Chicago Bears Offense in 2015: A Return to Elite Status?


Greetings, faithful BearGogglesOn readers.  About a week ago a posting by yours truly went live on BGO that partially chronicled the dramatic fall of the Bears defense under Mel Tucker & Marc Trestman.  I gave my take on how the Bears defense got to that point and touched on some of the reasons to believe they can and will be better in 2015.

In the interest of balance I thought it best to also do a piece on the Chicago Bears offense — how this offense came to be great, what went wrong in 2014 and the outlook for the upcoming season.  The previous post generated some decent conversation (check the comments) so feel free to share your thoughts on this one as well.

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The two-year reign of Marc Trestman began on 1/16/2013.  He came into town every bit the oddball offensive genius he was advertised to be and helped push the Bears attack up a level or two that first year, including a jump from 4,969 total yards gained in 2012 (28th) to 6,109 in 2013 (8th).  That total in 2013 trailed only teams featuring pass-happy offenses (like Detroit), or innovative offenses (like Philadelphia), or those with a legit franchise-level QB (Denver, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Diego, New England) or some combination thereof.

No less impressively, the 445 points scored by the Chicago Bears offense in 2013 were 2nd-most in the NFL which trailed only Peyton Manning‘s Broncos.  That’s a jump of 70 points, up from a middle-of-the-road 375 (16th) in 2012.  It seemed to everyone — Bears fan or otherwise — that Chicago finally had an offense built for success in the modern NFL.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Bursting onto the national scene was 2nd-year wideout Alshon Jeffery who, coupled with the consistently beastly Brandon Marshall, gave the Bears arguably the best pass-catching tandem in the league.  Add to the mix Martellus Bennett, the big tight end whom the Bears acquired in free agency prior to the 2013 season, and QB Jay Cutler had a trio of skill players to throw to that more closely resembled 3/5 of an NBA starting lineup.

We all know Jay likes to fire the passes high and hard, so it seemed he finally had the weapons he coveted — big guys to create size mis-matches and who could go up and get it.  That’s not a shot at Devin, either, just the way Jay rolls.

Providing the requisite balance in the run game was, of course, Matt Forte.  Deserving of at least honorable mention in the best all-around RB conversation, Forte has largely gone about his business in a way that has endeared himself to Chicago fans and NFL fans in general.  Our very own Michael Curcio even recently proclaimed #22 to be his favorite Bear.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

No offense in the NFL is worth it’s salt without a decent offensive line, however, and the Bears took some steps heading into 2013 to improve that area of the team.  A starting 5 of Jermon Bushrod (LT), Matt Slauson (LG), Roberto Garza (C), Kyle Long (RG) and Jordan Mills (RT) didn’t scream greatness as a unit, but there were individual standouts (Long, Slauson) and as a whole they were serviceable.

And those were the pieces around which Trestman and Aaron Kromer organized an attack in 2013 that raised the bar for what we believed a Chicago Bears offense could be.  The team went 8-8, a two-game dip from 2012, but unlike the previous year they still had a shot at winning the division and making the playoffs.

Unfortunately, as we all know that dream came crashing down like the Hindenburg on a 4th down with less than a minute left against the Packers in week #17.  Julius Peppers takes a horrible angle on Aaron Rodgers and misses the sack, Rodgers gets outside of the pocket and subsequently hits Randall Cobb for a 48-yard game-winning TD.  During the play Chris Conte could be seen doing his best Otto Porter defensive impersonation:

Different sport, I know, but you get the point.  Like Shaq said, Chris Conte’s brain on that fateful play was on “Otto Pilot”.  This is the way I deal with that Green Bay-inflicted trauma, BGO readers, I have to find a way to laugh about it.  Even if it does take a basketball analogy to do so.

Would you rather I include the video of the Randall Cobb TD and re-open our wounds?  Me neither, but feel free to look it up if you need that dose of masochism to get you thru the day.  I’ll wait.

Anyway, the point is that even at that disappointing end to the 2013 season — there was promise heading into 2014 for what could be.  We said to ourselves — okay, even if the defense struggles again in 2014 we have an offense in Chicago that is fixin’ to be a juggernaut for the foreseeable future.  We’ll just outscore our opponents and hope the defense throws us a bone once in a while with a turnover here, a key stop there.

How did that plan work out?  Swimmingly.  If a 5-11 finish and ultimately the firing of Trestman and GM Phil Emery counts as part of the plan, that is.

In 2014 the proverbial other shoe dropped.  NFL teams had ample tape to dissect and identify Trestman’s offensive tendencies and opposing defenses were better prepared to handle the unit that was one of the league’s best in 2013.  They regressed and often seemed listless or disinterested, as if they knew after a series or two that their game plan wasn’t going to work.

