Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The Chicago Bears.
The offensive line needs to be better. The aging defense still has star power. The quarterback is in his prime. This appears to be a solid Chicago Bears roster. That's why it all comes back to the man in charge.
Under Pressure: Lovie Smith
1. It is never a good sign for a coach when a new general manager arrives in town. New G.M. Phil Emery will want to hire "his own guy" if Smith can't win with a roster that looks ready to win now.
2. Before Jay Cutler got hurt last year, the Bears arguably looked like the second best team in the NFC. Cutler and Matt Forte were both playing at an extremely high level. Forte should be back by Week 1, and both players remain in their prime.
3. Smith has been in Chicago eight seasons. That's a lifetime in the NFL. His team has only made the playoffs once in the past five seasons. He's supposed to be a defensive whiz, but the Bears have been living off their reputation for years. Chicago has only ranked in the top-12 in points allowed or yards allowed once in the last five years. Is there a more overrated group in the league?
Brian Urlacher is coming off a serious injury. Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs remains very effective, but is not getting any younger. The team needs first-round pick defensive end Shea McClellin to help Julius Peppers out in the pass rush department. More importantly, Smith needs to show that his schemes still work. Too often, this group bends and breaks.
4. This is a dangerous season for Smith. He has the third most talented team in the NFC North and expectations are very high. Anything short of a playoff appearance will probably get Smith fired.