This is an absolutely vital season for the Chicago Bears power duo Head Coach Matt Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace.
The team struggled to an 8-8 record last year, one year after Nagy’s debut season saw them go 12-4 before exiting the playoffs to the Eagles in the 2017 Wildcard Game. In addition to the regression in terms of simple wins and losses, the offense looked flat out awful too.
Nagy has to prove that he can put together an offensive unit that can produce at as high a level as the defense and consistently string scoring drives together. In terms of the passing attack, it’s hard to envision incumbent quarterback Mitchell Trubisky beating out Nick Foles for the starting spot. The former 2nd overall pick looked totally lost and out of his depth for the vast majority of last year and it seemed as if that knocked his confidence too.
Bears must address offense
Foles didn’t have the impact envisioned in Jacksonville following his heroics with the Eagles but he comes in with a fresh start and familiarity in Nagy’s offense having spent time with the Chiefs before he returned to Philly under Doug Pederson. In Chicago he will have far more weapons on offense than he did in Jacksonville, and if new offensive line coach Juan Castillo can restore the pass protection to what it was in 2017, Foles will be in position to succeed.
Another beneficiary of improved quarterback and O line play could be sophomore running back David Montgomery. He was a sleeper pick to rack up huge yardage as a rookie but was a victim of abysmal run blocking and the fact opposing defenses could stack the box given Trubisky’s propensity to throw short of the sticks. Montgomery isn’t a downhill, thumping running back. He’s a one cut back who needs to make the first guy miss. But he wasn’t able to utilise his shiftiness as upon collecting the pigskin at the handoff he was constantly searching for holes behind a line that couldn’t make any forward progress.
Nagy and Pace clearly see the underperformance of the offensive line as due to coaching rather than talent given the most notable additions this offseason were reserve linemen Jason Spriggs and Germain Ifedi, whilst the position wasn’t addressed until the 7th round of the draft. That partly is the result of other needs elsewhere as well as limited cap space and draft capital. Ifedi could push for a starting position inside but the team clearly hopes Castillo can return this unit to its performance levels of that 12-4 season.
The tight end position has been overhauled starting with the Bears’ first pick in the draft in the second round in Chicago fan and Notre Dame alumni Cole Kmet. Whilst he profiles as a pass catching tight end, he certainly appears to have the bulk to contribute as a blocker, where he will be assisted by former Kansas City Chief Demetrius Harris.
Slightly more confusing was the $16 million, two year contract doled out to Jimmy Graham. After becoming a key red zone weapon in Seattle, it appeared the former New Orleans Saints’ career was on the decline but the Bears have paid him a significant amount to come in and contribute. That could reflect the importance of that pass catching tight end in Nagy’s offensive scheme but it was also a head scratching signing by Ryan Pace, who has made a few of those throughout his time in the front office in the Windy City. Here the Bears are hoping for a late career resurgence from Graham and a breakout rookie season from Kmet, something very rare for first year tight ends.
On defense though, Pace really struck gold with the signing of Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn. He immediately will step in in place of departed pass rusher Leonard Floyd and will help Khalil Mack be much more effective in getting to the quarterback. Last year opponents consistently double teamed Mack, which coupled with the injury to Akiem Hicks, reduced Chicago’s pass defense to a shadow of its former self.
That push up front will enable cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson to make far more plays on the ball. The addition of true box safety Tashaun Gipson will also allow Jackson to roam the defensive backfield more too. An effective pass rusher will also allow second round pick Jaylon Johnson to settle in as he seems the most likely replacement for Prince Amukamara.
The Bears schedule this year is tough. Not only is the NFC North insanely competitive but the franchise’s opponents out of the division also include Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and the Indianapolis Colts who could be a force again behind Phillip Rivers. Nagy and the Bears squad will have to be much more on their game than they were a year ago.