When the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, they’ll indeed be quite different from the teams that went 3-13 and 5-11 in the previous two seasons, respectively. In fact, I could see them improving their offense immensely, perhaps matching a defense that practically went undercover in 2017, few noticing that the Bears were 14th in defensive DVOA, both against the pass and the run.
If their offense matched their defense, Chicago could actually turn out like ... the 2017 Seattle Seahawks. A team that finished 14th on offense and 13th on defense for DVOA last season. The 2018 version of the Seahawks travels to face the 2018 Bears in a Monday Night matchup in Week 2 — coming off of a Week 1 road trip to Denver — and they’d better hope new head coach Matt Nagy hasn’t figured out his team by then.
Some of the most important pieces to the Bears’ potential future success are now starting to develop with Nagy, a 40-year-old who may be considered a phenom were it not for Sean McVay stealing all the thunder of being a young first-time head coach with the LA Rams last year.
Two years ago, Chicago started Jay Cutler at quarterback for five games, plus Matt Barkley for six and Brian Hoyer for the remaining five. They’ll now have Mitchell Trubisky, the second overall pick in 2017, going into his second year. Trubisky had just seven touchdowns over 12 starts as a rookie, but he has a lot more to work with now; the Bears signed receiver Allen Robinson to a three-year, $42 million deal; tight end Trey Burton to a four-year, $32 million deal; receiver Taylor Gabriel to a four-year, $26 million deal; drafted Anthony Miller (Rob Staton’s top-ranked receiver in the draft) in the second round; they also have tight end Adam Shaheen (second round, 2017), tight end Dion Sims, and receiver Kevin White, the seventh overall pick in 2015 who has unfortunately missed all but five games in his career.
That huge block of text summarized:
- The Bears had Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Dontrelle Inman, Zach Miller, Sims, Shaheen, Deonte Thompson, Tre McBride in 2017.
- The Bears have Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, and Dion Sims at receiver and tight end in 2018.
That seems like some significant turnover, which is combined with moving on from John Fox to Nagy, a guy who got the Kansas City Chiefs to sixth in scoring last season with Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Albert Wilson.
Taking the place behind or beside Trubisky is running back Jordan Howard, a player who I have not been the biggest fan of, though he has plenty of fans. Howard has rushed for 2,435 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons, showing some ability as a receiver as well, but his success rate is usually quite low and I believe he benefited from an offensive line interior that ranked among the NFL’s best. That may not be the case anymore.
Chicago declined guard Josh Sitton’s option and he signed a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The current starting left guard in his place: James Daniels, a second round pick out of Iowa, but a guy who mostly played center in college and doesn’t turn 21 until September. It would be an accomplishment if new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to get him ready to start by then, which means that former Seahawks tackle Bradley Sowell could be at that spot in Week 2.
That could give the Bears an offensive line of Charles Leno at left tackle, Sowell or Daniels, Cody Whitehair at center, mainstay Kyle Long at right guard, and Bobby Massie at right tackle. Long made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons but has missed 14 games in the last two years.
All told, it seems the Bears have done enough to at least improve from their rankings of 29th in scoring and 30th in total yards a year ago. Nagy, Trubisky, new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich (former Oregon head coach), Robinson, Hiestand, Burton, Howard, Miller, Tarik Cohen, Shaheen ... It has all the makings of a potent offense one day, but will that day be as soon as Monday, September 17, 2018?
It may not have to be if the defense keeps improving.
Chicago was 9th in points allowed in 2017 despite their offense’s ineptitude. They did so without any real stars. Defensive end Akiem Hicks has started to tap into his potential with the Bears, leading the team with 8.5 sacks a year ago and totaling 26 pass pressures per FootballOutsiders. Linebacker Leonard Floyd (9th overall pick in 2016), missed six games but still had 26.5 pressures, plus 4.5 sacks. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman’s been a strong player in the middle, when he’s healthy, since being a second round pick in 2015.
They matched a four-year offer sheet that the Packers gave to cornerback Kyle Fuller, electing to pay him a total of $56 million if he fulfills the deal. Fuller remains opposite of fellow former first round pick Prince Amukamara, who seems capable, at least. Safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson are both young and look to be on the rise. If looking for veteran linebackers, here you’ll find Danny Trevathan, Sam Acho, and Aaron Lynch, all of whom could serve as great mentors to Roquan Smith.
The reward for another bad season, Smith was the eighth overall pick in the draft. He should be able to compete at any of the linebacker positions and seems the type to contribute right away, but with rookies there are no guarantees of anything other than they’re rookies.
Somehow the defense looks less talented than the offense on paper, even though they were well ahead of the offense on anything just a year ago. That doesn’t mean that the defense looks bad — the opposite, if anything — just that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was retained by Nagy for good reason. Now Fangio has a player like Smith to plug into the middle of his defense, between his young safeties, his underrated defensive linemen, his two cornerbacks who were once first round picks, his veteran linebackers, and Floyd.
I’m not saying that the Bears are a playoff team quite yet, but they belong on some watch lists. The Seahawks were likely going to have a significant challenge on their hands anyway, traveling to Chicago in Week 2 on Monday Night Football, but when you break down what’s different and what’s the same with the Bears, Seattle may have even more to deal with than one may first anticipate.
Week 2, MNF @ Chicago Bears, I expect the Seahawks to
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How many wins do you expect by the Bears?
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0-3 (Extremely bad)
4-6 (Pretty bad)
10-12 (Very good)