1. The NFL is all about throwing the football these days
The Monsters of the Midway have been engineered to be a running football team since George Halas first started calling the shots back during the Woodrow Wilson administration, but this organization has to evolve and join the 21st century. Neither the Steelers nor Cardinals ran the ball very well this season, with Pittsburgh 23rd in the league on the ground and Arizona dead last at 32nd, yet they were the ones competing Sunday for all the marbles. Then in the actual game the two conference champions rushed for only 91 yards on 38 carries combined, but they slung the ball all over the field to the tune of 608 combined net passing yards.
Don't be fooled by that "defense wins championships" expression just because the Steelers had the No. 1 D this year, since they were shredded by Kurt Warner and Co. in the fourth quarter and would have lost the game if not for Ben Roethlisberger leading them down the field in the final minutes.
QB Ben Roethlisberger
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
2. Quality QBs make poor offensive lines better
Another common misconception in pro football is that you're supposed to build a team from the inside out, meaning the big boys in the trenches are the key to winning ballgames. Nevertheless, both Pittsburgh and Arizona featured very flawed offensive lines that would have landed lesser quarterbacks on injured reserve, but Roethlisberger knows how to keep plays alive with his scrambling ability and Warner gets rid of the ball on time more often than not. Even with Steelers guard Darnell Stapleton getting beat by Darnell Dockett just like Cardinals tackle Mike Gandy had no answers for James Harrison, the two Pro Bowl passers made up for the deficiencies up front with nimble feet and accurate arms.
Kyle Orton may very well become a better signal caller with improved play from his blockers, but the Bears need to develop their offense from the outside in and go get some playmakers.
3. Pressure is paramount on the defensive side of the ball
Everybody knows that good defense starts with consistent pressure being applied up front, and Super Bowl XLIII solidified one of the game's most basic elements. Not only were both defenses enjoying their most success when getting after the opposing quarterback, but you don't necessarily have to come away with a sack to win the play – both offensive lines were whistled for multiple holding penalties and killed drives in the process. When Roethlisberger was allowed to escape the pocket and improvise on his own, he came through with crucial completions time and time again because no secondary can maintain quality coverage for six or seven seconds at a time.
Not only do the Midway Monsters have to get better sack production from their front four next season, but this defensive scheme simply must get more creative and more aggressive with its blitz packages.
P Ben Graham
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
4. Special teams are the game within the game
While the Bears have lots of problems to fix in the offseason both offensively and defensively, they can feel very good about their special teams after what took place on Super Sunday. Mitch Berger averaged 46.3 yards per punt for the Steelers and also delivered a clutch free kick, plus Jeff Reed was perfect in the kicking game even though he didn't attempt a field goal of longer than 21 yards. Ben Graham dropped three of his five punts for the Cardinals inside the enemy 20-yard line and deserves all the credit for that two-point safety in the fourth quarter, and aside from a 34-yard punt return from Arizona's Steve Breaston, the coverage units for both clubs were sound from start to finish.
Never overlook the importance of special teams, so Bears fans need to appreciate what they have in punter Brad Maynard and kicker Robbie Gould – and watch out if Devin Hester gets back to All-Pro form as a return man.
5. Turnarounds can be instantaneous in this league nowadays
The Steelers have been arguably the most successful franchise in the Super Bowl era and just became the first organization to win a sixth Vince Lombardi trophy, but this team was only 8-8 two years ago, missed the playoffs, and jettisoned a great coach in Bill Cowher to hire an unknown in Mike Tomlin. The Cardinals, on the other hand, had gone six decades since their last championship and entered the season as perhaps the third best team in their own division – and the NFC West is always a lousy division. The Dolphins and Falcons were league-wide laughingstocks a year ago, but both won double-digit games and made the postseason in 2008.
While the Bears didn't look anything like a Super Bowl contender except maybe in their Week 1 upset of the Colts at Indianapolis, a few shrewd moves from the front office and a couple of career years from some key players is all it takes to get right back in the hunt.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.