Well the Chicago Bears 2015 season is finally over after a 24-20 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. It capped off a season that felt strangely positive despite a 6-10 record. It was only a one game improvement record-wise from 2014, but this felt like a significantly better team than the embarrassing 2014 squad.
I’ll be covering what went right and wrong this season in more detail later this week, but for now I’m going to focus on the takeaways from this week’s game.
1.) That looked like the 2014 version of Jay Cutler
Cutler almost made it through the full 2015 season without a multi-interception game… Until he threw three picks on Sunday. One could make the argument that only one interception was his fault as he was hit on the other two throws by Ziggy Ansah, who I’ll get to shortly.
Even with his three turnovers Sunday, Cutler still managed to throw seven less INTs than last year and lost two fewer fumbles for nine less turnovers total than 2014. He also had a career high QB rating of 92.3, which was good for 15th in the league among QBs with at least 300 pass attempts. Overall it was one of Cutler’s best seasons as a Bear and hopefully his new-found restraint will carry over even if/when the Bears lose OC Adam Gase.
2.) LT Charles Leno Jr gave up a couple big plays, but was solid for most of the game
Leno Jr did give up both hits by Lions DE Ziggy Ansah that resulted in Cutler interceptions. One of them on a play where Ansah used his long arm to clip Cutler’s throwing arm mid-release. It’s hard to put that one on Leno, it was a great play by a Pro Bowl DE. For the day Ansah had 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 3 QB hits. That is solid production, but nothing special for Ansah who has become one of the best pass rushers in the league.
The two players faced each other on most of the offensive snaps and Leno won his fair share of battles and held his own on all but a couple. That’s pretty good for a guy who was a 7th round pick in 2014 and some considered on the roster bubble coming into this season. Certainly no one, probably not even Leno Jr himself, thought he would be the Bears starting left tackle this season (though I did pick him as a potential breakout player¹).
I’ll get into Leno’s season in more detail when I get to my player grades, but he’s shown enough potential to be in the mix for the starting left tackle job next year. Worst case, Leno ends up as a valuable swing tackle, but either way his roster spot is secure for 2016.
3.) WR Marc Mariani is another guy who deserves to be back
With everyone healthy next season Mariani is probably no better than 5th on the WR depth chart, but as we saw this year depth is important and Mariani has proved to be a reliable slot receiver. Cutler clearly trusts him on third down and said before the game that Mariani was the Bears most talented receiver on the field on Sunday.
Mariani had some fumbling issues as a return man during the year, but had a clutch 47-yard kick return filling in for an injured Deonte Thompson Sunday. Mariani has been clutch for most of the 2nd half with 19 of his 22 total receptions resulting in a first down. His versatility to be a productive slot receiver and return punts or kicks should secure his roster spot next year.