The Chicago Bears will have top three pick in this year’s draft after a wretched 3-13 season left them in the basement with the hapless Cleveland Browns and crisis ridden San Francisco 49ers. Dave Usher looks back on a bad, bad year for the Bears…
On a scale of 1-10, how disappointing was this season?
It would be easy to say 10, but you have to factor in what the expectations were going into the year. Nobody thought the Bears would be even competing for their division, let along making a playoff run, and expectations were low. Even with pre-season optimism coursing through my veins I still only predicted a 7-9 season.
Prior to the season many power rankings had the Bears in the bottom five, so is it really that surprising that’s where they ended up? Three wins is still pretty appalling though. It’s the worst record in a 16 game season in franchise history, so on that basis I’d have to say it’s an 8 on the disappointment scale, and it would be higher but for the impact made by a certain rookie running back, who I’ll get to shortly.
Bears fans haven’t experienced the thrills and spills of a playoff run since 2010. That was the one and only time they’ve made the post-season in the last ten years and they now appear to be as far away as they’ve ever been. That’s the most disappointing thing, but whether you finish 6-10 or 3-13, what’s the difference really? You still suck either way. At least 3-13 gets you a really high pick and the chance to draft a franchise changing player.
So was it as bad as the record says?
At the risk of sounding like John Fox, probably not. An expression often used in football is “you are what your record says you are” and based on how they played, the Bears are indeed a 3-13 team right now. Does that mean they’ll be 3-13 next year too? Maybe, but not necessarily. They were 6-10 a year ago and yet the current roster is almost certainly better, so there is reason to believe this year was rock bottom and the only way is up.
So what went wrong?
A lot of things, not least the lack of continuity at the quarterback position. The Bears would not have been 3-13 if Jay Cutler had started 16 games. They would not have been 3-13 if Brian Hoyer had started 16 games either. Both missed plenty of games and Matt Barkley – who wasn’t even on the roster when the season began – started more games than both. That’s not the only reason the Bears had the third worst record in the NFL, but it’s a big part of it. Any team other than the Patriots – who could send me out at quarterback and still win – would struggle to cope with that.
Perhaps only the Chargers had it worse than Chicago when it came to injuries, but at least they kept Phil Rivers healthy all year. When everyone is healthy, the Bears are not a bottom five team, not even close. I’m not sure how relevant that even is though given that no team ever has everybody healthy. You need depth and the Bears don’t have it yet.
Just look at the number of low round and undrafted rookies and 1st year players who lined up in the secondary all year. No wonder Chicago tied the NFL record for fewest takeaways in a season. They don’t have any playmakers. The days of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings picking pff passes and forcing fumbles seem a long way off now.
What were the positives?
It’s not happened too much in recent years, but the Bears got some nice production from their rookie class. Jordan Howard was a 5th round pick who didn’t even get an opportunity to carry the ball until week 4. He ended up second in the entire NFL in yardage. That’s some going when you think about it. Only Ezekiel Elliott had more yards but Howard had a higher yards per carry average and unlike Elliott he wasn’t running behind the best line in football. He’s a huge positive.
Cody Whitehair had a fine year at center and 1st round pick Leonard Floyd showed plenty of promise despite being hampered by injuries and two concussions. Second year wide receiver Cam Meredith can play too. He made giant strides this year and if the Bears can ever get Alshon Jeffrey, Kevin White and Meredith on the field together regularly, they might have something there.
How do they get better?
Another draft like last year would help, and GM Ryan Pace also needs to make more free agent signings of the calibre of Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. The secondary needs a lot of work and another elite pass rusher would help massively, but the number one issue facing the Bears this off season is fixing the quarterback position. If they get that right, they can be competitive again. If they don’t, they’ll remain looking upwards as Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford fight it out for the division title again.