Self Examination

The Bears had dreams of playing in Super Bowl XL, but Carolina derailed that goal. Here are five things the Bears need to overcome in order to make it to the big game a year from now.

1. Passing Game – Stability at quarterback will go a long way towards improving the weakest part of the offense. The Bears ranked 31st in the league in passing, but with a rookie quarterback starting 15 games not much more could be expected.

Although Rex Grossman will go into next season as the starter, that status is shaky considering his injury history. If anything happens to Grossman, backup Kyle Orton actually has more NFL game experience than the starter.

Having a second year in Ron Turner's offense should bring more depth to the playbook. In Grossman's 10 ten quarters of action, it was apparent there were plays called that weren't available with Orton under center.

2. Backfield in Motion – The Bears have two former top ten draft picks in the backfield. The wealth of talent is arguably among the best in the league. Thomas Jones flourished in Turner's run oriented offense and became just the second running back in franchise history to go over 1,300 yards rushing in a season.

It's clear the Bears didn't invest the fourth pick in the draft on Cedric Benson for him to be a supporting player. Jones may go to training camp with the starting job, but Benson will push for more playing time.

Keeping both happy for a full season could prove to be a tough job. Jones didn't react well to the hype around Benson coming to Chicago and if he's asked to play a lesser part there could be trouble in the locker room.

3. Still Something to Prove – The defense is among the best in the league. At their best, the unit dominated, but they got a big dose of reality against the Panthers.

Even with all 11 starters returning next season, the Bears are likely to address the defense through the draft. Combing young talent with an already star studded group should sustain the success for years to come.

The defense can't live off their accomplishments of 2005 and must prove they are not a one-year wonder. Considering no starter will be over the age of 30 before the start of the season, there's no reason for a decline unless complacency sets in.

4. Return Game – While the offense should improve next season, shortening the field would give the unit a big boost.

The Bears struggles at punt returner were well documented. Catching the ball became an adventure and eventually led to Bobby Wade getting cut. Bernard Berrian finished the season in the role, but his skinny frame is not suited for taking the punishment of the position.

Jerry Azumah averaged just 22.0 yards per kick return and is likely to leave as unrestricted free agent.

The Bears need to find a threat in both phases of the return game. Whether it's adding someone like Eddie Drummond in free agency or drafting a return specialist, finding a player to handle both jobs is a priority.

5. History - The Bears haven't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1994-95. The franchise only went to the postseason once during that span, so the drought for consecutive playoff appearances goes back to 1990-91.

The Bears looked to be on upswing after a 13-3 record and NFC Central crown in 2001. However, a quick exit in the playoffs followed by records of 4-12 and 7-9 culminated in Dick Jauron being fired just two years after being named Coach of the Year.

Lovie Smith must try to avoid the same pitfalls and find success in the playoffs. The Bears haven't tasted postseason success since a beating the Vikings in the 1994 wildcard round. The last playoff win at home came against the Saints in 1990.

Addressing these issues would greatly improve the Bears chances of making a trip to Miami a year from now for Super Bowl XLI.

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