As we get ready for a game that will define the season (it won’t strictly define it, but it will certainly change the spin one way or the other) I think it’s appropriate to look at what we know now, before we know the result. It can be dangerous to focus too much on results; that can lead to overlooking glaring problems or to unnecessary, rash changes. From what I’ve read about Phil Emery, he and his team are much more process-focused, which is comforting. I never felt the last regime had that attitude. (Do you think the Bears would have Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery if Jerry Angelo had been given another year?)
So before we know how the season turns out, what do we know? Here are a few things I feel confident about moving forward into the offseason, regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s game.
- The offense is good. Credit any number of people for this, in various amounts. Phil Emery, Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer, the players themselves…there’s plenty of credit to go around. Just how drastic was the improvement? Beyond the vault in yards gained and points scored, the Bears currently rank 5th in the Football Outsiders Weighted Offense stat. They finished last season 24th. That’s incredible to think about, and as mentioned, the kudos can be spread to many parties. The improved offensive line, the development of Alshon Jeffery, the addition of Martellus Bennett, some great quarterback play (from both Cutler and McCown), and customary great years from veterans Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, who I’d put in the top-5 at their positions. When my biggest issue with the offense is Roberto Garza’s inability to snap the ball to a quarterback in the shotgun, that’s probably a good sign. If you told me that all eleven offensive starters were coming back next season, I’d be more than happy about that.
- The same cannot be said for the defense, though. The injury issues on the defensive side have been overwhelming, but other teams have had injuries by now as well, and those teams aren’t allowing 161.5 rushing yards per game. That’s good for last in the league, and over the last 10 seasons, only three other teams have allowed 160+ yards per game: the 2010 Bills, the 0-16 2008 Detroit Lions, and the 2006 Colts. (Silver lining alert: that Colts team obviously won the Super Bowl (like I had to remind everyone of that game…sigh) when Bob Sanders returned for the postseason, shoring up their defense. If you’d like to dream big, maybe Lance Briggs can play a similar role? To be honest, signing Bob Sanders off the street doesn’t even sound that crazy at this point.) So if there have been times this year, while watching every opposing running back break off long gains, you wondered if the level of defensive incompetence you’ve witnessed is rare, the answer is yes. I think it’s fair to expect an overhauled defensive unit, and after watching the offensive transformation that Phil Emery helped facilitate, I’m excited to see what moves the Bears decide to make. (Start with the safeties, please. The fact that Chris Conte and Major Wright are both “safeties” is growing more ironic than your average Brooklyn hipster bar.
- Marc Trestman is a capable coach. It hasn’t been a flawless debut season for Trestman, (the decision to kick on second down against Minnesota stands out as his low point) but I think it’s very fair to say that he belongs as an NFL head coach. He’s not overmatched at all, and his analytical, aggressive approach to playcalling and game management is an attractive one. When he won the job, I wasn’t sure what to think; I just didn’t know enough about him. I think it’s fair to say now that I’m excited about the direction he has the team heading. Also, he’s 8-7 on challenges this year; considering Lovie’s long-documented woes (this 2011 Sun-Times piece had him at 19-61 at that point in his career; that’s staggeringly poor over a fairly large stretch of time) it’s refreshing to see a coach who seems to have some sort of plan for those plays. I’ve always felt that competent coaching is more important in football due to the shorter season; the smaller sample of games means that a mistake by the coaching staff is magnified in importance, in a way that a baseball manager pulling a pitcher too soon in May is not. I actually liken it to the baseball playoffs, when it becomes much more advantageous to have a manager who knows what he’s doing. In football, every game matters at that level.
- Jay Cutler can succeed in this offense. This is sort of the big one, because the reaction to today’s game is likely going to focus on Cutler, win or lose. If he plays well in a Bears win, that will be the focus. If he plays poorly in a loss, that will absolutely be the focus, and that one game will probably dominate the inevitable contract talks in the offseason. But that’s not really a fair thing for him. One game is one game. He could play poorly and get lucky, he could play well and have terrible luck. We’re not really going to learn anything that can be useful long-term from this game. But over the course of the year, as Cutler put up some very good numbers (albeit in limited starts) it became increasingly clear that he can be a fit with this offense. I think on a reasonable deal, he should be back in Chicago. That opinion isn’t going to change based on the game. He could throw throws five interceptions and I wouldn’t want him gone, and he could throw five interceptions and I wouldn’t want to drastically overpay for his services. I’d much rather see the touchdowns, though.
What are you sure about?