The Chicago defense and special teams combined for 10 return touchdowns in 2012. That tied the record set in 2011, and actually broke the defense-special teams mark because one of the 2011 scores was a fumble-recovery TD by the offense (D-tackle Stephen Paea added a sack-safety in ’11, so it’s still 20 over the past two seasons).
Doing that level of end zone business for a third straight year, however, is hugely unlikely. Doing it once is actually unlikely, for that matter.
So the giant what-if for the 2013 offense becomes, what if the defense doesn't score like that?
With or without
The Bears were 6-0 in games last season in which they scored on defense or special teams: one each vs. St. Louis and Carolina, two each vs. Dallas, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Arizona. The TD against Carolina came in a 23-22 last-second win. In the other five the offense (and Robbie Gould) scored enough to win anyway.
But when the turnover scores stopped, predictably against better teams that do not give the ball away, so did the wins. The Bears were 4-6 without the defense or special teams reaching the scoreboard.
Using the gold standard for the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers for comparison: Including playoffs, Green Bay was 3-2 in games with return TDs, 9-4 in games without.
The Bears had four return TDs in 2010, so good teams can in fact win without them. Then again, with only three, the Bears were 7-9 in 2009. They were 9-7 in 2008 with four return TDs and an Adewale Ogunleye safety.
The Packers had just four last season. They reached the divisional round of the playoffs before losing at San Francisco, where their first score ironically came on a 52-yard interception return.
But what all this then logically points to is a clear need for the offense to not necessarily “carry” the defense, but at least carry its own weight, which it didn’t do in either of the last two seasons, for various reasons, and why Marc Trestman is in town.
It is a situation with a touch of urgency if the Bears are hoping to continue a string of three 10- or near-10-win seasons. The defense loses Brian Urlacher and even a 54 with diminished skills is potentially a loss until the new pieces settle.
Whether the Bears’ new offense can play its way into discussions about Packers’ is why Trestman, Aaron Kromer, Matt Cavanaugh and the new offensive staff was brought in.
“Really whenever you want to get into it, it’s a three-year process to learn an offense,” quarterback Jay Cutler said during offseason work. “It just is what it is. It takes time. It’s hard to go out there Year 1 and blow the doors off. But we’re going to do the best we can with the time allowed and we’ll see where we’re at.”
That begins this week in Bourbonnais. The defense is hoping that “three-year process” gets accelerated.