Chicago Bears 2015 Season Not As Bad As It Looked

Aug 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (C) looses his helmet during a play at the goal line against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.the play was later called for a foul and called back. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (C) looses his helmet during a play at the goal line against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.the play was later called for a foul and called back. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports /

There are two distinct groups of people I could be targeting with this article. One group, I call Bear haters. Some of them actually hate the Bears (do I smell cheese?), but, most of them really don’t. Most of the folks I call Bear haters are really just chronic disrespecters. These are the people who, 10 weeks into a Bears Super Bowl season are still asking, “Are the Bears real?” They are the people who look at anything good that happens in the Bears organization and create negativity with which to defuse it. At any rate, I call the entire group Bears haters because it is easier to type than chronic disrespecters.

This article is not for them. Plenty will read it and be eager for something new to criticize. No, this article is for Chicago Bears fans. We’ve been through some rough times in recent years. Sadly, in times like these, Bears fans can be quicker to criticize than Bears haters. We can be a lot less rational, too. This is human nature. We hate to see our team lose. It hurts, and understandably, we lash out. I want to take a moment to try to ease the pain.

So, naturally, this next sentence will hurt (and make the haters laugh). The Chicago Bears 2015 season was not as bad as it looked. It was not as bad as it felt. Yes, the Bears only won one more game than they did in 2014. They had a pair of three game losing streaks. The defense only recorded a paltry 35 sacks. Let me explain how very misleading all of those numbers are.

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In 2014, the Bears losses came within 8 points of their opponents four times, last year that was seven times. They came within a field goal once in 2014, four times last year. In 2014 they got scorched for 50+ points 2 weeks in a row. Last year they gave up 48 to the Cardinals, who, oh by the way, were first in the league in offensive yards, and second in points scored for the season. In 2014 the Bears points scored to points allowed ratio was 319 (23rd) to 442 (31st). Last year that was 335 (still 23rd) to 397 (20th!). In 2014, the Bears went 0-7 against eventual playoff teams, including a 51-23 loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Patriots. In 2015 they were 2-6 against playoff teams, including a 17-15 thrashing at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos. (Please pardon the sarcasm.)

I know, those are modest improvements in terms of raw statistics, but look at it in context. They made those improvements in the first year with a new GM. Ryan Pace barely had time to learn the names of his staff and where his office was before he had his first NFL Draft. It was also the first year with a whole new coaching staff and the first year with another new offensive scheme, Jay Cutler’s fifth in seven years. On defense, the Bears were in their first year of implementing the 3-4, complete with some top notch square pegs who washed out of the round holes in the conversion process. That makes the improvements listed above a lot more impressive.

On top of all the transition, Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal and Martellus Bennet combined for 29 games out of a possible 64. Meanwhile, rookies Adrian Amos, Eddie Goldman and Hroniss Grasu combined for 39 games out of a possible 48. That’s less than half participation from the top 4 receivers and over two thirds from the top three rookies. The fact that the Bears showed any improvement at all starts to become downright impressive.

Now, what about those losing streaks? For the first one, the Bears were only missing White, and Amos was the only rookie getting a lot of playing time. On the other hand, it was also the first three games of the season when the ill effects of all the transitions were still at their peak. Far more important, and no one seems to remember this part, but those three losses were to the Packers, Cardinals and Seahawks. Between 2014 and 2015, those three teams combined for a record of 68-28, three division championships and six playoff appearances. The number of division champs in those three games might have even been four or five, if Arizona and Seattle weren’t in the same division. There is such a thing as making excuses, and then there is “who in their right mind expected wins in those three games?”

The second losing streak was a lot harder to take. The first two of those losses were by a total of nine points, and were clearly games the Bears pretty much gave away. But, once again, let’s look at context. Two weeks prior to that streak, the Bears had another close call, coming within two points of beating the juggernaut Broncos, and they followed that with an emotional victory on the road against the arch rival Packers. For an established, playoff bound team, that could be the needed spark to help finish strong. But the Bears were still struggling with the first year of transition to a new, well, everything. Royal, Bennet and Matt Forte were all banged up. Jeffery was on the mend, but not 100%. It was becoming clear that White was not going to make it back during the season. The road victory in Green Bay was a setup for a letdown. The losses were heartbreaking, but they were not a symptom of a team with the wheels falling off. They were a symptom of a team just getting the wheels on with some of the lugnuts not quite tight yet.

The sack total by the defense, while disappointing, tells a different story if you split it down the middle. The poor 35 sacks, 22nd in the league were not evenly distributed. In the first eight games, the Bears had 14 sacks, and they had 21 in the final eight games. If you project that second half, where the defense was starting to gel, over the entire season, that would have been 42, tied for 10th in the league. I know, 10th in the league for sacks is mediocre by Chicago Bears standards, but with the off season additions and familiarity with the 3-4 scheme, I think the Bears future looks pretty bright. If they stay healthier than they did last year, they will make us proud, and make the haters look silly.

So, Bear Down, Bears Fans! The 2014 season was a cry for help, kind of like a toothache. The 2015 season was the beginning of recovery, kind of like a root canal.