Perhaps it was always foolish of Chicago to believe an identity crafted and fortified over the course of 90 years would change overnight, that defense would give way to offense as our beloved Bears would run and gun their way to a Super Bowl. No culture change can occur without ambition, enthusiasm and patience, and Bears fans drunk on the idea of an explosive offense certainly met the initial two criteria as the team overhauled its wide receivers and upgraded its offensive backups over the offseason. Through three weeks, though, these Bears look very much like the squads that came before them. There was nothing unusual about Chicago's 23-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field on Sunday. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't particularly fun. As they have done so many times during Lovie Smith's reign, the Bears simply grinded out an unimpressive W over an inferior opponent. A win is a win, sure, but the Bears have a habit of making one feel defeated even in times of victory. Bears football, same as it ever was.
If trading for a young Pro Bowl quarterback three seasons ago and then giving him a proven, dynamic target in the passing game didn't precipitate a culture change, maybe nothing will. After the addition of Brandon Marshall, Chicago expected to be swept up in a hurricane of big plays, touchdowns and end zone celebrations. Instead, the identity shift of the Bears is proving to move with a glacier's speed. There are still no style points to be found here, just more scratching and clawing that reinforces the only mantra the franchise has ever known: if you play great defense, the rest will take care of itself.
For as underwhelming as Jay Cutler and the offense looked in Week 3, the defense thrived. The pass rush was on-point, the linebackers continue to play at a high level and the secondary is starting to develop a collective reputation as a ball-hawking menace. The Bears defeated the Rams because of a pick-six on Sunday. Chicago finished with exactly 171 yards of passing offense. Yes, this script dates back to the Mike Brown-Craig Krenzel years, and apparently the team can't deviate from it no matter how hard they try.
While the fans might be disappointed in the lack of fireworks, coach Smith is surely satisfied. This is the brand of football he's always preferred, the one the Bears perfected during their last Super Bowl run in 2006. The defense has lacked the fury that team brought over the last few seasons, but it might be back. Julius Peppers remains a wrecking ball, and the rest of his defensive line cohorts are taking their games to a higher place. The Bears didn't just bring pressure with one man against Sam Bradford and the Rams. There were often times three or four players attacking the St. Louis quarterback.
Let's be honest: it's still all about the offense, though. Even as Drew Brees and the Saints fall to 0-3 and Tom Brady continues to fall short of his lofty standards, the NFL remains a passing league. Right now, the Bears' passing offense just isn't that good. Jay Cutler was decidedly mediocre vs. the Rams in Week 3, delivering the type of performance we'd deem acceptable if it came from Kyle Orton. But Cutler isn't Orton and there's nothing encouraging about a 58.9 quarterback rating. Cutler's downfall is usually making throws with reckless disregard, but against the Rams he was simply inaccurate. Cutler threw behind receivers, he threw the ball at their feet. We'll say it again: Jay Cutler needs to be better. The excuses some make for him are legitimate, but the quarterback must still shoulder much of the responsibility. At the moment, he isn't playing at a very high level.
This can change, I think. I believe Cutler will regain his swagger and win the city over once again. I believe Brandon Marshall will prove he's closer to the target he resembled in Week 1 than the guy he's been the last two games. I believe Matt Forte will come back and give the offense a killer one-two punch in the running game, and I believe the offensive line will continue to get incrementally better. Remember: the Bears started out pretty slow last season before running off five straight wins. There's still plenty of time for the purported identity change to become a reality.
What's encouraging, though, is that the defense looks here to stay. Brian Urlacher doesn't appear any less potent than he's been in years past, and the effort of the pass rushers so far can't be praised enough. We thought the games would be more watchable, more fun, but so far they haven't been. Still: the Bears are 2-1, a perfectly acceptable position after three games.
No, the win over the Rams won't have Chicago beating its chest with arrogance as a Monday night matchup in Dallas looms. The Cowboys, also 2-1, didn't look great in a Week 3 win over the Bucs, either. Nothing in the NFL is ever as easy as it seems, especially when it looks great on paper. The 2012 Bears are a work in progress, one that will continue to get judged every week until their true worth comes out. At the moment, just be happy with a victory, no matter how unflattering it was.