The regular season has come to a close and changes will be made across the NFL in 2016. Congratulations to the Broncos and Panthers for making the Super Bowl.
Let’s take one last look at the 2015 NFL season for the NFC North teams and hand out some grades. The Chicago Bears will kick off this 8 part series!!!
Quarterback: Grade B+
Jay Cutler had his best season of his career in 2015. Under new OC Adam Gase, Cutler improved his accuracy and decision making and cut down on his interception. Cutler had a 92.3 rating with 64.4% completion, 7.6 YPA with 21 TDs and 11 interceptions. Cutler missed 1.5 games early in the season and had 483 attempts (33 per game for 14.5 games). Jimmy Clausen (58 QB rating) played poorly in Cutler’s absence against Arizona and Seattle.
Cutler did enough to win but he could have done more this season. One or two more plays from Cutler could have won the Bears some games in their 6 close losses out of 10. The late interception at home against Green Bay in Week 1 and the 3 interception day against Detroit at Soldier Field are prime examples.
Cutler gets some slack due to the massive injuries that hit the Bears’ offense. Alshon Jeffrey and Eddie Royal each missed 7 games. Martellus Bennett missed 5 games and Zach Miller missed the season finale at tight end. Matt Forte didn’t suit up for 3 games. Second year WR Marques Wilson missed 5 games in the slot. Rookie speedster 1st round pick Kevin White missed the entire season. Cutler did well considering these losses and throwing to Josh Bellamy and Marc Mariani.
RB: Grade B-
Forte had a good season with 4.1 YPC and 4 TDs on 218 carries. Forte only had four rushes over 20 yards and the Bears only had 6 total 20 yard or more gains on the season rushing the ball. Forte was 43rd out 52 backs in elusive rating. Langford was dead last at 52nd. Cutler had 5.3 YPC on 38 scrambles.
Jeremy Langford was a typical rookie runner. Langford had 148 carries but only 3.6 YPC. Langford did pitch in 6 TDs on the season. Kadeem Carey had 3.7 YPC and Jacquizz Rodgers had only 14 carries at 2.9 YPC.
Forte had a down year during the 2015 season while receiving only had 389 yards and 3 touchdowns. Forte, Langford and Carey all struggled in pass protection.
Forte is a free agent. It will be interesting to see if he returns to Chicago. Forte is a good back but age and amount of carries is not on his side.
WR: Grade B-
I should give this group an incomplete due to all the injuries. Jeffrey had 807 yards and 4 TDS in 9 games. This is a pace of 89 yards per game which would be 1,464 yard season over 16 games. The Bears better franchise or re-sign Jeffrey despite the injuries.
Marques Wilson had 464 yards and 1 TD out of the slot while missing 5 games. This isn’t bad for a slot receiver but Wilson could do more in terms of TDs. Royals missed 9 games and had only 238 yards at 6.4 YPC. This free agency signing looks like a bust.
Kevin White was injured all year. This stunts his growth despite some film study and watching reps. The good news for the Bears is that it will be like gaining a second 1st round pick next season with the addition of a healthy White.
Josh Bellamy struggled but Marc Mariana did well forced into action with all the Bears injuries. They are worth keeping for depth.
Tight End: C+
Martellus Bennett did not have a strong season in the 11 games he played. Bennett had 439 yards and 3 TDs with a low 8.3 YPC. Cutler needed Bennett and he didn’t rise above. Zach Miller played well with 439 yards, 5 TDs and 12.9 YPC. Miller had 34 less targets than Bennett but the same number of yards. Miller was a nice find by the Bears GM.
Miller was a good pass blocker but poor run blocker. Bennett was average in run and pass blocking. Khari Lee was a solid run blocker as the third tight end.
Offensive Line: C-
Cutler was under pressure too much. Cutler was the 7th most pressured QB at 38.3 % despite the low sacks (33 allowed). The lack of weapons may have hurt Cutler’s protection due to less talented receivers taking longer to get open.
Matt Slausen had a great season at guard and center. Slausen had a +17.3 grade overall with good run and pass blocking. Kyle Long was an excellent run blocker but struggled in pass protection while switching to right tackle. Long allowed 6 sacks, 3 hits and 29 hurries. Left tackle was a mess for Chicago. Jermon Bushrod was injured and benched early in the season. Charles Leno Jr struggled with a -16.3 grade allowing 4 sacks, 6 hits and 32 hurries.
Will Montgomery was a free agent center pickup but only played 202 snaps with a -4.4 grade. Rookie 3rd round pick Hroniss Grasu missed 5 games and had big rookie struggles with his -13.5 grade. Matt Slausen did well at center and guard.
Vlad Ducasse was terrible in pass blocking but good in run block. Patrick Omameh was poor in pass protection but good in run blocking. The Bears could upgrade their guards this offseason or find a tackle and move Kyle Long back to right guard.
Overall Offense: B-
The Bears were 23rd in offense scoring 23.9 PPG. Robbie Gould missed a few clutch kicks (6) and cost the Bears at least 2 games. The Bears point total is not surprising given the injuries and lack of explosive running plays.
Adam Gase did a good job despite the injuries and pass protection issues. Gase earned his new head coaching job with Miami. The Bears turn to their QB coach as the new OC. Dowell Loggains will keep the same system in place for 2016. Loggains failed with the Titans as OC but has weapons and a decent QB with the Bears.
The Bears need to re-sign Jeffrey and try and keep Forte. If they accomplish that, the Bears offense could grow more with the introduction of Kevin White and upgraded personnel on the offensive line. The Bears have plenty of cap room to accomplish this during the offseason. We will see what GM Ryan Pace will do in the coming months to improve the offense. We’ll look at the Bears defense next.