The 2013 season will go down as one that ended in disappointment in the windy city. Marc Trestman lead the team to an 8-8 record in his first season in charge, which saw the Bears finish in second place in the NFC North and miss out on the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons. The most disappointing aspect of the season is the fact that the North division was very weak and crying out for a team to grab it by the scruff of the neck; that three of the four teams have picks in the top 14 selections speaks volumes. Yet the Bears were unable to capitalise, losing four of their last six games including a winner takes all match at Soldier Field against a very ring rusty Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. Work to do for 2014, as the other sides in the division have all made significant moves to improve in Free Agency.
Offensively the Bears were an up and down unit and not helped by Jay Cutler’s fragility at quarterback. On six occasions they put up more than 30 points and only failed to score 20 on three occasions. Cutler managed a respectable passer rating of 89.2 thanks to 2621 yards and 19 touchdowns against 12 picks. When injured, back up Josh McCown was very impressive, however, and there was discussion over whether or not Cutler would retain his starting job. McCown threw for 1829 yards, 13 scores and just one pick on his way to a rating of 109. He will have his chance to start in Tampa in 2014; Cutler will need to prove the Bears made the right call. On the ground Matt Forte was his reliable self, with 1339 yards and nine touchdowns. Brandon Marshall had another great year with 100 catches for 1295 yards and 12 scores, but received ample support from Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett. Jeffrey hauled in 89 passes for 1421 yards and seven scores whilst Bennett managed 65 grabs for 759 yards and five touchdowns. Cutler and the Bears will need similar production from their big four next year.
The Bears defensive unit did not perform well in 2013. Only Minnesota and Dallas gave up more than the 394.6 yards per game that Chicago allowed and the 29.9 points per game that they gave up was only ‘bettered’ by Minnesota. James Anderson (102) and Major Wright (100) both clocked up three figure tackle counts, but the entire defence managed just 31 sacks. Julius Peppers accounted for seven of those and this total will need to be made up now that he has left the team. Tim Jennings was the standout in the secondary, picking off four passes and defending a further 13. He will require more help in 2014. The defence also missed the presence of Henry Melton on the line through injury, although with him unlikely to return to Chicago it is something they will need to get used to.
Return specialist Devin Hester averaged an impressive 27.6 yards per kick-off return and 14.2 on punts, including an 81 yard touchdown. Robbie Gould hit 89.7% of his Field Goal tries, including 75% above 50 yards. Punter Adam Podlesh’s net average of 37.9 yards lead to him being cut as the Bears look to address this issue.
The jury is still out on Trestman. The Bears made some progress in some areas but went backwards in others in 2013. There is a big off season in process in terms of reshaping the defence in particular and the coach knows that this needs to be successful if he is to achieve in Chicago. In reality, improvement on defence will be needed just to maintain parity as the other NFC North teams will undoubtedly also be stronger in 2014.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Chicago has lost big names to Free Agency in Josh McCown, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton. But the reality is that Peppers is ageing and Melton did not play a big part last season. They have moved to bring in Lamarr Houston from Oakland to replace Peppers and Willie Young also comes in from Detroit to try to improve the Bears woeful pass rush. Ryan Mundy’s arrival from the Giants will also help in the secondary.
Despite these additions, the Bears will still look to continue to reshape their defensive line and secondary through the draft in an attempt to shore up some of the holes that other sides were able to exploit last season. Help on the offensive line could also be a bonus, as keeping Cutler healthy has to be even more of a priority following the loss of McCown.