By Jeff Goldberg
Cold, Hard Football Facts beer funneling champion
There's no crying in football.
Sadly, that is the last image of the Chicago Bears: The physically battered and emotionally bruised Jay Cutler whimpering in the face of withering criticism – not to mention the Packers pass rush – after taking a seat at halftime of a 21-14 loss in the NFC championship game.
And yet, it had been a season of tremendous success for the Bears, who claimed a division title and came within a touchdown of their third Super Bowl appearance. Led by a stingy defense and a revitalized running game, the Bears won 11 games and earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
But the Bears were always one Cutler stinkbomb away from tragedy, and it came to pass in the only game that really mattered. That left the proud fans of Chicago weeping right along with their felled field general, and hoping that a championship window hasn't closed in the Windy City.
The 2010 storyline: No offense, but it was the Monsters of the Midway who got the job done here. The Bears were top 10 in every key defensive metric, dragging the erratic Jay Cutler into the NFC championship game. But Cutler's season-long shortcomings came to the forefront against the Packers, denying the Bears a second Super Bowl in five years.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 11-5 (20.9 PPG – 17.9 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 47-33 (.588)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Passer Rating (3rd)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Offensive Hog Index (32nd)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA (new Quality Stat for 2011): 9th
Quarterback Rating (new Quality Stat for 2011): 24th
Defensive Quarterback Rating (new Quality Stat for 2011): 5th
Relativity Index (once-proud Quality Stat being reintroduced for 2011): 11th
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The Bears were held to seven points or less three times during the regular season. The other five NFC playoff teams combined had four games under seven points, and three of those punchless games came from lowly 7-9 NFC West champ Seattle.
Best game of 2010
35-24 win vs. Seattle (divisional round). The Bears justified their NFC North title by dominating the Cinderella Seahawks on both sides of the ball, racing to a 28-0 lead in the third quarter before getting sloppy in the final minutes to create the closer-than-reality final score. The Bears racked up 437 yards of offense, including 176 on the ground, both their second-highest totals of the season. On defense, the Bears held Seattle to 34 yards rushing, also the second-best effort of 2010.
Worst game of 2010
21-14 loss vs. Green Bay
(NFC championship) There were so many bad games to choose from here: The Giants sacking Cutler 432 times in the first half of Week 4 before knocking him loopy; the Patriots romping 36-7 at snowy Soldier Field in Week 14. And who will ever forget the D'Angelo Hall game in Week 7? The Redskins defender hauled in four INT, including the game-winning 92-yard pick-six, in a 17-14 Washington victory in Chicago.
But when you get to the NFC championship game at home and lay an egg like Cutler did against the Packers, that's the only game anyone is going to remember about 2010.
Needing to match the red-hot Aaron Rodgers strike-for-strike, Cutler balked. He missed Devin Hester on a pair of potential TD passes early, then imploded from there, going 6-for-14 for 80 yards (55.4 passer rating) and a pick before leaving with his knee injury and pity party.
Backup Caleb Hanie heroically tried to rally the troops, but on a day when Rodgers actually proved human, the early hole was too deep to dig out, as BJ Raji punctuated the miserable day for the Bears offense with his lumbering pick six to clinch a Super Bowl berth for the hated Packers.
Pass defense. It wasn't exactly 1985 good, but the Bears defense was the calling card for the NFC North division champions, finishing near the top in every key defensive metric. The Bears ranked fifth in Defensive Quarterback Rating, sixth in Defensive Hog Index and ninth in Defensive Passing YPA.
But perhaps most significant, the Bears ranked third in Defensive Passer Rating. As veteran CHFF trolls know, Defensive Passer Rating is an incredible indicator of team-wide success, and never was that more true than with the 2010 Bears, who nearly rode that pass defense all the way to Dallas.
Quarterback. The Curse of Sid Luckman
. As we were just saying, the Bears really struggled with Cutler under center, finishing 20th in Passer Rating but 24th in Quarterback Rating (which takes into account all factors of QB play, including sacks and fumbles).
The Bears also placed 25th in Passing YPA and, more gruesomely for a Super Bowl contender, dead last on the Offensive Hog Index. Matt Forte actually had a nice bounce-back season, rushing for over 1,000 yards and leading the team with 51 receptions. But a league-leading 56 sacks allowed did not made the OL look good.
General off-season strategy/overview
Improve the offensive line. As the Offensive Hog Index would indicate, the Bears must do a better job of protecting Cutler, keeping the pressure off and reducing the number of times Cutler goes rogue as the pocket collapses, which leads to his bad decision-making habits.
Assuming there will be free agency this year with a new CBA, disgruntled Patriots Matt Light and Logan Mankins could be available, or the Bears could get lucky in the draft and snag someone like Colorado tackle Nate Solder late in the first round.
And as good as the Bears were on defense, there's always room for improvement in the secondary and along the defensive front line. A legit No. 1 wide receiver wouldn't hurt either.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
The Bears don't really get any favors in the schedule, drawing the increasingly-competitive NFC South, as well as the AFC West, including the Broncos and Raiders on the road, which could be the two toughest games of the season, crowd-wise, for former Broncos QB Cutler. It's hard to envision another division title with the Packers at the top of their game, making any kind of playoff run in 2011 all the more dependent on a better offense.