What We Learned: Bears vs. Lions

What did we learn about the Chicago Bears after a 37-23 win over Calvin Johnson and the NFC North rival Lions at Ford Field in Detroit? Here are five observations made straight from the press box.

1. Williams appears to have what it takes at left tackle
While he did not have the most upside of all the premier offensive tackles in the 2007 NFL Draft, general manager Jerry Angelo felt Chris Williams made the most sense for the Bears because he was ready to step in and be an effective blind-side pass protector right away. His future may not have been as bright as Ryan Clady, who is already a stud for the Broncos, plus Williams' arrival was delayed by a year because of back issues, but the former Vanderbilt Commodore is starting to come into his own after making the switch from right to left tackle down the stretch. Yes, Jay Cutler was still sacked four times during his two-game explosion to close out the schedule, but he finally had enough time to take some seven-step drops, roll out of the pocket on designed bootlegs and stretch the defense with throws downfield.

It's just a shame the coaching staff didn't have more faith in him this past offseason, when Angelo – granted, hindsight is 20-20 – signed the washed-up Orlando Pace and forced Williams to play out of position at right tackle for a spell.

2. Babich deserves to return next year as linebackers coach
He certainly didn't impress as a defensive coordinator, as his units finished 28th and 21st in the league in total yards allowed the two years he was calling the signals, but Bob Babich proved again this season he is a good linebackers coach. Dealt a ton of injuries, including the loss of former Defensive Player of the Year Brian Urlacher after the opener, Babich was forced to make do with Hunter Hillenmeyer, who was fortunate to make the team out of training camp, and Nick Roach, who was supposed to be just a core special teamer, in the starting lineup more often than not – free-agent addition Pisa Tinoisamoa only suited up twice. Moving Hillenmeyer from the strong side to the middle was a gamble because he's not nearly the athlete Urlacher is, but it turned out to be a wise decision and he ended up playing some of his best football in a Bears uniform.

Coach Lovie Smith is going to have to hire a full-time defensive coordinator and also relinquish his play-calling duties in 2010, and whoever gets the job would be smart to retain Babich.

3. Fan favorite Peterson may have played his last game in Chicago
Although he never developed into much of a running back after being selected in the sixth round of the 2002 draft, Adrian Peterson still averages 4.1 yards per carry for his career, turned himself into a demon on special teams and is a top-notch presence in the locker room. However, seeing that he was only given seven carries all season long, a season in which starter Matt Forte struggled badly and backup Kevin Jones missed entirely due to injury, it appears the Bears have turned the page on Peterson and no longer consider him an option in the backfield. Undrafted rookie free agent Kahlil Bell got 40 attempts the final seven games once he was promoted from the practice squad – Garrett Wolfe moving to IR opened the door – while Peterson didn't touch the ball once after Week 9.

RB Adrian Peterson
Getty Images: Doug Pensinger

Since Chicago already has missiles like linebacker Tim Shaw and cornerback Corey Graham getting the job done on the coverage units, Peterson's departure wouldn't hurt the special teams very much either.

4. Safety is the No. 1 priority for this D in the offseason
Absolutely nobody could have predicted Mike Brown would finally stay healthy for 16 games this season, recording 103 tackles and three INTs in a Kansas City uniform, so letting him depart after five straight injury-plagued campaigns was still the right thing to do. Nevertheless, not having a better strategy to replace Brown is the real mistake the Bears made, as both the strong and free safety positions were revolving doors all year. There are more than a few candidates capable of doing well at strong safety because of their in-the-box prowess, but until there is a true center fielder taking away the deep ball when the defense puts eight in the box, the pass defense will be a liability going forward.

The Bears don't have the depth at cornerback to do it right now, but finally moving Charles Tillman to free safety would allow him to do what he does best – tackle and force turnovers – while masking his declining coverage skills.

5. Smith's situation makes it hard to attract quality coordinators
All indications suggest that Smith will be back in 2010 for his seventh season as head coach, although after three straight years out of the playoffs, he'll be in a win-or-else predicament. Hence, it's going to be difficult to find top-notch offensive and defensive coordinators willing to come to the Windy City – Smith's ouster before 2011 would mean a new coach and, more than likely, new coordinators again. The Bears aren't going to break the bank for a well-reputed OC like the Titans' Mike Heimerdinger to make a lateral move, so keep your eye out for an unproven commodity like USC quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who previously worked with Cutler in Denver.

As far as DC is concerned, don't give the job to Perry Fewell just yet, because Smith essentially fired him after one year as the Bears' defensive backs coach in 2005.

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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.

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