Comparing Then and Now: 2006 Chicago Bears Vs. 2012 Chicago Bears

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With win number 5 in the books after Monday night, the Bears are enjoying an early 1.5 game lead on the rest of the NFC North through 6 games this season. Fortunately for us Bears fans, we don’t have to go too far back in our memories to find the last time the Bears started out this hot.

Flashback to 2006: the Bears steamrolled through their first 6 opponents to a 6-0 record and actually ended up winning 7 straight before dropping their first game of the season against the Miami Dolphins in week 9 (I’d say the Dolphins have ruined their fair share of Bear’s perfection over the past few decades).

There are clear similarities between the 2006 team and the 2012 team, the most glaring of which is their suffocating defense. But it’s the differences between these two teams that may surprise you.

And if the numbers hold true, this year’s team may actually go farther than the team that won the NFC Title in ’06.

As I alluded to earlier, the defense and special teams units are near carbon copies of their counterparts in 2006 with only some minor changes. I credit this sustained success not only to the players who are still around from that team six years ago, but also to the schemes in which the Bears play in.

Even though Ron Rivera left the Bears after creating a masterpiece with his defensive unit, current defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli hasn’t steered the ship off course. He has kept the 4-3 scheme in tact, which has been a hallmark in Lovie Smith’s tenure in Chicago.

The combination of Smith and Marinelli’s methodical approach to a defensive strategy that has worked for decades has made it easy for the Bears to experience continued success on defense simply by swapping out players.

Outside of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman, no other starters on the ’06 squad are still with the Bears. And other than Julius Peppers and Tim Jennings, I wouldn’t consider any of the other players on this year’s roster to be far and away better than their ’06 counterparts.

As long as Lovie is around presiding over the 4-3 scheme and he has a competent coordinator underneath him pulling the strings, there is no reason why the Bears shouldn’t have a top-5 defense in the NFL every season. And they have for the most part, especially this season.

The 2012 Bears have given up 78 points on defense through the first 6 games, which is actually 26 more points than the defense gave up at this point in 2006. But this year’s defense has risen to an entire new level when it comes to forcing and scoring off of turnovers.

At this point in 2006, the defense had forced 17 turnovers and returned 2 of those for touchdowns. Those 2 fumble recovery touchdowns happened the night we found out that the Bears “are who we thought they were.”

This year, the Bears are who we thought they were AND THEN SOME. They’ve forced 21 turnovers and have scored on 5 of them. That ties the Bears as the highest scoring defense in the NFL with the Washington Redskins and has led them to #1 marks in both point differential (+14 per game) and turnover differential (+2.2 per game).

Alright, you get it, the defense is good, was good, and will be good. Blah blah blah… Well, it’s more of the same with the special teams.

Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub has prided himself on making the Bear’s 3rd phase one of the most consistent units in Bears history. He’s also got some pretty nifty toys to play with that are still around from the ’06 team like Devin Hester and Robbie Gould.

Gould is the 3rd most accurate place kicker in NFL history and has actually extended his range by a few yards in the years since ’06. Devin Hester’s impact has diminished slightly since teams tend to avoid him now due to his track record, which includes him being the NFL’s all time leader in punt returns with 12. But the fact that they have to game plan for him usually nets the Bears excellent field position anyways.

Exchanging punter Brad Maynard for Adam Podlesh is just icing on the cake. Podlesh has a stronger leg and has never had a punt attempt of his blocked in his entire career (knock on wood).

Okay, so this year’s defense and special teams are just as good, if not better, than they were in 2006. The offense has to be too, right?… RIGHT?

Not so fast. You’d expect the offense to be the most drastically improved unit of the 3 in comparison to the 2006 team, especially in the passing game. Jay Cutler is an obvious improvement over Rex Grossman, and Brandon Marshall is single-handedly better than the entire receiving corps was in ’06.

But the numbers tell a different story.

Stats Through 6 Games

Grossman: 1417 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 8 QB sacks

Cutler: 1359 yards, 8 TD, 7 INT, 19 QB sacks

Even though the numbers aren’t too different, the fact that Cutler has performed the same or worse than Rex Grossman over any period of time is shocking. The number that stands out the most is the QB sack total, which is over twice as high this year as it was in 2006. That tells me that Cutler isn’t the only one to blame here for underwhelming us with his revamped passing attack.

It’s clear that the line struggles to pass block for Cutler, and to add on to the surprise, it doesn’t even appear that they’re doing a better job of blocking for Matt Forte to make up for the loss. In comparison to Thomas Jones, the starter in 2006, Forte comes up short in almost every rushing category as well.

Stats Through 6 Games

Jones: 432 yards, 3.7 YPC, 2 TD

Forte: 366 yards, 4.6 YPC, 1 TD

It looks like the group that had the potential to improve the most has actually regressed, and yet somehow the Bears have found a way to produce a record similar to the one they started with in 2006. This gives me reason to have a lot of confidence in this Bears team going forward.

The defense and special teams have improved enough to make up for the offense stagnating, but I don’t see how this offensive unit can be subdued much longer. We’ve only seen flashes of brilliance from them in the wins over Indianapolis and Dallas, but I think the best is yet to come for the offense.

I have WAY more trust in a group led by Jay Cutler versus any group led by “Sexy Rexy”, regardless of what kind of offensive line is protecting them. Speaking of the line, they do seem to be progressing every so slowly. They are obviously the lynchpin of the offense, to the rest of the team’s success lies squarely on their shoulder pads.

If the o-line can right the ship in these final 10 games and all 3 phases are outperforming their 2006 versions, look out. We’ve seen the Bears take the #1 spot in the division with a mediocre offense thanks to the other 2 units, so imagine what they can do with an offense that’s on the same page.

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