed at 5-9 and 183 pounds – he looks more like 5-8 and 170 – Moore has recorded 34 tackles, including six each in wins over the Eagles and Lions the last two weeks.
Not only is Moore doing so well in Year 2 after contributing next to nothing as a rookie, but Graham has been allowed to focus solely on his special-teams responsibilities and is making a convincing argument for the Pro Bowl.
3. Bennett the most well-rounded Bears receiver
Earl Bennett isn't that big, isn't that strong and isn't that fast, and while his hands have usually proven to be quite secure, all of a sudden he was dropping passes here and there during the offseason program. Couple that with the fact that he was dealing with some injuries and missed a ton of training camp and preseason reps as a result, and it's understandable why Cutler's favorite target as a senior at Vanderbilt was inactive in the opener vs. Detroit and at best fourth on the depth chart at wideout. But after Devin Aromashodu failed in his bid to be the slot man in three-receiver sets, Bennett has now caught at least three passes in nine of 11 games taking over for Aromashodu at the Y position, and his seven catches for 104 yards – a career high – Sunday in Detroit were instrumental in sweeping the Lions.
LB Brian Urlacher
He's not that big, he's not that strong and he's not that fast, but Bennett is tough as anyone running short and intermediate patterns over the middle, and if Cutler needs somebody to make a play on third down to keep a drive alive, his fellow former Commodore is more reliable than either Johnny Knox or Devin Hester.
4. Urlacher is borderline irreplaceable in the middle
Because he missed almost all of 2009 with a freak wrist dislocation that needed season-ending surgery pretty much right away, Brian Urlacher came into 2010 as fresh as he had been in years from a health perspective. While the majority of linebackers in the league are starting to slow down a tad with the week-to-week wear and terror, the six-time Pro Bowler seems to only be getting stronger – as a matter of fact, one has to wonder if he recently had a time machine delivered to his home in Lake Bluff. Urlacher had a season-high 10 tackles against the Eagles in Week 12, and then he blew that figure out of the water with a Bears season-high 19 stops at Detroit in Week 13.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz told the Chicago media on conference call leading up to the game that Urlacher was playing the middle linebacker position better than anyone in the NFC, and he looks to be right.
5. Playoffs are far from a lock at this point
With four games left on the schedule, the Bears are in prime pouncing position to make a return to the postseason for the first time since 2006, as they are 9-3 and a game ahead of the Packers in the NFC North – plus they already defeated Green Bay at home back in Week 2. Nevertheless, fans of the Monsters of the Midway needn't clear their January calendars just yet, as the final four teams on the schedule include three Super Bowl contenders and a wounded division rival that seems to have righted the ship to some degree since firing its coach. Chicago finishes with the Patriots at home, the Vikings on the road, the Jets and home and those same Packers on the road, and even the most eternal optimist would have a tough time believing the Bears go better than 2-2 during that stretch.
Should the Midway Monsters only go 1-3 or (gulp) worse and miss the playoffs, this team transforms from one of the best stories of the NFL to one possibly prepared to pink-slip both its coach and general manager the day after the season ends.
John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.