A while ago, Mike Martz made waves when he compared this years Bears to the 1999 Rams when speaking with SI's Peter King. Many people mocked the statement, and understandably so. Hyperbole of this sort is common during this period of the offseason, and Martz is no stranger to empty bravado. But since this is the long death march of the offseason, I'm actually going to play devil's advocate for a bit and suggest that perhaps there's a nugget of truth to Martz' statement. Now, in hindsight, knowing what the Rams did from 1999-2003 when they scored 500 points in a season three times (and 447 in 2003), went 56-24, appeared in two Superbowls, won one, and went to the playoffs four times, this statement looks utterly ridiculous. However, no one knows yet what the 2010 Bears offense will do, as it's the preseason. So perhaps it's best to look at what the 1999 Rams looked like BEFORE taking the field, and compare them to the 2010 Bears.
The 1998 Rams (whom Martz was not affiliated with) had gone 4-12. They had the league's
27th ranked offense in yardage and 24th ranked in points. They were 29th in rushing offense and 22nd in passing.
The 2009 Bears were 7-9. They had the league's 23rd ranked offense in yardage and 19th in points. They were 29th in rushing and 17th in passing.
The quarterback of the 1999 Rams was Kurt Warner. Before the 1999 season he was an undrafted nobody who'd only thrown 11 career passes. After Martz' arrival he became a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback.
The quarterback of the 2010 Bears is Jay Cutler. He's often regarded as the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL. In 2008 He led the NFL in passing yards. He was the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 2 or more touchdown passes in his first four games. Even in the worst year of his career last year he was 13th in the NFL in passing yards and 8th in touchdown passes. He arguably has far more potential than any quarterback Martz has ever worked with, including Warner.
The runningback of the 1999 Rams was Marshall Faulk. He was an undeniably great runningback, and a dual threat as a runner and receiver, but look at his career averages before Martz:
Rushing: 1,064 yds , 8 tds, 3.8 ypa
Receiving: 561 tds, 2 tds, 9.4 ypc
And compare that to Matt Forte, the presumptive starter for the 2010 Bears:
Rushing: 1,084 yds, 6 tds, 3.8 ypa
Receiving: 474 yds, 2 tds, 7.9 ypc.
Forte's numbers are remarkably similar, and he's actually drawn a great deal of comparisons throughout his career to Marshall Faulk, Brian Westbrook, and other Pro-Bowl caliber dual threat runningbacks. The potential is there for Forte to explode in a similar manner to Faulk.
The top four wide receivers of the 1999 St. Louis Rams were Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Ricky Proehl. The top four wide receivers of the Chicago Bears will be (in some order) Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett.
Of the Rams group, only Isaac Bruce was a proven quantity. He was a 6th year veteran who had averaged 932 yards receiving and 6 tds during his first five years. The Bears don't have anything quite close to Bruce's level, but they do have Devin Hester, a guy with certifiably great skills who was on pace for a 1,000 yd receiving season before suffering a series of injuries last year.
Torry Holt was an unproven rookie, so second year man Johnny Knox at least has the edge in experience, as he showed great promise last year by catching 45 passes for 527 yards and 5 TDs, despite making the leap all the way from FCS school Abilene Christian. Knox also has comparable speed to the young Holt.
Az-Zahir Hakim made a name for himself as the slot receiver in Martz' offense, but before Martz' arrival he had just 20 receptions for 247 yards and a TD, much like Aromashodu, who showed great potential when given a chance last year has only amassed 31 catches for 394 yds and 4 tds in his career.
Ricky Proehl was a savvy veteran who'd carved out a niche for himself as a great possession receiver and had averaged 634 yds receiving and 4 tds a season before 1999. Earl Bennett also established himself as a reliable, chain-moving possession man, with 54 receptions for 717 yds and 2 TDs in his first year starting.
At tight end, the Rams had Roland Williams, a quality blocking tight end who had just just 15 receptions for 144 yards in his career before Martz' arrival.
The Bears arguably have a great advantage here, with Brandon Manumaleuna as a great option on the line at tight end and Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark as pass catchers, a new element Martz claims he will utilize this year.
On the offensive line, the 1999 Rams had future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace, who at that time was a promising young tackle entering his third year. At guard, they had another Pro-Bowler in fifth year starter Adam Timmerman, and first time starter Tom Nutten. At center they had unhailed third year starter Mike Gruttadaria, and at right tackle they had fourth-year man and future Pro Bowler Fred Miller.
On the offensive line, the 2010 Bears also have a third year, former first-round pick at left tackle in Chris Williams, who has received a lot of praise for his work towards the end of last season. That's pretty much where the comparisons end. Somewhere out of the group of Kevin Shaffer, Lance Louis, Johan Asiata, Olin Kreutz, Josh Beekman, Frank Omiyale, and Roberto Garza the Bears have to craft a capable offensive line. I don't know if they can do it, but perhaps it's worth noting that the Rams, who cleared the way for the league's top ranked passing attack and 5th ranked rushing attack, had been downright awful the year before as well, giving up 47 sacks.
So what does this all mean? Well, I'm going to put this part in bold because mindless trolls who read this would most likely ignore it and say something to the effect of "this guy thinks the Bears are gonna score 526 points and win the Superbowl LOLZ?", what it means is that the Bears may actually have more talent on offense than people realize, and that Martz may not be crazy in thinking that the Bears have more talent (on paper) going into this season than the 1999 Rams appeared to have going into that season. Does that mean they'll be able to do what those guys did? Probably not, but a capable offense seems within reach if the offensive line keeps Jay Cutler alive (a dubious proposition, indeed).