As the Cubs steal headlines of both major dailies with their procurement of Theo Epstein’s services, the Bears slide to the second sports story until Sunday night’s contest with the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. They are beginning a two-week stretch of must win football games against their current division rival to the west and their former division rival (Tampa) in the eastern most location of the NFL – London, England. (I will write extensively next week about how ridiculous I find this London game and how Roger Goodell’s manifest destiny concept for the NFL will be his ultimate undoing as commissioner.)
Where do the Bears go from here? They are five weeks into the 2011 campaign and have more far more questions than answers. Can they find professional, capable safety play out of the combination of Harris, Meriweather, Steltz and whomever else they pull off random practice squads? Can they find any consistency at the receiver position without making a big splash before the trade deadline – perhaps acquiring a former favorite target of Mr. Cutler residing in Miami, Florida? Can they survive another game without Gabe Carimi and with Frank Omiyale?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. That’s unfair. I know the answer to the third question. No. If the Bears had guts they would have released Frank Omiyale first thing Tuesday morning and sent him to the UFL, if that’s still around. I don’t believe J’Marcus Webb is going to become Anthony Munoz anytime soon but I’m willing to forgive him the mistakes of a young, raw talent attempting to adapt to one of the most difficult positions in football. Omiyale is a dreadful, dreadful football player and his time is beyond gone.
Needless to say the Bears need to get better. They need to improve. And they have plenty of time to do so. A lot of fans, many of you reading this column, would prefer to just type FIRE ANGELO NOW or LOVIE HAS TO GO or CLICHED NEGATIVE FOOTBALL FAN THING. And that’s understandable, given the way the season has started. But I will wait to light the torch and hunt the beast until the Bears are mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. Then and only then will my focus shift from 2011 to 2012. There is no fun for me in rooting for failure, rooting for change at the top, even if that’s what I know must take place for the organization to find sustained, long term success. I live to watch this club every Sunday and there will never be a Sunday I don’t root for them to shellack the opponent.
The next two weeks will determine whether the Bears play meaningful football games in the months of November and December. Winning both will put them at 4-3 heading into the bye, giving them a chance to get fully healthy for the backstretch. But just as important as winning both games would be seeing the Bears improve and gain confidence in the plaguing areas of the first five weeks. Beating Minnesota and Tampa won’t be rewarding if they continue to hand out free rushing yards like candy on Halloween and the Cover 2 continues looking like the Cover Who. Beating Minnesota and Tampa won’t matter if Jared Allen ends Jay Cutler’s season with a couple blindside hits.
So where do the Bears go from here? They go to Soldier Field Sunday night. They play the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings will want to hand the ball to Adrian Peterson 30-plus times and right now Les Frazier believes that approach can beat the Bears. If it doesn’t, if the Bears win, they’re back to .500. Back to the land of the living. And if the Bears beat the Vikings we can assume they’ve solidified, to some extent, the rush defense.
There are no big fixes. 2011 is now a game-by-gamy proposition. And Sunday night is a very big game.