Bears general manager Jerry Angelo realizes if his team is going to surpass what last season's team accomplished by reaching the NFC Championship Game, it's imperative that last year's No. 30 offense has to improve.
"It absolutely has to; it needs to do that," Angelo said. "They know it, we know it, and there's no reason they can't do it. You have to be able to score points. We don't feel that there's any reason we are not going to be a lot better than we were last year and do the things we need to do on that side of the ball to be a contender.
"We have a lot of good parts on offense. The offensive line is still a work in progress, but we like our linemen and the traits that they have, based on what we're going to ask them to do."
The Bears have devoted a lot of resources to the offense since last season, using their first-round pick on Gabe Carimi, who is starting at right tackle, adding wide receiver Roy Williams, tight end Matt Spaeth and running back Marion Barber in free agency. Williams is already in the starting lineup, Spaeth will probably share time with Kellen Davis and, in the early going, Barber seems to be the productive complement to Matt Forte that the Bears though they were getting last year with disappointing Chester Taylor.
The offensive line remains a question mark, but Angelo is confident the current group is an improvement over last year's unit.
"Even though we have four players that presently are playing new positions, we at least have the benefit now of (it) being the second year in the system," Angelo said. "Collectively I feel much better about our situation compared to last year, when we had new players and a new system. I would take this every day of the week."
From left to right, the Bears are lining up with J'Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis and Carimi.
The offensive staff wanted the team to be bigger up front, and the current configuration accomplishes that. Surprisingly, considering Mike Martz is the offensive coordinator, it looks as if the Bears might be more of a running team this year, especially if the hard-running Barber continues to impress.
"It doesn't necessarily say we're not going to throw the football," Angelo said. "You have to throw the football and throw it well. It's just that we're able to do things better with our offensive line that we weren't able to do last year. The one thing you want to do is create that (run-pass) balance. When you have that balance, you can play-action and throw on first down, which is a great down to throw on, and you can get the ball downfield."
Martz isn't known as the type to embrace change, especially when it involves scaling back the passing game, but Angelo believes he will utilize the talent he has in the most efficient way.
"Mike Martz is a very good coach," Angelo said. "He's got a great resume, and all great coaches that I've been around, they adapt. They can do anything they want, based on what they have. I feel Mike is very comfortable with our personnel, and we have the ability to create some different packages, with the different types of players that we have at some positions."
They can fine him all they want, but Lions' All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh isn't likely to let the NFL soften him.
"A fine is a fine," he said after getting docked $20,000 for his post-pass take down of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the exhibition season opener. "And I can't do anything about that. It's not my decision. It's something I have to deal with. But I'm not necessarily happy with everything."
Suh is hearing it from every angle. His coaches and teammates are telling him to stay aggressive, keep attacking." And then in the next breath they say, "but be careful."
The $20,000 hit was his third fine. He was tagged for $7,500 for a hit on Jake Delhomme and another $15,000 for a shove on Jay Cutler last season. There is concern that he's becoming a marked man with the officials.
"They are going to have it out for him now," said veteran defensive tackle Corey Williams. "This is like the third one he's got so he'll have to be careful leading up to the season. Like I told him, they are going to be on him. I am not telling him not to be physical but he's going to have to be careful with it."
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said the problem is the league's, not Suh's.
"There's no one that's ever played like this at defensive tackle," Cunningham said. "You can write what you want about me going overboard and being exceptionally high on this guy, but I'm telling you: I've been here 30 years, I've seen a lot of change in this league, and the problem with the league is they've never seen a tackle like this. That's their problem."
The hit on Dalton was a perfect example of that. The ball was still in his hand when Suh wrapped him up. Suh wrapped him from behind and spun him to the ground. There is no way he could have known the ball was released.
It was an aggressive play and a violent play, but not a dirty play.
"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," Suh said. "There's always a fine line between dirtiness and aggressiveness. I know to this point, in my own heart, I haven't crossed that line by any means."
Head coach Jim Schwartz defended Suh, but also acknowledged that the league puts the onus on defensive players to know when the ball has been released by the quarterback.
"It is tough," Schwartz said. "There's at least two different times that I've seen defensive linemen let the quarterback go when they still had the ball and they wound up completing the pass."
Case in point, Schwartz remembered a play a few years back when Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka had quarterback Vince Young in his arms, thought the play was dead and let him go.
Young spun away and rambled 10 yards for a game-changing first down.
"Mathias had gotten a roughing penalty the week before," Schwartz said. "So, he lets him go the next week and it ended up costing them."
Suh said that won't happen to him.
