After a 12-4 season and playoff berth in 2018, expectations are as high as ever in the Windy City. Can the Chicago Bears deliver on all the promise they teased last year? There are reasons to be optimistic, but there are just as many questions for this unit. Will the replacements on defense be able to carry the torch of last season’s top-ranked unit? Will the offense take a step forward with a year and another offseason together? And how will the coaches handle success, and in the case of Chuck Pagano, having big shoes to fill?
The Bears are projected to have 9.5 wins next season despite ending 2018 with 12 wins.
Will Chicago finish with over or under 9.5 wins in 2019? pic.twitter.com/E258AGOXGk
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) May 5, 2019
Chicago ranked fifth in total DVOA (and weighted DVOA) but a closer look shows a disparity. The defense came in first in DVOA, but the offense was a pedestrian 20th. And forget trying to blame it on the running or passing game because they were almost equally as poor. Some of their lacking counting numbers were due to a dominant defense providing short fields. But improvement is necessary and most of it will have to come organically.
Recapping the Chicago Bears Off-Season
Going on the Offensive
After last season’s spending spree, the Bears’ 2019 offseason was much quieter. The only outside free agent addition expected to contribute heavily is running back Mike Davis, and even he may be relegated to a change of pace role if third-round rookie David Montgomery delivers on his praise-drawing performance from rookie minicamp. Fellow rookie Riley Ridley should push Taylor Gabriel (who led Chicago receivers with 67 catches) for a spot in three-receiver sets as he profiles better for the perimeter.
Health will also be a major factor in how much better these Bears actually are, at least on the ground. Guard Kyle Long restructured his contract this offseason, but more important is his health. Long missed eight games in the middle of last season, returning just before the playoffs to face the Minnesota Vikings. Bears running backs averaged 4.03 yards per carry in the games Long was active. That number drops to 3.62 YPC in his absence. The running game was hit or miss last season, and while some of that was on the runners, the Bears 28th ranked offensive line is far better with Long in it.
Nothing else will matter, however, if the quarterback does not make the expected leap in year three. Mitchell Trubisky is a polarizing figure among Bears fans but 2019 will be a defining season for him no matter what side you are on. His rookie year was a circus. He was handcuffed by a lame duck head coach and stuck in an archaic offense with little talent around him. A second offseason working with Head Coach (and play caller) Matt Nagy should be enough to settle the debate, or at least tilt the scales one way or the other. Trubisky, who finished 2018 with a 2:1 TD to INT ratio, will need to do better than be the 18th ranked passer, despite having the third-best QBR of last season.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) May 7, 2019
Defense has always been a hallmark of good Bears teams. 2018 was no different, as evidenced by their ranking mentioned above. But with success in sports comes the inevitable poaching of players and coaches. The Bears offseason was no exception. Gone are safety Adrian Amos and nickel corner Bryce Callahan, as well as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio who left Mile High pastures. Their replacements (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Buster Skrine, and Pagano, respectively) have big shoes to fill and their ability to do so is a question.
Clinton-Dix was traded mid-season and has a reputation for being contact-averse. He replaced Amos, who hung his hat on being where he was supposed to be and not making mental mistakes. Ha Ha does have better ball skills; he had as many interceptions last year as Amos does in his career. He is on a one-year prove it deal so it is not unreasonable to expect a breakout. Skrine may have drawn praise from Nagy in the past, but the selection of Duke Shelley, who profiles as a slot corner, in the sixth round is a hedge against Skrine going all Denny Green speech on them.
No one allowed a lower passer rating as a team than the Chicago Bears did a season ago as the NFC North also had another top-4 team with the Vikings. pic.twitter.com/ZIwdu3iLOQ
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 8, 2019
Pagano may have both the easiest and toughest job on the team. On the one hand, coming into a situation like the Bears is a boon for a defensive mind like his. This is easily the most talent he has had defensively since his 2011 season with the Baltimore Ravens. He genuinely need not change too much, and in some capacity, just not be in the way. On the other hand, he has to follow a man who became a player and fan favorite. He also got tremendous production out of a group that had become mediocre at best prior to his arrival.
Bears Offseason Recap
The first-place schedule (they played a last place schedule last year), the uncertainty surrounding the kicking game, and coaches getting in their own way are all potential pitfalls. Which teams will actually be good remains to be seen. But we can expect the other NFC North teams to bounce back after down seasons hit everywhere but Chicago. And if you do not think going from a last-place to a first-place schedule is a big deal, just ask the Jacksonville Jaguars. The very public kicking situation is going to be tough, and while the winner will have faced a ton of pressure, under the lights is a different animal.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) May 6, 2019
Nagy, not unlike Pagano, will have a lot to prove. He showed he can craft an offense in his first season and that was despite his starters not getting many live reps together in camp and preseason. In year two, however, he has to show a better feel for the flow of the game. Despite all the focus being on the personnel, Nagy often became predictable with, and often even abandoned the run game entirely. That cannot happen and now that he has his type of back in Montgomery, it shouldn’t. Pagano should allow the Nagy the luxury to focus on the offense much as Fangio did. That is, as long as Pagano can maintain the level of excellence that has come to be expected from those inside the organization and out. The Bears offseason was not quiet, but the real noise has to be in the playoffs.
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