Our 2018 Regular Season Preview takes us to the Windy City, where we’ll meet the Chicago Bears, who are in the midst of a soft reset after starting over just three years ago. After a third consecutive season without the Playoffs, veteran Head Coach John Fox was ousted after putting together a disappointing 14-34 Record (.292) over that span. However, despite the clear lack of production in the Win Column, the former skipper did a solid job laying the foundation for success for his succcessor, whom eventually became Matt Nagy. Chicago moved quickly on the former Kansas City Chiefs’ Offensive Coordinator, whose gamplanning and playcalling will be a welcome sight for an anemic attack led by Sophomore Quarterback Mitch Trubisky. A rash of injuries decimated their Receiving Corps, leaving the youngster without much to work with, though for all intents and purposes he performed admirably, though make no mistake, continuing Trubisky’s growth will be Nagy’s top priority in his first on the job in Chicago. So with that said, let’s take a look at three key storylines that will ultimately dictate how successful the Bears will be this season, or if they will continue to fnd it difficult to improve.
In many ways, the hiring of Nagy as Head Coach had everything to do with enuring the progressive development of Trubisky, whom Chicago traded up for in the 2017 NFL Draft. The former North Carolina Quarterback had an unimpressive rookie showing, though much of that had to do with the previous Coaching Regime employing an overly-conservative scheme featuring a derth of weapons, particularly in the passing game. Initially, the Bears intended to reshirt the young Signal-Caller in 2017, but the disastrous play of veteran Mike Glennon (66.4%, 208.3 Y/G, 5.10 NY/A, 4 TD, 5 INT, 25.4 QBR in 2017) only hastened his successor’s debut after just four games. In twelve starts, the general consensus is that Trubisky acquitted himself as well as he could given the circumstances; he completed 59.4% of his Attempts for an average of 182.8 Yards per Game on 5.53 Net Yards per Attempt, with Seven Touchdowns and Seven Interceptions, all the while winning a third of his starts (4-8). And this is where Nagy comes into the equation. Trubisky is eerily similar to the Quarterback whom Nagy worked closely with in Kansas City, Alex Smith, possessing excellent ahtleticism, sharp decision-making, and the ability to throw the ball well on the run without sacrificing much at all in the way of accuracy. Expect Nagy and Offensive Coordinator Mark Helfrich to craft their own vision of the West Coast Offense around this kid’s stregnths, utilizing his mobility in the form of Run/Pass Options and Bootlegs, with the hopes of evolving their young charge into something greater than simply being a Game Manager. While 2018 will mark the third different Offense that he’s been in in as many years, the shrewd additions of Backups Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray (whom together have a wealth of experience in Nagy’s system) should alleviate that learning curve to degree. Add the presence of what should be an improved Supporting Cast into the mix, and there is an excellent chance that Trubisky takes another step towards realizing his potential this season.
All in the Pass
It’s safe to say that the Bears’ Passing Attack was arguably the worst in the league in 2017, and it’s hard to argue that point after taking a quick look at the statistics. Chicago ranked dead-last in both Passing Attempts (29.6 A/G) and Passing Yards (192.8 Y/G), next-to-last in Passing Touchdowns (13), while recording just 5.5 Net Yards per Attempt (25th Overall), with tat last figure serving as a clear indication of thier inability to strike downfield. Granted, this was far from by design; Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, who were supposed their top two receiving threats, only managed to play in ONE game combined, due to a rash of injuries. This has become a bit of a pattern for the former, who was selected Seventh Overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, yet has only managed to appear in five games over the past three years. As a result, Tailbacks Jordan Howard (276 CAR, 1,122 YDS, 9 TD in 2017) and Tarik Cohen (87 CAR, 370 YDS, 2 TD in 2017) featured heavily in a very conservative attack, oftentimes operating as Glennon/Trubisky’s primary targets, particualrly the latter of the two; in what was a surprising rookie campaign, Cohen ranked second on the Bears in Targets (71) and Receptions (53), along with third in Receiving Yards (353). So in the Offseason, Nagy and Co. got to work in signing the likes of Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel (33 REC, 378 YDS, 1 TD in 2017), along with Tight End Trey Burton (23 REC, 248 YDS, 5 TD in 2017), while trading up int he Second Round of the Draft to select Memphis’ prolific Anhtony Miller. Robinson lasted just three plays before missing the rest of 2017 with a Torn ACL, but was a Pro Bowler two years before, hauling in Eighty Receptions for 1,400 Yards and a league-best Fourteen Touchdowns. Gabriel was a devastating speed demon for NFC Champion Atlanta in 2016, and Burton scored Five Touchdowns for last year’s Super Bowl Champions the Philadelphia Eagles. It goes without saying that on paper this is vastly improved group of talent, though as we all know, the games aren’t won on paper, particularly when success is predicated on staying healthy.
Continuity on D
Despite all the change on the offensive side of the football, the Nagy made a very wise decision in retaining the services of Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio and virtually his entire Staff. After all, the Bears were not lacking on Defense in 2017, ranking in the Top-10 in both Points Allowed (20.0 P/G) and Total Defense (319.1 Y/G), and Passing Defense (192.8 Y/G). Consider the fact that their compatriots on Offense struggled as mightly as they did, and it’s rather remarkable that this unit was as staunch as they were. Unsurprisingly for a franchise steeped in such defensive tradition, it all starts up the middle for Chicago. Akiem Hicks (64 TKL, 8.5 Sacks2 FR in 2017) has been nothing short of a beast since arriving to the Windy City two years ago, amassing 15.5 Sacks since 2016. Eighth Overall Pick Roquan Smith is expected to be the great Bears’ Linebacker, forming a potentially explosive partnership with Danny Trevathan (89 TKL, 2.0 SK, 1 INT, 5 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR in 2017). Both Linebackers possess serious speed and agility, though the latter has had trouble staying on the field, missing eleven games since signing with the team back in 2016. The biggest question mark is the Pass Rush, which will be headlined by Leonard Floyd (34 TKL, 4.5 SK, 2 PD, 1 FR, 1 STY in 2017), but apart from the third-year stud as since lost a wealth of depth at the position. The likes of Pernell McPhee, Lamar Houston, and Willie Young all departed in Free Agency, accounting for a combined Ten Sacks last season. Fangio hopes that the addition of Aaron Lynch, whom shined under his tutelage as a rookie back in 2014, can help bring balance to this aspect of the Defense.
2018 Outlook: 8-8
It’s been a rough go for the Bears of late, who have gone a disappointing 19-45 (.297) over the past four years. However, there is plenty of room for optimism heading into 2018, behind a potentially vastly-improved Offense, led by a young Franchise Quarterback, and a rock-solid Defense that should only get better in their third year under the aforementioned Fangio. Nagy could very well be the next great success story to fall from the growing Andy Reid Coaching Tree, bringing a balanced and efficient attack to a franchise that has so frequently been starved on that side of the football. Ultimately, a great deal of any success that they achieve will be up to Trubisky, who has all teh requisite tools to thrive in this new Offense, particularly given the additions in the Passing Game. If the likes of Robinson and White remain healthy, no Offense stands to improve more so than Chicago’s, and with a schedule that features very few potential pitfalls, we believe that the Bears will make it back to .500 for the first time since 2013, though they’re likely a year away from returning to the Playoffs.