(Photo Credit: USA Today via Reuters/Tim Heitman)
The Chicago Bears have been to the playoffs once in the last 11 years, and that came all the way back in 2010. They have not had a winning season since 2012 and only once in the last four have they won over six games. One of the NFL’s most storied franchises continues to languish below mediocrity.
However, an offseason that included the hiring of eager first-year head coach Matt Nagy, potentially major offensive upgrades in receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton and a draft class that’s received high grades, Chicago appears to be on the right track to respectability, at the least. But before Bears fans think their team is poised to be 2018’s version of the Jacksonville Jaguars or Los Angeles Rams, it’s important to remain realistic.
On paper, the Bears seem as if they should be better than the combined eight-win teams of the last two seasons. Just how good? We must wait, but this should be a process. One that might take a season or two before anything really pays off – meaning a playoff berth or division title.
Technically, going from 3-13 in 2016 to 5-11 in 2017 is progress. But obviously, the Bears were never a contender for anything more than a top 5 pick in the draft.
However, rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky had his moments learning on the job while not being given a lot of the playbook from former coach John Fox. But under Nagy, a former quarterback, Trubisky has the chance to really learn the game and absorb the nuances that go beyond audibles and check downs.
Now, Trubisky can grasp everything Nagy throws at him, but unless he executes it properly on the field, nothing is certain. The Bears still have plenty of issues like an offensive line that can’t seem to stay healthy or play well for more than a couple games in a row. New offensive weapons like Robinson, fellow receiver Taylor Gabriel and Burton offer more talent than Chicago previously had at those positions, but they are far from elite performers or even ones who have proven their worth consistently.
What happens if Trubisky gets hurt? At the moment, Chase Daniel would be the man with Tyler Bray backing him up. Not exactly Nick Foles, or even ex-Bear Mike Glennon, one of the highest-paid backups in the league last season.
Chicago ranked 10th in total defense (319.1 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (20.0) last season, but its depth remains a major question mark. Leonard Floyd is a talented pass rusher (11 1/2 career sacks), but injuries have limited him to 12 and 10 games, respectively, in his first two seasons. Veteran linebacker Danny Trevathan has played just 21 games in his two seasons with Chicago because he also can’t stay healthy.
Backup linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski, John Timu and Sam Acho are serviceable to plug in here or there, but too often in the past they have been asked to be regular contributors who just don’t have the talent to be full-time starters.
If injuries continue to plague the Bears as in recent seasons, any progress the franchise might have made could be stalled and a top 10 draft pick will be in the cards once again.
We’ll get the chance to see just how much improved Chicago will be right out of the gate in 2018. It opens with a night game at the Green Bay Packers, who it’s beat just once in the last nine meetings. A Monday night home game with Seattle follows, then the Bears visit Arizona in Week 3.
Though Chicago hosts the New England Patriots and Rams, it travels to Buffalo and to face a San Francisco 49ers team that expects to be better. Oh yeah, the Bears didn’t win a single game within the NFC Central last season, so improving in that area should be priority No. 1.
Sure, the Bears will probably win a game or two they are not expected to, and draft picks like first-round linebacker Roquan Smith and receiver Anthony Miller could end up providing excitement as expected this season. Real progress, like improvement from Trubisky and the offensive line, and maybe two more wins from last season, is what Bears fans should crave.
Then again, if they want to make a push for the playoffs, that will be welcomed, too.
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