The Chicago Bears earned an awful 5-11 record in 2014. Head Coach Marc Trestman was fired along with the DC Mel Tucker after tallying the 31st ranked defense at 27.6 PPG allowed. The Bears went 2-6 at home beating the Vikings and lowly Bucs. The Bears tallied a 3-5 record on the road beating the 49ers, Jets and Falcons. Chicago was swept by Green Bay and Detroit and lost at New England, at Carolina, and at Minnesota. The Bears lost to Buffalo (part of the Jim Schwartz sweep of the NFC North), Miami, Dallas and New Orleans at home. The Bears were terrible and Cutler got another coach fired.
New GM and Coaches
The good news for Chicago fans are major changes that were made by the McCaskey family. The Bears fired GM Phil Emery for Ryan Pace (personnel man from the Saints). Pace hired long time successful head coach John Fox (Panthers/Broncos) after he was fired in Denver for not winning in the playoffs. The Bears would love to be in the playoffs since they haven’t been there since the 2010 season (4 seasons and counting). Fox added Adam Gase from Denver as the new OC and Vic Fangio from San Francisco to add the 3-4 defense to Chicago.
Stats and Upgrades
The Bears scored 19.9 PPG (23rd) on offense in 2014. Cutler had a 66% completion for 3,812 yards, 6.8 YPA and 28 TDS to 18 interceptions. The Bears lost 29 turnovers total but only forced 24 for a -5 turnover differential. This was a big reason Chicago lost 11 games this year. A positive turnover differential in the past seasons gave the Bears a better record. The Bears only attempted 16 FGs on the season and Cutler didn’t do enough to lead the offense down the field.
Cutler was pressured on 30.9% of his drop backs which isn’t great but still 10th best in the league. It was the most protection Cutler received as a Bear, sadly. Jay pouted and was sacked 41 times. The turnover problems plus Forte only running for 3.9 YPC caused major offensive problems in the Windy City.
The Bears defense was worse than the offense. Chicago gave up 27.6 PPG for 31st in the league. Bears pass defense gave up 34 passing TDs, allowed 66.8% completion and a whopping 8.1 YPA. The Bears couldn’t cover anyone. Chicago generated 39 sacks but not quite enough pass rush consistently despite adding Jared Allen, Lamar Houston and Willie Young in the past offseason. The Bears allowed 4.3 yards per carry which was 23rd in the league. The Bears had major defensive problems which aided and abetted 11 losses.
The Bears have plenty of weapons for Cutler despite trading head ache Brandon Marshall to the Jets this offseason for almost nothing (swap of 5th for 7th). Alshon Jeffrey is a clear number 1 WR notching 1,133 yards, 10 TDs and 13.3 YPC in 2014. Martellus Bennett, despite being a diva, is a very good tight end tallying 916 yard and 6 TDs in 2014. Matt Forte is a dangerous receiving weapon with 808 yards and 4 TDs from the RB spot. Rookie Kevin White is a deep threat that was added in Round 1 of the 2015 draft. Eddie Royal is a good number 3 WR added in free agency. Royal had 778 yards and 7 TDs with a strong season with Phillip Rivers in San Diego during 2014. The Bears are loaded with weapons.
Forte and Run Game
Forte is a good running back, as well as, receiving weapon. Forte only had 3.9 YPC (266 carries) in 2014 but has had success in the past. Forte needs strong blocking in front of him but can make tacklers miss, use his speed for long runs and be a 250 carry workhorse back. Forte will be a strength running the ball for the Bears in 2015.
The Bears made personnel moves adding center Will Montgomery in free agency and drafting center Hrannis Grasu in Round 3 from Oregon. Montgomery was solid with Denver in 2014 with +4.9 pass pro grade but showed an average +.5 run grade. Former Bears’ centers Roberto Garza and Brian De La Puente both had good run blocking grades in 2014 and Montogmery or Grasu must continue this trend at center in 2015.
The Bears are aided by the return of left guard Matt Slausen from injury. Slausen missed 11 games in 2014 but had a great 2013 season with Chicago. Kyle Long is an all pro right guard who is a beast in run blocking and pass protection. Jordan Mills is an average run blocker but struggles in pass protection (-13.8 pass pro grade). Left Tackle Jermon Bushrod struggled in 2014 in both pass protection and run blocking. Bushrod struggled in pass protection in 2013 but was good in run blocking. The high priced free agent left tackle from 2013 must get better to help Cutler and the Bears’ offense.
3-4 Swap and Pass Rush
The Bears defense is a big unknown for 2015. They made major changes to their scheme and added some free agents in OLB Pernell McPhee, ILB Mason Foster, CB Alan Ball, CB Tracy Porter and SS Antrell Rolle. The Bears defense can’t possibly be as awful as it has been the past two seasons. However, there should still be some growing pains and there are some holes on the defense.
