After a promising offseason, the Bears will revive hope in Chicago
By Steven Toroni
I am not going to tell you that the Chicago Bears are going to shock the world next season. They are in a division with Aaron Rodgers and a Minnesota Vikings team that made it to the NFC Championship game last season (and may have gotten better). Yet those are the exact reasons why no one is expecting anything great from the Bears in 2018.
It is quite impressive that Chicago won five games in 2017. Mike Glennon started the first four games, which resulted in a 1-3 record. John Fox, a notoriously defensive-minded coach, did not have the talent on that side of the ball to compete with the Packers, the Vikings, or the Lions, which all have offenses with big-play ability. Dowell Loggains’ play-calling had become stagnant in a league that is ever-changing, but the fact remains that even the best defenses are susceptible to a Rodgers or Matthew Stafford deep ball.
The Bears needed offense and needed it bad. The Bears started rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky in Week Five. The prospect out of North Carolina -whom Chicago traded up one spot in the Draft to acquire, did not have a receiver better than Kendall Wright, who had 59 receptions for 614 yards and one touchdown.
With a revamped offense, a stud rookie on defense, and being in year two of the Trubisky era, here are five reasons why the Bears will be the most improved team in 2018 and will contend to be one of the Wild Card teams in the NFC.
The Bears offense was saved by the production of its running backs, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard was able to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in his first two years as a pro. Cohen flashed early in the year as a guy who can take it to the house on any given play, but was phased out as Loggains elected to the run the ball up the middle every chance he could get. Fox was fired shortly after the season and former offensive coordinator of the Chiefs, Matt Nagy, was hired soon after. The Chiefs started off hot in 2017, but lost their way midseason. Coach Andy Reid handed play-calling duties to Nagy and Kansas City finished the season so well that it earned Nagy a Head Coaching position in the NFL.
After starting the season 5-0, the Chiefs were 6-5 when Nagy took over as the play-caller in Kansas City. Nagy was able to ride not only rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, but backup running back Charcandrick West was used effectively. Alex Smith ran more of the run/pass option, Travis Kelce was used all over the field (including in the backfield), and their big-play maven Tyreek Hill had the ball in his hands early and often in ballgames.
The Chicago Bears are getting a high-volume, extremely efficient WR in Anthony Miller with the 51st overall pick – ranking 4th in yards per route run last season pic.twitter.com/MZrmo1N16E
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 28, 2018
If this is what we can expect for the Bears this season, then they will have a chance to compete with anybody. Look at the difference between the 2016 and 2017 Los Angeles Rams. Sean McVay replaced Jeff Fisher and the team went from a poor offensive ballclub to a dynamic one with a similar roster. Nagy’s offense is simplistic enough for Trubisky. In fact, getting the ball into the hands of the Bears’ playmakers and limiting mistakes will benefit the second-year pro substantially.
The Bears offense is completely different from last season. Chicago was 30th in total offense (4,599 yards) which falls on more than just the coaching staff. Adding offensive weapons was the main priority for the Bears, as they brought in tight end Trey Burton and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel.
Burton, like Kelce, can be lined up all over the field. Burton threw the touchdown to Nick Foles that may go down as the most memorable trick play in Super Bowl history. In the two games that Zach Ertz didn’t play last year, Burton had seven receptions for 111 yards and three touchdowns. He checks all the boxes as a pass-catching tight end and we have already seen what Nagy can do with a player like that in Kansas City. The 26 year-old will provide Trubisky with short to intermediate targets and be used as a security blanket when his quarterback is under duress in the pocket.
Taylor Gabriel is a 5’8”receiver with blazing speed and works well out of the slot. While his 4.45 40-time is considered slow when compared to Hill’s 4.34 speed (according to playerprofiler.com), the idea is still quite the same. The advantage here is that Gabriel will not have to be utilized as a first, second, or even third option for the Bears’ offense. However, there will be times in 2018 where the former Falcon will take the lid off an opposing defense and make the Bears offense look dangerous.;
After two solid seasons- one with 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns- Allen Robinson’s 2018 campaign lasted less than a quarter of a game after the five-year pro tore his ACL. Robinson offers true number one wide receiver potential for Trubisky and the Bears. He is a big target who can win one-on-one situations and jump-balls to help his quarterback. Trubisky flashed the ability to throw it into tight windows, which will complement Robinson well. If he can stay healthy, he will be able to provide the Bears playmaking ability from the WR position that they have not seen since Alshon Jeffery.
