|WR Brandon Marshall has given the Bears a potent receiving threat that they have been missing for a long time. (US Presswire)|
When the Bears (7-1) said in preseason they wanted greater point production, no one could have imagined it would be coming from not one, but two sources -- and one of them not on offense. The Bears defense has been phenomenal, scoring seven touchdowns in the first half of the season to come within two of the NFL record. WR Brandon Marshall, meanwhile, has given them a true passing game threat to make up for numerous offensive inadequacies.
Offensive MVP -- WR Brandon Marshall: So this is what a wide receiver looks like. With 797 passing yards, Marshall is on the way to breaking the team record for receiving yards in a season (1,400) and his 59 catches puts him on pace to shatter the team receptions record of 100.
Defensive MVP -- CB Charles Tillman. He's finally getting the recognition he probably should have earned earlier in his career after two INT TD returns and seven forced fumbles, not to mention the cloak of invisibility he put over Megatron.
Rookie MVP -- Alshon Jeffery: He has been healthy only in five games due to a hand fracture but is expected back in the next week or two and the difference without him in the passing game has been noticeable. When he's on the field, Jay Cutler has two big-play targets.
Top assistant coach -- Rod Marinelli: Well known as one of the best defensive line coaches in the league before becoming the defensive coordinator, he still actually does much of the D-line coaching and is the major reason why the defensive front has had so much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That pressure has allowed Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman to gamble for big plays.
Biggest disappointment -- RT Gabe Carimi: At the outset, the Bears expected problems at left tackle with J'Marcus Webb. It was assumed Carimi would be a solid force on the right side, but his penalties and problems trying to deliver pancake blocks rather than simply handle his assignment have been a source of disappointment. Interestingly, Webb is the one actually showing progress.
Biggest strength -- Run defense. They came into the eighth game leading the league and only an 80-yard run against their reserves in the fourth quarter by Chris Johnson kept them from padding the lead. The aggressive defensive front is not only getting after passers but is getting into gaps, going upfield, and shutting down the run to force opponents to pass.
Offensive line -- Jay Cutler has already been sacked 25 times. Considering they have to play San Francisco, Houston, Green Bay, Seattle, Jared Allen and Minnesota twice, and also Detroit in the season's second half, it's a good thing Cutler routinely wears a flak jacket to protect his bruised ribs. He might want to think about going with three or four of those, in fact.
Projected final record -- 11-5
Playoffs? Yes. They'll wind up playing a wild-card game and losing on the road in New Jersey to the Giants because they have trouble with teams that can run the ball with power as well as pass.
One fact you may not know but should know: The Bears have only one game left against a team currently owning a losing record (Arizona, 4-5), and it's on the road. Their remaining schedule is against opponents with a .609 winning percentage (42-27). The half-season with a 7-1 record completed came against only two teams currently with winning records and owning a combined winning percentage of .409 (27-39).
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.
Want to know who CBSSports.com says the MVP is? Check out our Midseason Awards.