This Sunday the Chicago Bears take the field for their 2014 campaign. After a crushing defeat at the hands of the Packers to end their 2013 season, Chicago re-tooled in the offseason and brought back a overhauled defense to go with their second year offense (which scored the second most points in the NFL last season). Will those additions and changes be enough to push the Bears into the postseason? Or at least above 8-8? It’s high-time we break down these Monsters of the Midway, because game one is just around the corner.
Back from buying his awesome-ass conversion van, Jay Cutler returns to quarterback my childhood team. He had an up-and-down 2013, with various injuries derailing any momentum and giving way to a redonkulous McCown vs Cutler debate of which I never wanted any part. Jay was rewarded with a contract extension in January that will keep him with the Bears for at least another three years. Now he has the deal. Now he needs to continue living up to it. Cutler’s talent has been shown off in Marc Trestman’s system, but it’s been an inconsistent performance on the field, but a very consistent douche-facade off it.
Last year the Bears’ offensive line was actually… good. For the first time in years I didn’t actively throw a shoe at my wall four times a game, which would signal the amount of times my random left tackle proceeded to twirl as a defensive end ran past him to critically injure my quarterback. BUT NO LONGER! Gone are the days of turnstiles at tackle and beef-hoarders at guard! Jermon Bushrod is a steady left tackle, and Matt Slauson earned the right to an extension at left guard. Guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills proved that a rookie side of the line doesn’t have to be worrisome. Roberto Garza isn’t the center I’d prefer, but he’s competent enough. Aside from a natural decline in Garza’s skills (because age), I’m expecting improvement across the board.
As it has been since his arrival, Matt Forte is the key cog in Chicago’s offense. Forte continues to show surprising levels of running back longevity, but this year Emery went out and brought in a replacement by way of the draft. Fourth rounder Ka’Deem Carey figures to get time at running back at various points of the season, but Forte will still be the focal point. His running, pass catching, and blocking skills make him one of the best all-around backs in football.
Once a position bereft of talent, the Bears’ receiving corps is the undoubtedly best it’s ever been. Brandon Marshall is back off his own three year extension, aiming for his third straight 100+ catch season in Chicago. Alshon Jeffery lived up to expectations and had a break-out season in 2013, with ridiculous highlight catches coming in almost every game. Marshall and Jeffery run great routes, have an expansive catching radius, and can block with the best of them. With that duo atop the depth chart, the Bears might have the best tandem in in the league. Behind them is now a former Super Bowl MVP in Santonio Holmes, who came over after a disappointing stint with the Jets. On a one-year veteran minimum contract, the Bears have taken a low-risk, high-reward chance on Holmes, who is certainly itching for another payday. He’s quick and smart enough to play inside at the slot position, which is significant in Trestman’s quick passing offense. Marquess Wilson was the team’s original idea for the third receiver, but a broken collarbone put him on IR/designated to return, so he could come back after the first eight weeks of the season to get some reps. Josh Morgan is a solid fourth receiver, having led Washington in receiving back in 2012. As you can see, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the Bears’ receivers.
After Martellus Bennett, the Bears are dangerously light on tight ends. Zack Miller showed a wee bit of promise in the preseason, but a foot injury saw him released before we could see any more. Now? Dante Rosario and Matthew Mulligan are backing up the Black Unicorn. Bennett can do it all. He can block on the line, he can catch passes, and can split out wide to create mis-matches. There are rumblings he was unhappy with the lack of targets last season, but a preseason suspension from the team seems to have settled his brashness… for now.
Phil Emery rebuilt the offensive line in his first full offseason as the Bears’ GM. In his second? He rebuilt the defensive line using the same tools at his disposal: free agency and the draft. Free agency saw Lamarr Houston lured away from Oakland to become a valuable run-stuffing defensive end that can also switch inside and play defensive tackle. Then, in a quiet move with very little warning, Emery poached Jared Allen away from the Vikings. Emery is banking on Allen bringing his consistent sack stat-line with him. Continuing the trend of stealing from division rivals, Emery also signed Willie Young away from the Lions. Young had a strong preseason showing, so he’ll be counted on in the line rotation. Free agents may have been used to fill in the end positions, but Emery went to the draft to plug the hole at defensive tackle. Emery picked up Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the second and third round of the draft, adding young depth to the interior of this defensive line behind Ratliff and fourth year pro Stephen Paea. Jeremiah Ratliff was kept around to provide a veteran presence, but hopefully he regains some of his Dallas days’ form. This version of the line has the potential for a tremendous pass rush, but I’m wary of their ability to stop the run. I just haven’t seen it yet. But anything would be better than last year’s 32nd ranked rush defense.
