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Introduction to the Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler (6) and Brandon Marshall (15) have some of the best chemistry in the league

If you were looking for a team with a long and storied history built around a winning philosophy then the Chicago Bears would be a franchise that many would settle on. The Bears have sent more players to the Hall of Fame than any other team with 32 and with only a couple of other teams have helped shape the NFL into what it is today. The Bears have traditionally preached a defensive philosophy. Whether it's the hard hitting icon Dick Butkus of the 60s and 70s, the "unblockable" 1985 Bears that won a championship or the 2006 team who made the Super Bowl, each team was built off a defensive base. Philosophies are forever changing however and last year the Bears front office made a surprise decision and fired long serving defensive minded head coach Lovie Smith. Despite having guiding the Bears to an overall winning record, three division titles and a Super Bowl the decision was made to part ways with Smith and move in a new direction. Along with Smith face of the franchise and leader of the defense middle line backer Brian Urlacher was also not signed to a further deal  as the Bears committed to a new style of play. The Bears certainly did that bringing in a Canadian Football League head coach and former NFL quarterback guru Marc Trestman. Trestman has been involved with some of the most innovative and effective offenses to ever grace the league with teams such as the 1988/89 Cleveland Browns team that made the both AFC Championship games, the 1995 San Francisco 49ers that led the league in scoring and the 2002 Oakland Raiders team that made the Super Bowl on his resume. Trestman however has never been trusted with the head coaching role in the NFL and will be eager to prove he can coach at the highest level. So far the Bears gamble looks to be paying off as the Chicago offense looks as good as it ever has and the franchise sits tied top of the NFC North after 9 weeks.

An Offensive Reunion

One player who has benefitted greatly from Trestman's new offensive panache is quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler is a controversial character in the NFL provoking adulation from some but distain from others. For many its Cutler's apathetic style and demeanour that is celebrated on sites such as whereas others can never forgive his 2010 NFC Championship game where he withdrew due to injury but was later seen biking on the side of the field. Undoubtedly talented, Cutler has always threatened to become a franchise player but has never had that breakthrough year. This season could be different as Cutler was on track to have to have his best statistical year and on target to throw career high touchdowns and completion percentage. Injury has unfortunately side-lined Cutler for the moment, but he will be looking to shake off questions of his toughness as he has worked hard to come back early from injury and start today against the Detroit Lions. This is all part of a wider maturity coming to Cutler as he evolves into his new role as leader of this revitalised offense. Look for Jay to have a big week on his return. Cutler has been aided in his development by wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall and Cutler had played previously before at the Denver Broncos and had shown they had good chemistry together. The Bears decided to pick up Marshall in 2012 reuniting this dynamic duo. The results have been good as Marshall made his first All Pro team after his first year playing in Chicago where he set career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. A strong imposing receiver and a former running back in high school Marshall specialises in yards after the catch. Marshall is also an expert route runner who constantly works to get his quarterback the best option every down and holds the single game record for receptions with 21. The Chicago offense is best when this connection is humming on all cylinders and look for the Cutler to Marshall connection to be the defining characteristic of the Bears new offense.

A Defensive Identity

The Bears defense has no problem defining itself either. One such player who has always put in work for this Chicago defense is defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers is one of the most revered past rushers in the game and has a history of making offensive linemen look silly. With a variety of moves he can pull out of the bag, this wily veteran will exploit any weakness he finds to get to the quarterback. The amount of pressure Peppers creates ensures that opposing quarterbacks cannot hold onto the ball for long without Peppers being involved. Though perhaps not as explosive as he once was, Peppers is still valuable to this defense which is coming to rely on takeaways. Peppers ability to create pressure on the quarterback and make them force throws is integral to what Chicago is all about. Forcing throws against the Bears D is probably not a good idea as they possess one of the best cornerback tandems in the league, consisting of Charles "Peanut" Tillman and Tim Jennings. On one side you have Peanut Tillman, who usually covers the opponent's number one threat. A player who has perfected the punch, Tillman strips the ball more times than any other cornerback in the league. On top of this he is a complete back able to play any coverage and be successful. This forces teams to look elsewhere for passes and throw to Tim Jennings. Jennings led the Bears in interceptions last year and is the more ball hawking cornerback of the pair. Both cornerbacks are coming off career best years in 2012 and feed off the success of one another. This pairing has certainly proven they make a fearsome test for any offense and look to continue their 2012 form having already acquired six interceptions and five forced fumbles between them. The pressure will be on these two players to continue their production as another major defensive piece is side-lined with injury.

Sharing The Load

The Bears have been unlucky with injury and will have to do without one of its best defensive players, linebacker Lance Briggs. Briggs has been ruled out with an injury until at least December and will be a heavy loss for this Bears linebacking corp. The three time All Pro player has led the Bears in tackles three out of the last four years and keeps opponents run games in check. No active player has made more tackles for loss than Briggs over the last decade. The loss of Briggs will be felt by this already weakened Bears defense and they will hope he can still be effective when he eventually returns from injury. The Bears offense and defense are well balanced but they may possess one of the best special teams units ever. This eclectic group is led by one of the best return specialists of all time in Devin Hester. Hester is somewhat of a rare player, known for his special teams play more than any other facet of the game. One of the most explosive returners in history Hester never truly graduated as an elite receiver. Hester has however made a name for himself returning kicks and punts having tied the record this year with his 19th touchdown return and is the only player to have returned an opening kick-off in a Super Bowl. Hester will have plenty more opportunities to break the record this year as Trestman has decided to utilise him only as a return specialist.

Hitting The Ground Running

The Bears have always been a force to be reckoned with in the NFC, before when they were a defensive powerhouse and the trend now continues under Marc Trestman preaching a more offensive philosophy. It will be up to Trestman to call on all his experience to navigate a tough NFC North division. The division is already hotly contested with three teams tied for first after 8 games. The Bears are one of them but they will need to maintain a high level of play should they wish to win their division for the first time since 2010. Their biggest rivals, not only today but historically is the Green Bay Packers. The Packers vs. Bears rivalry is the oldest in the NFL dating back to 1920. Both teams have the highest amount of Hall of Fame players enshrined at Canton and the most championships. Undoubtedly though the Packers have been more successful in the modern era, a fact that the Bears will try to rectify this year. Also threatening in the division are the upstart Lions who are also tied after 8 games. The Lions have always been a team that has threatened to break out and this season could be the year they finally achieve it. The Bears know first-hand how big a threat they can be having already beaten them in Michigan. This will make the rematch at Soldier Field all the more intense as the Bears will have to win within their division if they want to reach the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings round out the division as the weakest of the four. Mired in a quarterback controversy the Vikings have struggled this year but are without a doubt still a threat as this same squad made the playoffs last year. The Bears got rid of Lovie Smith as he failed to win with this talented roster and it will be up to Trestman to take Bears to the next level sooner rather than later and making the playoffs in his first year will certainly help him achieve that.

Head Coach: Marc Trestman

Super Bowl Appearances:  1985, 2006

Division: NFC North

Biggest Rivalries: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings

Jersey to buy: #6 QB Jay Cutler, #15 WR Brandon Marshall, #33 CB Charles Tillman, #26 CB Tim Jennings, #90 DE Julius Peppers, #55 OLB Lance Briggs, #23 PR/KR Devin Hester