NFL Preview 2014: Chicago Bears

Chicago wide receiver Brandon Marshall. (Y. Huh/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Chicago Bears.

Last year’s record: 8-8

Coach: Marc Trestman

2014 is about… Putting it all together. With an offence revitalized last year under Trestman, it was the Bears’ horrific ‘D that let them down. Though defence was once the team’s calling card under Lovie Smith, Chicago went from fifth in the NFL in yards allowed in 2012 all the way to 30th in 2013.

Core players: Jay Cutler (QB), Brandon Marshall (WR), Alshon Jeffery (WR), Matt Forte (RB), Charles Tillman (CB)

But they lost… The team said goodbye to Julius Peppers (DE), who joined the Packers in what Bears fans would consider tantamount to treason. They also lost Corey Wooton (DE) and Henry Melton (DT), leaving their pass rush needing a total revamp—which, if you read the bit about their defence above, might not be such a bad thing. The Bears also lost Zack Bowman (CB) and Major Wright (S) and, again, it’s not like the defence can really get worse, so we’ll see how it plays out. The most notable loss, even if it’s not felt directly on offence or defence, is probably the departure of ace returner Devin Hester. Backup QB Josh McCown, who filled in admirably for an injured Cutler, is also gone, off to (presumably) start in Tampa Bay under old coach Lovie Smith.

Yeah, but they got… A gigantic haul of defensive players. It remains to be seen how all these pieces will fit together, but credit the Bears for recognizing the need for fresh blood, including: Jared Allen (DE, who came over from the Vikings and should more than replace Peppers), Lamarr Houston (DE, lured from Oakland), Willie Young (DE, who came from Detroit, so Bears fans mad at Peppers leaving for a rival should take a look at their own D-line), and three safeties—Adrian Wilson, M.D. Jennings and Ryan Mundy. And those are just the recognizable names. The major rookie addition is safety Brock Vereen, who should start over at least one of the names in the last sentence. The Bears could badly use some young talent on that side of the ball.

Growing from within: Trestman’s offence was explosive last year and it should be even more so in year two as players become more familiar with its intricacies. The Bears also expect growth from Jeffery, who seemed in the second half of 2013 as though he was on the verge of surpassing Marshall as the team’s most dangerous pass catcher, and Marquess Wilson, another gigantic receiver who spent his summer learning from the two behemoths in front of him. The Bears will also need right tackle Jordan Mills to improve dramatically from his rookie year, in which he was something of a turnstile and likely contributed to Cutler’s injury-plagued season.

Why this team? They call Trestman “the quarterback whisperer” and it seems totally fitting. After making his bones in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes, many wondered if the coach’s style would work in the faster, bulkier NFL. It worked… amazingly well. The Bears racked up the eighth-most yards per game and the second-most points per game (credit their defence for one thing, led by Tillman, they know how to strip the ball and run it back). So yeah, great offence, fun system, good coach. And if you don’t like Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler, the official BFF duo of the Sportsnet NFL team, you probably don’t like football very much.

Why not? Well, there is that whole defensive ineptitude thing. It got pretty bad last year, especially against the run. Put it this way, Pro Football Focus ranked the Bears defence dead last against the rush last season, at -154.1. No other run defence was worse than -99.5. The bears were 50 percent worse than the second-worst run defence. That is historically bad. And it’s not like they went out and landed a bunch of inside thumpers. Additions in the secondary will help with run support, and the defensive line additions might sniff out some plays before they develop. But the middle of the field will still be manned by Lance Briggs (who is 34 and coming off injury), second year linebacker Jon Bostic (who didn’t exactly impress last season) and Khaseem Greene, who was also a liability. If the Bears can’t stop the run, they can’t control the clock. If the other team controls the clock, even the most explosive offence in football is going to have a long season.

Perfect for fans of… Sir Alex Ferguson—not Manchester United, just Ferguson—who faced questions when he arrived in the EPL from the Scottish league, despite his astounding success there. Could a coach really make the jump to the big time from such a small pond? Trestman faced the same darts last year and proved himself a resounding success. Now he simply has to build on it, as Ferguson did, and turn the Bears into one of the all-time great sporting dynasties. No pressure, Marc!

How much hope? 8/10. It’s a good time to hope if you’re a Bears fan—the terrible defence of last season has been overhauled, but it’s not evident yet how bad this year’s defence will be. This number will soar to 9.5 if the Bears can hold two of their first three opponents (the Bils, 49ers and Jets) under 20–25 points. But if the Bills or Jets put up a 30-spot, expect confidence to plummet quickly.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Possibly, but just claim you’re Canadian and you’re pulling for the Bears to prove that CFL coaches can make it in the NFL. (You can also pull for former Tiger-Cats return star Chris Williams to become Devin Hester’s kick-return replacement.)

A Meme To Remember: Assuming the Cutler-Marshall BFF story isn’t enough for you, how about some of the many memes of Jay Cutler. There’s Smokin’ Jay. There’s Doooooon’t-Care Jay. There’s it’s-not-a-minivan Jay. Basically, Jay Cutler is the NFL’s walking meme. Enjoy!

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