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To have a great season, Chicago can't rely solely on defense

Originally Published: September 1, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

The last thing any football team, particularly the local outfit, wants to admit is that it's going to have to score a lot of points to win.

Championship teams still revolve around their defense, regardless of their quarterback's arm. Ask them about that in New Orleans.

Bears coach Lovie Smith believes in any given year that if his defense can hold opponents to 17 or fewer points and force three turnovers, the Bears will prevail. But his offense might have to do a lot better than that for the Bears to have the kind of season for which everyone around here is hoping.

"I don't think we necessarily have to go out and put up 30 points because we have a pretty good defense," said Bears tight end Desmond Clark. "But there are going to be some games where we're going to have to pick up the defense, of course, and we have the ability to do that."

[+] EnlargeJuaquin Iglesias
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWhether or not third-round draft pick Juaquin Iglesias edges out the taller and more talented Brandon Rideau at wide receiver could be a test of Jay Cutler's clout.

Jay Cutler certainly would be up for a shootout each week. He threw for franchise-record numbers last season. But the Broncos also finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. And as much as Cutler claims the Bears' receivers are as good as his Denver targets were, the Chicago group is far from a given at this point. Will third-round draft pick Juaquin Iglesias edge out taller and more talented Brandon Rideau? He certainly could, particularly with a third-rounder's guarantee, but that doesn't mean he should, and the final decision might be telling in regard to just how far Cutler's clout in the front office carries.

Although Rashied Davis is a more valuable special-teams player, Cutler clearly favors Devin Aromashodu.

"I think they know how I feel about it, who I trust and who I feel comfortable with," Cutler said Tuesday. "I think they're on the same page. But that being said, there's still money and there's still other issues that aren't just how you play on the field. We have to take those into consideration, as well."

And while we're considering, you can't help but wonder once again whether Devin Hester would score more points as a full-time returner and occasional gadget guy on offense. Once the Bears made the financial commitment to Hester as a big-time receiver, that debate became a moot point. But it wouldn't be the first moot point debated, particularly if Hester plateaus as a receiver and shows the occasional flash as a returner that he did in Denver.

On defense, much has been said -- and should be said -- about the precarious condition of the Bears' secondary. If Charles Tillman still hasn't practiced by this point of the preseason, he surely isn't going to be in regular-season shape for a while, much less in time for Green Bay on Sept. 13.

Will Smith stick his neck out for Nathan Vasher at corner? And what happens to Kevin Payne when Danieal Manning comes back?

Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli's defensive front will put decent enough pressure on the quarterback, which certainly will help the Bears' secondary, but even great defensive front fours aren't enough to compensate when there are holes in the secondary.

"I don't look at it as compensating," said defensive tackle Tommie Harris, whose durability remains in question. "I just think we have to go regardless of who's back there, Charles or not. If you have all your four guys up front, you have to go."

If they don't, Cutler and the offense are going to be looking at shootout numbers.

"If our defense gives up 17 points, they're a little upset and with what we have this year on offense, if we only score 17 points, we're going to be a little disappointed," Clark said. "Seventeen points will be a good little barometer."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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