McPhee is a stud OLB added. McPhee had 6.5 sacks, 21 QB hits and 35 hurries with Baltimore for a +23.1 pass rush grade. McPhee was good with a +3.2 run defense grade as well. McPhee is a big time addition for any 3-4 defensive scheme. Jay Ratliff is a penetrating DT that could play the nose or 3-4 DE. Ratliff missed 5 games but had 6.5 sacks, 7 hits and 19 hurries for a +10.4 pass rush grade. Ratliff can play the run well too notching a +7.0 run defense grade. These two players should be the building blocks of the new defense.
Lamar Houston was a big time free agent addition in 2014 that didn’t quite pan out as expected. Houston was solid with 1 sack, 10 hits and 15 hurries in 8 games but the 1 sack was costly. Houston celebrated the sack too hard and tore his ACL. Houston now switches to a OLB in the new scheme. The injury may affect Houston’s mobility but he can be effective as a stand-up rusher and has some experience with Oakland rushing from OLB. Houston is a clear wild card to the Bears success.
Speaking of ACL injuries, former Lion Willie Young had a good first year with the Bears before tearing his ACL late in the 2014 season. Young had 10.5 sacks, 5 hits and 22 hurries. He wasn’t consistent enough with a lot of pass rush snaps and earned a low -7.7 pass rush grade. Young did earn a strong +5 run defense grade. Young will switch to 3-4 OLB as well. Injury recovery will be a factor for him but he shouldn’t be counted on by the Bears until mid-season. Jared Allen moves to OLB and could play some 3-4 DE too. Allen is on the decline but may have some left in the tank in a new position.
Young Defensive Linemen
The Bears will be playing several young defensive linemen due to the domestic violence of Ray McDonald. McDonald was a great addition talent wise with very good grades in pass rush and run defense. However, McDonald has a major character flaw and was cut quickly by the Bears. This is the first black eye in the Pace regime. Pace counters the error with a plethora of young defensive linemen.
Eddie Goldman is a nose tackle that was drafted in Round 2 from Florida State. Goldman is a big strong hole plugging tackle. Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson are second year DTs that both struggled in their rookie years in 2014. The position switch may help them as they can focus on two gaps instead of a penetrating scheme.
The Bears coverage was atrocious in 2014. Kyle Fuller started strongly but ended up with a terrible -17.2 coverage grade. Tim Jennings was average with a +.4 grade. Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen actually had solid coverage grades for safeties (+2.6 and +1.0) but Chris Conte (now at Tampa Bay) struggled in the safety spot.
Antrell Rolle brings an average grade of +.5 from the Giants. The Bears LBs had coverage issues between McClellin (-6.3), Bostic (-6.5) and Briggs (-1.1). Long time LB Lance Briggs is gone with the 3-4 switch in Chicago. Mason Foster was added to play ILB but he struggled in run defense and was average in coverage for Tampa. The Bears secondary and ILBs have major coverage question marks for the 2015 season.
The Bears run defense should struggle with the 3-4 scheme and the young defensive lineman. However there are bright spots with Shea McClellin earning a +10.1 run defense grade in 2014. Bostic notched a +4.6 run defense grade and Tim Jennings is good in run support from the corner spot. Mundy and Vereen are average run defenders.
The 3-4 scheme, new OLBS and young linemen will be the biggest factors to try to change this from a weakness to a strength during 2015.
Cutler and Protection
Cutler has had some success in the past. He has proven he can move the chains and score points. However, Cutler is still a turnover machine even with less than 600 attempts. The Bears can’t win notching 29 turnovers if their defense isn’t a top 10 defense. The Bears do need to protect Cutler better. Bushrod and Mills must improve their poor pass protection from 2014 or it will be another long year for Bears’ fans. Long, Slausen and Montgomery/Grasu should stabilize the interior protection.
Until Cutler fixes his turnover issue or the Bears defense is reborn as a top 10 defense, the Bears will continue to be mediocre at best.
Schedule and Outlook
The Bears play the NFC North twice, NFC West and AFC West. They host Washington and travel to Tampa Bay as their other two games. This is a huge break for the Bears getting two weaker teams in these games with a 4th place schedule.
The Bears start with two home games which is followed by 3 of 4 on the road before their bye. The Bears have an even home and away run of games for the 10 weeks after the bye.
Chicago hosting San Francisco, Arizona, Denver, Green Bay, Detroit, Minnesota will help them in some tough games. Bears may have some trouble on the road against San Diego, Kansas City, Seattle, Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit and St. Louis. Chicago is better than 2014 but just not ready to be playoff caliber. They are a tougher team if their defense improves since they have plenty of weapons and Forte running the ball. The Bears finishing 6-10 is the most probable given the new schemes and the Bears’ trouble with teams within the division (Green Bay/Detroit).