While the Bears were criticized in 2017 for moving up one pick in the Draft for a quarterback who may have dropped to the mid-first round, Chicago certainly did their due diligence in 2018 by staying put at the eighth overall slot. The Bears took advantage of a run on quarterbacks and were able to land linebacker Roquan Smith out of Georgia, who was graded as a Top 5 prospect on most analyst’s draft boards. Smith is very fast (4.51 40-yard dash) and his Speed Score on playerprofiler.com is off the charts. This score uses a formula factoring in weight, height, and 40-times and Smith’s score is better than most wide receivers. That kind of speed, along with Smith’s power and ability to be coached, will make him a great NFL player. His presence will be able to mask the lack of talent on the Bears defense at times in 2018.
The Bears next pick was riskier in offensive lineman James Daniels out of Iowa. He has a history of knee injuries. If he is healthy, he will fit right in and be a starter for the Bears. Their second pick of the second round was a home run, as they traded up to get Anthony Miller out of Memphis. Miller is an explosive player with a big catch radius for a receiver who is only 5’11”. After deciding not to take a chance on Cam Meredith’s knee, the Bears elected to take a discount in the draft and got tremendous value for a player that some had graded as the best wideout prospect in the Draft. Rather than hoping Kevin White will stay healthy and be the player they were expecting, Chicago now has a receiver who fills that role – and if White does produce, then that is a nice bonus for the Bears next year.
Projecting The Schedule
The Bears open the season in Lambeau Field on Sunday Night Football. They will lose, but not before putting up a fight and showing off some of their new toys on offense in prime time. The following week they play yet again on the big stage, this time on Monday Night Football as they will host the Seahawks. This will be the Bears’ chance to make a name for themselves and they will eke out the victory against the Russell Wilsons – propelling them to win their next three games against the Cardinals, the Buccaneers, and the Dolphins before losing at home to the Patriots. The Bears should be able to handle the Jets and the Bills, but will not have enough for Stafford and the Lions. The Vikings will come to town in Week 11 and their defense will be able to get to Trubisky to force mistakes and a Bears loss, putting the Chicago record at 6-4.
The Bears will get their revenge on Thanksgiving against the Lions, but after a long break will lose in a shootout against the Giants. The Rams will come to town and get the win the following week, but the Bears will beat the Packers at home after that, making their record 8-6 going into the final two weeks of the season. Chicago will win a tough one in San Francisco, but will not have enough to beat the Vikings in Minnesota. The Vikes will be playing to win the division over the Green Bay Packers. The Bears will be 9-7 and even though they will miss the playoffs, they can go into 2019 with the confidence of a winning-season under their belts.;
There is a lot of pressure of living up to the number two overall selection in the draft, but that is what Trubisky faces in his sophomore season. Excuses are out the window after a year of experience and weapons aplenty to work with. Trubisky is a mobile quarterback who fits well into the system Nagy will put him in. The offense is going to cater to Trubisky and he will be able to thrive in a run-first attack that will look to gash teams with the play-action pass. Trubisky will be able to dump the ball off to Cohen on screens in the passing game, while having a viable option underneath in Burton. The receivers will give the former Tar Heel all the help he needs to be successful in 2018.
Trubisky only completed 59.4 percent of his throws last season. The offensive pieces and the upgrade at play-calling should help that number improve. The Bears quarterback excels passing on the run to his right side and has the agility to take off with the ball downfield. This dynamic will force team’s defenses into quick decisions whether to back off in coverage to protect the pass, or commit to Trubisky and prevent the chunk running play.
While the division is tough, the Bears’ schedule is otherwise manageable in 2018. Nagy and the new offensive pieces in Chicago are going to help Trubisky become a winner in the league for a long time. Next season may not end in glorious fashion, but it is the stepping stone necessary for the Bears to return to true winning form in the NFL.