Coming off a string of blowout wins and sitting atop the NFC North, the Chicago Bears have had plenty of reasons for enthusiasm during their bye week. Of course, no team is perfect, and Lovie Smith’s squad definitely has some things it can work on during the extra practice time.
These three facets of Chicago’s game have the most room for improvement in the run-up to next Monday’s showdown with division rival Detroit:
1. Protect Jay Cutler
Chicago isn’t allowing as many sacks as it did a season ago, but that’s hardly a high bar to set. Jay Cutler is still being dropped nearly three times per game, and any improvement in that stat will go directly into improving the Bears’ iffy passing yardage numbers (223 per game, 22nd in the league).
Cutting down on the hits Cutler takes will only be part of the story if Chicago improves its offensive line play. False-start penalties (especially by gun-shy left tackle J’Marcus Webb) have hamstrung many a Chicago drive this season, and better pass blocking will be the first step toward removing that roadblock.
2. Get the secondary receivers involved in the offense
Brandon Marshall is a magnificent receiver, and Cutler should certainly be giving him plenty of chances to make plays in the passing game. Even so, Marshall shouldn’t have accumulated more than twice as many catches as any other player on the Bears’ roster.
Chicago isn’t without playmakers in the rest of the receiving corps, with speedy Devin Hester and red-zone threat Alshon Jeffery foremost among them. Giving that duo—plus sure-handed Earl Bennett—some extra chances will pay off for everyone involved, including Marshall when defenses are punished for double-teaming him.
3. Don’t get cocky on defense
It’s tough to get much better than the Bears’ defensive performance through five games, in which they’ve led the league in fewest rushing yards allowed and most interceptions snagged. Even so, Chicago has to take its own success with a grain of salt, and not just because there are a lot of games left in the season.
The Bears’ impressive stats have come against a very soft schedule, with no opponent better than the 3-3 Packers (who handed Chicago its only loss by a decisive margin). With Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Matt Schaub coming up in the next four weeks of the schedule, Chicago will need to stay sharp or see its gaudy 4-1 start become nothng but a pleasant memory.