Behind that line are question marks at linebacker. Lance Briggs is a 33-year old weak side linebacker who is starting to break down from injuries. D.J. Williams would have been a great middle linebacker last season… if a torn pectoral muscle hadn’t sidelined him for most of the year. Jonathan Bostic is still learning behind him, so let’s hope D.J. stays on the field in 2014. And the biggest question at linebacker has to be Shea McClellin, who after two years as an under-sized defensive end is making the switch to strong side ‘backer. McClellin was naturally slow to react during the preseason and needs work on his pass coverage, but he’ll be an asset rushing the quarterback this season.
Further down the defense, the cornerback position could be a mixed bag in 2014. Charles Tillman is still master of the ball punch, but how many games will he miss due to injury? He almost didn’t come back to the team, but he’s only two years removed from one of his best season ever. Tim Jennings hasn’t gotten any taller (5’8″) and is still a liability against big wide-outs. To help the coming transition, Emery picked Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller in the first round of the draft. Until Tillman retires, Fuller should see plenty of action as the Bears’ third corner, a position becoming ever more important in today’s passing league.
As Mel Tucker showed us during the preseason, he has no clue who his starting safeties should be. And the first game of the season won’t be any better, as we’re hearing that they’ll rotate safeties in their opener.
Brock Vereen was drafted in the round of the draft, but he may not be ready for a full load of game action. Chris Conte quickly exited his only preseason appearance with a concussion, leaving him surely rusty for whenever he actually makes his way into a game. The coaches seem relatively pleased with Ryan Mundy’s performance so far, but aren’t willing to commit to him as a “starter.” So it’s like we have NO safeties. GREAT.
What’s been a source of strength for the Bears in recent years may have turned into a weakness, or at best an unknown variable. Robbie Gould is still as reliable as ever, but I’m not convinced the same could be said for his blockers. We’ve already seen blocked FG’s and extra points, which is a cause for some concern. I like what I’ve seen from rookie punter Pat O’Donnell after he won a competition in the preseason against some other dude. That’s what you become when you lose a punting competition: NAMELESS. But I’m more concerned with the kick and punt coverage units. Michael Spurlock has been tapped to be the team’s return man this season… at least to start. He’s not going to provide Hester-like electricity, but maybe he’ll run forward every so often.
Now that I’ve addressed every part of the team it’s time to hit up that schedule real quick-like! (I did a GIF-plosion preview a few months ago, so you can check that out for more of the funny!)
@ 49ers (SNF)
@ Jets (MNF)
@ Packers (SNF)
@ Lions (Thanksgiving)
vs Cowboys (TNF)
vs Saints (MNF)
So the Bears are in primetime action five times this season and have the early Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. As far as conference opponents go, we have the second place schedule, which means we get the Cowboys and 49ers as well. We also play the NFC South and the AFC East. It doesn’t sound like an intimidating schedule, but with everything I’ve seen from our defense this preseason, there are plenty of games I’m anxious over. Ya know, like the 49ers, Packers (both times), Saints, Falcons (in Atlanta), Bucs (Lovie’s Revenge), and Patriots. Our bye is smack dab in the middle of our season though, which is fantastic, because I’ll need a break then.
So, we’ve examined the team. We’ve looked at the schedule. You know what’s next…
2013 Record: 8-8
2014 Prediction: 9-7
I’m sorry. It’s a let-down, I know. There’s lots of fans running around with dreams of 11-5 and 12-4 in their heads. Is it possible? Sure. That being said, nothing I’ve seen in this preseason makes me think that defense is double-digit win worthy. The offense hasn’t looked clean either. You can’t judge a team based on the preseason nearly at all, but I’m taking a wait and see approach with this defense. If it’s in the 14-18th ranked range, the Bears are going to the playoffs. If they can’t stop the run again, this will be a long season.
Ah screw it. Forget all that logical crap. 16-0 ALL THE WAY WOO!
Enjoy the 2014 regular season everyone. Bear Down and Happy Jay Cutler Day!
*If you’re not a Bears fan A- why did you just read this monstrosity, and B- be sure to check out our 2014 divisional previews for all 31 other teams!