Last month, I predicted that the Chicago Bears would finish 10-6 and make the playoffs in the 2015 season.
While that prediction is a VERY overconfident one to most, the possibility of the Bears finishing .500 or better is perhaps a more realistic one, and would stand as a result of vast improvement from last season’s 5-11 record.
To say the team experienced some changes in management since its last game is an understatement.
There was a complete overhaul, starting in the beginning of January at the top with the bringing in of new general manger Ryan Pace. Pace didn’t waste time getting comfortable, hiring John Fox, Adam Gase and Vic Fangio to be the respective head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator–all within a one-week span.
Offseason additions such as Eddie Royal, Alan Ball and Pernell McPhee highlighted a fairly active free agency period for the Bears, but the loss of key veterans such as Charles Tillman (signed with Carolina), Lance Briggs (went unsigned) and Roberto Garza (released by team) hurt from a leadership standpoint. Though some of that pain was healed with the signing of veteran safety Antrel Rolle.
Sep 22, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) throws a pass under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
The addition of a great draft class, headlined by first-rounder Kevin White, helps the Bears case even further.
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From a coaching and personnel standpoint, the Bears have become much better on paper. But whether the new-look Bears can translate the arguable offseason improvement into on-the-field success is the million dollar question.
Despite the fact that quarterback Jay Cutler experienced some major struggles last season, and was even benched, there’s a chance that Cutler’s play–along with that of Matt Forte–could be one of the most sure-fire aspects of the Chicago Bears going into Week 1.
Cutler has already been given the seal of approval by the OC Gase, and it seems that both of them are on the same page as far as what needs to be done to get the offense going. Though Gase has expressed that the offense is just in the early stages of its transformation, there’s no doubt that well-executed offseason workouts and a successful preseason can give the offense a chance to exceed his expectations.
The ability of the defense to play to its best is the X-factor for the Bears in 2015. New DC Vic Fangio is bringing in a new 3-4 scheme–and already got his nose tackle of the future in the draft in Eddie Goldman–but the Bears are coming off a two-year span in which the team had one of the NFL’s worst defenses.
Under former coordinator Mel Tucker, the Bears finished in the bottom three in total defense in both 2013 and 2014. The Bears also dropped from a middle-of-the-pack passing defense in 2013 to the third-worst in the NFL last season. So it’s safe to say that Fangio has some work to do.
The additions of Rolle and fifth-rounder Adrian Amos certainly help bolster a previously-weak and lacking safety position. The selection of Amos gives the Bears a player who has shown on the college stage that he doesn’t allow big plays to happen when he’s on the field, so it’s possible to see him make an impact right away.
Fangio’s emphasis on the pass-rush will also play a significant role in the team’s success. Pace showed he is committing to him with the signing of McPhee earlier in the offseason, as well as linebacker Sam Acho.
Oct 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Pernell McPhee (90) against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Bengals defeated the Ravens 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
From looking at the roster, it seems as if the Bears don’t have the greatest pass-rushing unit. With Acho being the only true outside linebacker on the roster, many players will need to make adjustments to their game to play the part well.
Longtime sack-master Jared Allen is making the move to OLB this season, but will move to defensive end when the Bears run the nickel package. Lamaar Houston is coming off an ACL tear and hasn’t played football since October of last year, so he will need to make room to adjust back to the pace of the game.
Though there seems to be a somewhat of a lack of pass-rushing experience on the roster, Pace made a statement that he believes his team is just fine by not drafting any pass rushers in the NFL Draft. So assuming that he knows something that we don’t, there could be some noise made at the pass-rushing position this season with the team’s current personnel.
If the Bears hope to get to at least 8-8 this season, the defense needs to at least break into the middle of the league in total yardage, as well as passing yardage.
I firmly believe that the offense will be fine in the hands of Gase. Even though Cutler has not been the most successful quarterback, Gase should be able to fix the offense, and has the correct personnel to do it.
On the other hand, Fangio will have a challenge in working with a previously-horrid defense and making it into a solid unit with some personnel holes.
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