Continuity on offence
Much of the Chicago Bears’ key strengths from last year remain relatively untouched going into the new season.
The offensive line returns with pretty much the same personnel in tackles Charles Leno Jr and newly re-signed Bobby Massie; guards Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair; and center James Daniels. The only switch is between Whitehair and Daniels who move back to positions they have familiarity with from their time in college.
Outstanding O-line coach Harry Hiestand is also back meaning this unit should continue the progress and development shown from a year ago where they ranked 8th lowest in the league in sacks allowed, whilst Whitehair and Leno Jr were voted to the Pro Bowl.
The theme of stability remains the same amongst quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s offensive weapons. The weekly game plan under innovative head coach Matt Nagy will vary but still centre around tight end Trey Burton; receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller; and the ‘Human Joystick’ aka running back Tarik Cohen.
Bears fans will be hoping to see even more production from Robinson, an expensive free agent signing last offseason as he will be another year removed from his recovery from an ACL tear suffered in 2017, whilst Miller will go into his sophomore season fully fit after revealing he played most of last year with a shoulder injury.
General manager Ryan Pace also added Swiss Army knife receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who showed during his time with the Patriots he can do a little of everything: catch passes, return kickoffs and play running back. He will only help Nagy keep opponents guessing on a weekly basis. Former Seahawk Mike Davis, and third round draft pick David Montgomery will be expected to replace Jordan Howard’s production in the backfield, particularly on inside runs which Cohen is seen as less suited for.
Can Mitch take the next step?
All of the talent on offence though counts for nothing if QB Trubisky can’t take a step forward and put this unit on his back in his third year in the league. Coming out of college with only 13 starts under his belt, the North Carolina alum was likely to take some time to settle into the NFL.
He showed improvement last year though still lacked consistency and was often too willing to tuck and run. As a runner Trubisky was dangerous, but the Bears need him to grow into a more rounded pocket passer this season. Nagy revealed that his QB didn’t have the whole playbook thrown at him last year, so hopefully this year Trubisky can become the difference maker the franchise hoped he would be when they drafted him with the second overall pick back in 2017.
What impact will the loss of Vic Fangio have?
The Bears returned to the playoffs last year on the strength of their defence, led by now Broncos head man Vic Fangio. The unit allowed a league low 283 total points over the regular season and led the standings with 27 interceptions.
Maintaining that level of production will be tough, but new coordinator Chuck Pagano actually operates a more blitz heavy scheme than the relatively conservative Fangio, and the front seven is still scary with outside linebacker Khalil Mack, defensive end Akiem Hicks and middle linebacker Roquan Smith all able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Likelihood of making the playoffs: Highly probable
The Bears and the Vikings have the two most talented rosters in the NFC North and initially seem most likely to vie for the title. Nonetheless, Green Bay under Aaron Rodgers cannot be counted out and the Lions showed signs of improvement late last season under new head coach Matt Patricia. However, given the depth of Chicago’s roster and lack of turnover, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Bears chances of playing football into January.