2004 Chicago Bears Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> Lovie Smith (0-0) <br><br> <b> Last Season's Record:</b> 7-9 ( Third place finish in the NFC North and tied for 10th in the NFC. ) <br><br> <b> Last Play Off Appearance: </b> 2001

09/12/04 Detroit
09/19/04 @Green Bay
09/26/04 @Minnesota
10/03/04 Philadelphia
10/17/04 Washington
10/24/04 @Tampa Bay
10/31/04 San Francisco
11/07/04 @NY Giants
11/14/04 @Tennessee
11/21/04 Indianapolis
11//25/04 @Dallas
12/05/04 Minnesota
12/12/04 @Jacksonville
12/19/04 Houston
12/26/04 @Detroit
01/02/05 Green Bay
Linebacker Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears celebrates a defensive play.
Getty Images/Brain Bahr
Key matchup(s): The Bears start the season with three games against division opponents. The Bears host the Lions in the Sept. 12th season opener. Week 1 has become a must win because the Bears travel to Green Bay and Minnesota the following two weeks. If the Bears can't come out of a matchup with a win then they could easily start the season 0-4 because they host the Eagles in Week 4.

Star Power: Brian Urlacher, MLB, 4th year in league, ( 6-4, 258 ), Olin Kreutz, center, 7th year, ( 6-2, 292 ), Charles Tillman, cornerback, 2nd, ( 6-1, 196 )

Notable Additions: Adewale Ogunleye, DE, Miami Dolphins, ( 6-4, 260 ) John Tait, T, Kansas City Chiefs, ( 6-6, 315 ), Thomas Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ( 5-10, 220 ), Tommie Harris, DT, 14th overall pick, ( 6-3, 300 )

Notable Subtractions: OLB Warrick Holdman, DE Phillip Daniels, DT Keith Traylor, QB Kordell Stewart, QB Chris Chandler,WR Dez White, WR Marty Booker, and G Chris Villarrial.

Notable Returnees: Mike Brown, S, 4th year in the league, ( 5-10, 220 ), Lance Briggs, OLB, 2nd year, ( 6-1, 238 ), Alex Brown, DE, 3rd year, ( 6-3, 262 ) Desmond Clark, TE, 6th year, ( 6-3, 254 )

Offensive Overview: The Bears ranked at the bottom of most offensive statistics a year ago. Part of that can be blamed on former offensive coordinator John Shoop. However the Bears lack of stability at quarterback is also to blame. The Bears haven't had a quarterback start all 16 games since Erik Kramer did it in 1995. Rex Grossman was named the starter from Day One Lovie Smith became the head coach. The only way he'll come off the field is if he gets hurt. Grossman has three career starts under his belt, which is the same as backup Jonathan Quinn, so the Bears offense will succeed or fail with the second-year QB. Offensive coordinator Terry Shea, the former Kansas City quarterbacks coach, brings with him the Chiefs offense. With Marty Booker in Miami because of the Adewale Ogunleye trade Grossman doesn't have a go-to receiver. However Shea believes his offense is more about spreading the ball around. Still not one wideout on the roster has ever had a 50-reception season. David Terrell, who has been a complete bust during his first three years in Chicago, will be expected to be the veteran of the group. Grossman completed 41.6 percent of his passes during the preseason, which is far below his personal goal of 60 percent. In this offense the passing game is to set up the run and if Grossman can't dramatically improve his accuracy then the best part of the Bears offense in the preseason will be negated. With Thomas Jones at tailback the running game has looked spectacular. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry in the preseason and showed the speed and cutback ability Anthony Thomas has never been able to provide. There still appears to be a role for Thomas in the offense, but it will be nothing more than a change of pace back for Jones.

Defensive Overview: The Bears unit underwent a complete in the off-season. Under former defensive coordinator Greg Blache the sack was considered an overrated statistic. Lovie Smith and his defensive coordinator Ron Rivera couldn't disagree more. The Bears asked the entire defense to drop weight in order to gain speed, which is especially important on the defensive line. The front four will be expected to supply the bulk of the pass rush and when the group wasn't performing up to standards GM Jerry Angelo went out and traded for Adewale Ogunleye, who led the AFC with 15 sacks last year. Chicago's emphasis is on creating turnovers and having speed rushers off the edge is a vital part to that idea. The hope is that the end can either strip the ball or force a quarterback to get rid of the ball quicker than he would like, thus forcing poor decisions that lead to interceptions. The Bears base defense will be a Cover 2, which is what Smith knows from his days in Tampa Bay as assistant and what he ran in St. Louis. The Rams forced an NFL-high 46 turnovers in 2003 and that's what Smith hopes to bring to Chicago. The problem with this philosophy is it's high risk, high reward. The Bears are bound to come up with more than their 20 turnovers from a year ago, but at the same time the unit is likely to give up some big plays because of their aggressive style of play.

Special Teams Overview: Heading into training camp this was the team's strongest phase of the game. However Pro Bowl Kick returner Jerry Azumah had to have surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck and will be out until at least October. He led the NFL with a 29-yard average a year ago and was arguably the Bears biggest offensive weapon. R.W. McQuarters finished among the league leaders in punt return average. He was poised for a dual role of starting corner/punt returner, but a pulled hamstring could keep him out of the season opener and beyond. The Bears will be reluctant to put McQuarters back returning punts when he returns considering their injury situation in the secondary. Paul Edinger is the most accurate placekicker in franchise history. His one downside is a lack of depth on kickoffs. Punter Brad Maynard is a solid veteran.

The Bears will show progress if.... The Chicago Bears have enough talent on defense to win games and could go 8-8 if the passing game can progress under quarterback Rex Grossman.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview
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