For Bears in 2014, it's playoffs — or bust

Discussion in 'Chicago Bears' started by BSBEARS, Jul 22, 2014.


    BSBEARS Pro-Bowler

    Jan 19, 2014
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    New Bear Lamarr Houston, Jay Cutler with coach Marc Trestman and converted linebacker Shea McClellin. (Tribune file photos)
    By Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer, Tribune reporters
    7:38 p.m. CDT, July 22, 2014

    Oddsmakers in Las Vegas have set the over-under for the Bears' 2014 win total at 8 1/2 (-155). That seems about right. Since losing Super Bowl XLI in January 2007, the Bears' average regular-season win total is 8.6. They've won at least eight games five times over the past seven seasons but have made the playoffs only once in that span.
    So as the team heads to Bourbonnais for the start of training camp, our Bears insiders sense legitimate reasons for both optimism and concern. Rich Campbell offers 8 1/2 reasons a playoff run could be in the cards, and Dan Wiederer counters with 7 1/2 reasons potential disappointment looms.
    1. Playoffs
    The defense can't be worse than last year's historically bad unit. The Bears identified their greatest weakness and upgraded the line with shrewd roster and coaching moves. Free agent Lamarr Houston should be more imposing as a run defender on the left edge than Shea McClellin was. He and star free-agent defensive end Jared Allen should establish a more consistent, disruptive pass rush after signing contracts that included a combined $30.5 million guaranteed. Second-round draft pick Ego Ferguson is powerful and should help control the line of scrimmage against the run, along with veteran tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea, who are fitter than they were last season.
    ... or bust
    Yes, defensive improvement should be attainable with the infusion of new talent. But the defense was a disaster in 2013. No team in the NFL was worse at stopping the run; the Bears allowed 161.4 rushing yards per game. No team had fewer sacks than the Bears' 31 either — barely half of what the league-leading Panthers produced (60). Add in the fact the Bears created 14 of their 28 takeaways in September, and the need for drastic defensive progress becomes more apparent.
    2. Playoffs
    The defense needs to return only to respectability because the offense should compensate. Coach Marc Trestman in his first season helped a talented cast rank third in the NFL with 6.03 yards per play. Then the Bears spent the offseason refining their offense to highlight plays that succeeded in specific situations and to eliminate those that didn't. All 11 starters are back, so familiarity with the scheme won't be an issue as it was early in 2013. Quarterback Jay Cutler had his best completion percentage (63.1) in five seasons with the Bears and should build on his career-high passer rating of 89.2.
    ... or bust
    Cutler hasn't started 16 games in a season since 2009. Since then, he has missed 13 full games, and injuries have kept him from finishing five others. The Bears are 5-13 in those games. And Josh McCown, last season's life raft at backup quarterback, is now in Tampa. The Bears head to camp with Jordan Palmer, Jimmy Clausen and David Fales fighting for the backup job. If that doesn't require a bulk supply of Pepto-Bismol, what will?
    3. Playoffs
    Keep the antacids in the medicine cabinet because of the talented cast supporting the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how McCown fares without Pro Bowl receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, a 6-foot-6, athletic tight end in Martellus Bennett and a talented line that returns all five starters. No other team boasts as decorated a group of skill-position players. Cutler's injury history says the Bears backup will play at some point, but the talent at other positions should mitigate the drop-off.
    ... or bust
    Talk all you want about the eye-opening production Marshall and Jeffery had last season, combining for 189 catches, 2,712 yards and 19 touchdowns. But with Earl Bennett departed, the Bears will need to establish a reliable No. 3 receiver. The eight other receivers heading to Bourbonnais combined to produce 24 catches, 245 yards and zero scores in 2013.
    4. Playoffs
    The Bears tried to boost their linebacker and safety play with their remaining resources after adding to the defensive line. Re-signing veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams should allow Jon Bostic to continue developing in a reserve role while contributing in sub packages and on special teams. The Bears gave up 3.8 yards per carry in the six games Williams started and 6.1 in the 10 games Bostic played after Williams tore his left pectoral muscle. Instinctive, smart rookie safety Brock Vereen could push Chris Conte for the starting spot alongside free-agent signee Ryan Mundy.
    ... or bust
    Major questions remain at linebacker and safety. McClellin's conversion from end is a dice roll, and Bostic is still developing. At safety, finding a second reliable starter to play beside Mundy will be no easy task. Vereen is known for his acumen, but league history indicates starting a rookie safety is risky because of all the reads and checks required.
    5. Playoffs
    In addition to the personnel upgrades, defensive coaching should be better. Coordinator Mel Tucker has refined the Bears' 4-3, one-gap scheme to hone run fits and include disguises. The Bears still will enable their cornerbacks to play with vision, which should result in turnovers if the pass rush improves as expected. New line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring have a combined 75 years of coaching experience, 14 in the NFL. That should help youngsters such as McClellin, Bostic and rookie tackles Ferguson and Will Sutton.

