NFL Preview Series: Chicago Bears

Byron Dixon| Elite Insiders 

If only the Land of Oz happened to be real. Jay Cutler could be whisked away in a tornado, find the Wizard, obtain a heart and then click his heels to return back to Chicago. Cutler, the Don’t Care Bear, would suddenly be concerned with whether his team wins or not, and the Bears as a whole would improve tremendously. Unfortunately for the city of Chicago, this is just a work of fiction. The fans will once again be forced to endure Cutler’s lethargy, as he wastes away both his talent and another season. Cutler has all the skill in the world, but he just doesn’t give a damn. When he doesn’t feel like getting hit, he’ll gladly toss checkdowns, and when he’s had enough of being on the field, he’ll fire careless passes that are often picked off. Cutler was responsible for 24 turnovers in 2014, all while maintaining a pathetic 6.8 YPA.

While We Were Away: Cutler won’t have his buddy Brandon Marshall around this upcoming season, as Marshall was dealt to the Jets. That could be a blessing in disguise, as Marshall, who just turned 31, was coming off a down year and was showing some signs of regression. Alshon Jeffery, who was the better wideout by a mile last season, will now be starting across from No. 7 overall pick Kevin White, who, like Marshall and Jeffery, is gifted with both great size and athleticism. He’s raw, however, so he may not be a big contributor as a rookie.

The Bears have some other weapons available for Cutler to waste, primarily Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Eddie Royal. Bennett is coming off a big year in which he caught 90 balls for 916 yards and six touchdowns. He’s wisely holding out for a new contract as a consequence. Royal just had a couple of strong seasons working with Philip Rivers, but he clearly valued money over his football career by signing on to play with a lethargic bum like Cutler.

As for Forte, he’ll certainly see a decrease in receptions (102) with Marc Trestman no longer coaching him. Forte saw a dip in his yards-per-carry figure, as it dropped from 4.6 to 3.9, but that was the result of poor play from the offensive line. With Slauson back and Bushrod healthy, perhaps Forte’s numbers will increase, which could give Cutler more time in the pocket.

2015 Season Outlook: Even if the new coaching staff somehow gets Jay Cutler to care and the offensive line to perform better, it still needs to worry about a horrific defense that surrendered 27.6 points per game in 2014. To combat this, Chicago is moving to a 3-4 system. It didn’t have a starting-caliber nose tackle for the scheme, so it spent its second-round pick on the monstrous Eddie Goldman, who was getting some late-first-round consideration. It’s unclear how Goldman will play, and the same can be said for starting defensive end Ego Ferguson, who did not look good while playing a third of the snaps in his rookie campaign last year. Ferguson might do better in the 3-4, but that’s unknown. Meanwhile, someone who will likely thrive in the new system is Jay Ratliff. The former Cowboy was the Bears’ top defensive lineman by far this past season, and he has experience in the 3-4, so there won’t be any sort of adjustment period.

The front office signed another player who will be comfortable in this scheme, bringing over Pernell McPhee from Baltimore. McPhee will feel right at home as an edge rusher in this style of defense, but the question is whether he’ll thrive as a full-time player for the first time in his career. McPhee did well behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil last year, but now that he’ll be asked to be on the field for the majority of the snaps, the opposition will be paying more attention to him. Will he continue to generate tons of heat on the quarterback, or will he disappoint as a big signing? Elsewhere at outside linebacker, Lamarr Houston figures to start across from McPhee. Houston is also familiar with playing while standing up, but he’s coming off a torn ACL and may not be 100 percent. And what about Jared Allen? Expected to provide depth at the position, Allen will be in an unfamiliar system. Now 33, Allen might be learning a new trick at too old of an age. Allen wouldn’t even be a factor if Willie Young, who collected 9.5 sacks in 2014, wasn’t coming off a torn Achilles.

The safety position is one of the two major liabilities in this defense. Antrel Rolle and Brock Vereen are slated to start unless fifth-round rookie Adrian Amos steps up. Vereen showed some promise with a couple of decent games in his rookie campaign this past season, but he’s still a question mark. Rolle is a bigger uncertainty; Rolle, 33 in December, saw his play decline dramatically in 2014. He was constantly torched while he was with the Giants, so why will he be any better in his new home?

There surprisingly hasn’t been much of a disparity between Chicago’s home and road records recently. Over the past five seasons, the Bears are 24-18 as hosts and 21-19 as visitors.The Bears did well on kick returns last season, scoring a touchdown via Chris Williams, but they were outgained on punts by five yards. It’s no surprise that they struggled in this regard with Devin Hester gone. Robbie Gould dealt with a quad injury at the end of last season, so that would explain why he attempted just 12 kicks. He hit nine of them, but whiffed on his only try from beyond 50.

2015 Record: 5-11

I do not see much improve for this team, thus I see the same accumulation of five wins and another trip to the top of the draft in 2016. The Bears could be buried right away; they kick off their season against three playoff teams from a year ago: Packers, Cardinals and Seahawks. After a much easier game against Oakland, four of Chicago’s next five contests are on the road, and none of the opponents are pushovers (Chiefs, Lions, Chargers and Rams).

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