"I would never put myself in that position," he said. "I will never be in the position where it's 'should I or should I not.' Either you do it or not."
For Suh to change the way he plays, he would have to change his football DNA.
"You can ask Kyle (Vanden Bosch), the tradition we have at Nebraska, the Black Shirt tradition, is one of aggressiveness and imposing your will on any player that's opposing you," Suh said. "With that, we play at a very high tempo. That's why Kyle plays the way he does, and that's why I play the way I do. That's our nature. That's how I grew up in the game of football."
Telling him to be careful might be futile, too. He will tell you that he plays with a controlled, not reckless aggression. The reason he shoved Cutler last season instead of tackling him was he saw Cutler get rid of the ball. He held himself back.
"It's the reason people play football; aggression is the name of the sport," Suh said. "It means being violent and being very aggressive and getting after the quarterback. That's what you are known for. That's what you do. If you didn't do that then I don't think you'd be playing football in the NFL."
As for Williams' warning that he might be becoming a marked man with officials, Suh doesn't seem to be sweating any of that.
"That's not my decision," he said. "For me, it's an opportunity to keep playing and continue to play hard. That's the way I've been taught and that's the way I will continue to play."
Green Bay Packers
The Packers' defense had only five games out of 20 last season in which it didn't record multiple sacks. One of those exceptions to the rule of assertiveness Green Bay invoked interestingly came in its Super Bowl XLV victory over Pittsburgh, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was taken down only once.
So far in two preseason games this year, the Packers' pass rush is at a virtual standstill. They had one sack in a 27-17 loss at Cleveland on Aug. 13 and did the same in a 28-20 win over Arizona on Friday.
Vanilla schemes notwithstanding, the cause for alarm coursing through Packer Nation with the Sept. 8 season opener against New Orleans rapidly approaching has much to do with personnel. Wily defensive coordinator Dom Capers simply doesn't have the horses to get after the quarterback.
The conspicuous absence Friday of outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who accounted for 17 of Green Bay's 58 sacks in 2010, magnified the plight Capers has on his hands going into the final two weeks of training camp.
Matthews was held out of the game after he had tightness and soreness in his left hamstring following practice Aug. 17. The hamstring has nagged the All-Pro since his rookie season in 2009.
The latest setback isn't considered serious, and Matthews expects to be ready for the start of the season.
Still, keeping him out of action Friday further diluted a first-string lineup that doesn't have a starter named at the other outside linebacker spot and also is undermanned on the defensive line because of injuries.
The succession of Mike Neal as the starting replacement for pass-rushing end Cullen Jenkins, who signed with Philadelphia in free agency, is on hold indefinitely. Neal suffered a left knee sprain in a non-contact drill at the Aug. 16 practice.
"We took the high side of caution with both Mike Neal and Clay Matthews," head coach Mike McCarthy said after Friday's game. "If it was a regular-season game, the result (of them playing) may have been differently. We didn't feel it was worth the risk to play them."
Neal was listed as day-to-day as the Packers took the weekend off from practice. Yet, the nature of his injury could result in a longer absence, especially since he hurt the knee in an unusual manner during a position drill in which the defensive linemen were working with blocking bags.
"Geez, I was standing right there watching it," Capers said. "You never want to lose a player. But, in a drill where he's slapping the bag and going over the bag, I was concerned, obviously, like I think everybody was."
The Packers have high hopes for Neal to be an integral part of the defense this season. Last year's second-round draft pick out of Purdue lasted only five weeks into his rookie campaign before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
Neal's brute strength and playmaking abilities make him ideal to play on the strong side of the line, generally the left side in front of Matthews, in Capers' base packages. That has enabled Capers to feature formations with disruptive nose tackle B.J. Raji lined up at right end and veteran Ryan Pickett kicked inside at his natural spot on the nose after he started at left end last season.
Neal and Raji also were being paired as the nickel combination on the line.
"We're just flipping around a couple things every now and then," Pickett said. "We just have to be flexible. We have to be able to play every position, and that's what the coaches have us doing this year."
That's ringing more true for the dependable likes of Raji, Pickett and veteran Howard Green as they carry the burden of a thin D-line that also lost C.J. Wilson to a concussion at the end of the first quarter Friday. Wilson, a second-year player, started in place of Neal.
Wilson managed to finish the quarter a play after it appeared he took the brunt of a helmet-to-helmet collision with Cardinals running back Beanie Wells on a short run up the middle.
"I'm concerned anytime a player gets injured, and the defensive line has had some guys (hurt)," McCarthy said. "But, we'll adjust accordingly (this) week regardless of the position."