    ... or bust
    Inexperienced players should benefit from better coaching, but Father Time is vying for a starting role on defense. The Bears began their offseason roster renovations with a vow to get considerably younger. Yet they'll open practice Friday with a first-unit defense featuring six players in their 30s. Lance Briggs will turn 34 in Week 11 and missed seven games last season. Charles Tillman is 33 and missed eight games in 2013. Williams just turned 32. And Ratliff, soon to be 33, played only five games last season. Also in the over-30 crowd are Allen, 32, and Tim Jennings, 30.
    6. Playoffs
    The Bears successfully overhauled their offensive line last offseason, and all five starters are back. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, up from 4.2 in 2012. And they improved their sacks-per-pass-attempt rate to 5.2 percent from 9.1 the previous season. That occurred despite the presence of two rookies on the right side, guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills. The line should be even better as those two build on their experiences.
    ... or bust
    Sure, the Bears started the same offensive line for all 16 games last season. But the odds of that quintet staying fully healthy for another full season are slim. Left guard Matt Slauson didn't participate in organized team activities or minicamp as he recovered from offseason surgery on his right shoulder. Mills, who broke his left foot in the season finale, sat out minicamp after working through OTAs. And Long has dealt with back issues that kept him out of the final two days of minicamp. All five starting linemen should be ready to practice Friday. But starting training camp and staying healthy into January are different challenges.
    7. Playoffs
    The Bears play five of their final seven games at home. Three teams that play their home games in domes — the Cowboys, Saints and Lions — will visit Soldier Field in consecutive weeks in December. If Trestman has a polar vortex in his playbook, that would be a good time to use it. One of the Bears' three road games during the second half is a Nov. 9 visit to Lambeau Field for which they'll be coming off their open date.
    ... or bust
    The early schedule, however, has plenty of teeth. Yes, the Bears will open at Soldier Field for the fifth consecutive season, this time against the beatable Bills. But after that, a stretch of five road games in seven weeks looms before the open date. The trips are to San Francisco, New York (Jets), Carolina, Atlanta and New England. Those teams combined for a 30-10 home record in 2013.
    7 1/2. Playoffs
    McClellin's move from end to linebacker should exploit the athleticism that helped him stand out in college. If he can use his vision, speed and change-of-direction ability to get ball carriers on the ground, that would be an improvement. Whether he can move blockers, though, remains to be seen.
    ... or bust
    Robbie Gould will have a new long snapper and holder. That might not seem like much, but synchronizing a place-kicking operation to have the right timing and correct tilt, kick after kick after kick, is a big deal. Two or three field-goal misses caused by minor disruptions could make all the difference in a playoff push.
    8 1/2. Playoffs
    Coach Marc Trestman's leadership style has been well-received. He had to win over players a year ago in his first season, but that's behind him now. Cutler, Marshall and others have praised their relationships with the head coach. Trestman has been careful not to portray his approach as soft, but it's apparent players are responding positively to his emphasis on relationships, connectivity and personal investment in others. In a league defined by parity, those bonds could give the Bears a critical edge.
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  2. B-ell-y-iot

    B-ell-y-iot Pro-Bowler
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    Jul 15, 2014
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    Lots of good counter points brought up here.

    This is a strong point and a big area of concern. I am not, as shark86x suggested, going to buy a Conte rookie card as a memento (or for value), but I think his experience can help either ease Vereen into his first NFL game, help push Vereen into being a stronger player, and / or help him learn the Bears's system expediently. I would rather Conte start and let Vereen learn than vice versa. In the NFC North the FS is going to be expected to play a huge role in coverage and we can't have people blowing their coverages. I know Conte made the big fuck up, but I'm sure he'd had an opportunity to think through that mistake plenty.

    Seeing these injuries lined up like they are, it does seem like a long shot for us to go through the season without some Bears Down. I'm not well versed in our back-up linemen, but I'm hoping he have some depth or start developing it pronto.

    Another strong point to consider. I'm sure DeCamillis and Stukes will be busting some asses to make sure this isn't an issue. We don't want to step back from the excellence Gould has given us these last few years. His contributions are a huge part of our success and game planning.
  3. shark86x

    shark86x Pro-Bowler

    Feb 15, 2012
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    I'm sure Gould will be all over this too. He is so close to the efficiency record, he sure doesn't want that screwed up by bad ball handling. I expect to see a LOT of practice of this at TC. Hopefully Trestman asks Mannelly to stop by and give 'em some tips.
  4. soulman

    soulman Coordinator
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    Oct 14, 2004
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    Meh, the arguments against were weak and shallow. The only ones I can truly buy into 100% are the early season schedule and the injury bug if it hits hard where it counts but then that could destroy the playoff hopes of many teams still on the rise like the Bears are.

    I'm not being a "homer" here I'm just saying that if we did a Franklin Balance Sheet there would be more marks on the positive side than the negative. I'm not a gambler but I have a good friend who loves to play the Vegas lines. I suggested he take the over on the Bears and he did. If he wins I'll make $100 from his winnings and I'm already making a list of what to spend it on.


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