The statistics reflect a fall but not a precipitous one, likely an indicator of the talent they have on that side of the ball and that even when they’re bad — they’re not that bad.  In other words, they were underachieving.  No one would make the case that this offense is lacking the pieces to be dangerous.

The Bears dropped from 2nd in the NFL in scoring in 2013 to 23rd in 2014 with 319 points, a dip of 126.  Meanwhile their 5,233 yards of total offense were good enough for only 21st in the NFL, down 13 spots from the previous year and clocking in at 876 less yards gained.  The look on Jay’s face says it all.

Dec 4, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) in their game against the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Frustrations bubbled up during the season, highlighted by B-Marsh’s “unacceptable” rant after a lackluster effort in week #7 against the Dolphins dropped the Bears to 3-4.  The two games after that were beatdowns of epic proportions; a 51-23 loss to New England and a 55-14 drubbing at the hands of the Packers.  Nothing is worse than giving up back-to-back fifty-burgers.

Of course those scores speak more directly to issues on the defensive side of the ball, but we’re here today to talk about the offense.  The Chicago Bears offense was supposed to lead the team in 2014 and be the reason why they had a chance to win games.

Could they be expected to win when the defense yields 50 points?  Well, no, but in the Bears 11 losses the average points they scored were 18.  The highest point total for the offense in a loss was 28, so it’s not like they went down guns-a-blazing in one of those last-team-who-has-the-ball-wins games.  They went away quietly too many times.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

That brings us to where we sit now.  A shade under 100 days to the kickoff of the 2015 season and it’s time to look at the offense for what it will be and give you my take on the key players/factors involved.  Lets start with the man brought in to stabilize the locker room.

  • John Fox: A stark contrast in coaching style from Marc Trestman and a proven winner in the NFL at his previous HC gigs.  While he might not be THE guy to lead this team to where we all want it to go, he’s the right guy at the right time.  Win or lose, he’ll oversee a team that puts a better and more balanced offensive product out on the field week in and week out.
  • Jay Cutler: One paragraph probably doesn’t do Cutty justice, but I’ll do my best.  He is at times one of the most impressive competitors you’ll see under center with physical traits other QBs would kill for, and at other times he’s that indifferent dude with amazing hair throwing untimely interceptions.  He influences the fortunes of this team more than any other individual in the organization and because of that, this may be his last year in Chicago if he falters.
  • Backup RBs:  Forte will do what Forte does, but Fox likes to spread the wealth with his backs and the Bears are better off when guys force their way into the lineup by performing well.  I love the Jeremy Langford pick as I watched him display gritty running at MSU that will endear him to Bears fans.  Ka’Deem Carey has ability and will be fighting hard to hold off the rookie while Jacquizz Rodgers and Senorise Perry are in the mix for #3 duty, but Langford is the odds-on favorite to be the #2.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

  • Kevin White:  Rookie wide receivers with elite physical traits that come into the league described as “full-grown men” have been having some success as rookies in recent years.  We don’t even have to go back that far, just look at the guys drafted in the 1st round last year — Odell Beckham, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans.  The Bears haven’t had a draft pick this high since 2005 (Cedric Benson) and White figures to put to rest any further comparisons to that guy very soon.  Paired with Alshon & Eddie Royal & Martellus, Kevin White will do some things.
  • Adam Gase:  With Fox the head guy, there will certainly be a heavy dose of the run game and that plays well in Chicago.  The NFL is very much a passing league now, however, and Gase prefers to attack vertically when he can.  We all know Cutler likes to let it fly and with the weapons they have on the outside, the Bears are dangerous.  If Gase solves the eternal riddle of unlocking all Jay Cutler can offer, he’ll get to pick his HC gig next year.

Some additional thoughts and then I’m signing off…  I left out the obvious will he/won’t he storyline of Martellus Bennett (he will) but certainly if he pouts his way out-of-town, those are shoes Zach Miller can’t fill.  My guess is the Black Unicorn starts showing up as soon as it starts costing him money.  Also we’ll miss B-Marsh, but Kevin White will help assuage that loss at least somewhat.

I didn’t mention Marquess Wilson who I think might surprise this year if he can stay on the field throughout training camp and come into the season with momentum.  Finally, the offensive line.  Continuity is the key, so lets collectively hope for their health.  And I love me some Kyle Long, that guy is a beast.

Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.  Will the offense return to elite status?  Top-10?  Will Cutler shove a lineman?  Just kidding, bear down.

Next: What to Expect From Kevin White as a Rookie

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