The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we head to the NFC North to provide a Chicago Bears 2016 preview. We’ll be discussing a team that has some serious catching up to do in this brutal division.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Chicago Bears 2016 Preview
Head coach: John Fox (second season)
Key arrivals: ILB Danny Trevathan, OT Bobby Massie, LB Jerrell Freeman, DE Akiem Hicks, QB Brian Hoyer
Key departures: RB Matt Forte, LB Shea McClellin, OG Matt Slauson, OG Jermon Bushrod
1. Which Jay Cutler will lead the offense?
Cutler was new and improved last year playing for offensive coordinator Adam Gase. John Fox loved what he saw and said it was “an outstanding year.”
Unfortunately, Gase bolted for greener pastures to become the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Hopefully the transition to Dowell Loggains will be a smooth one. Loggains was Cutler’s quarterback coach last year and should have a good grasp on what the quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses are. He was previously an offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans during the 2012-13 seasons, though — not exactly a bright point of history for that team’s offense.
The big question regarding Cutler is always, “can he manage the game without turning the ball over?”
Throughout his career, Cutler has struggled to play smart football. He tends to force balls into tight spaces, resulting in turnovers.
Last season was a huge positive for him in this regard, as he threw just 11 interceptions. He only threw 21 touchdowns, but his 2.3 percent interception rate was a career best mark.
Because the Bears are the weakest team in the NFC North, Cutler will have to match or better his 2015 totals to keep the team in games and have a chance for playoff action.
2. Can Jeremy Langford really replace Matt Forte?
The Bears made the tough call to let their veteran back go this offseason without really making an effort to keep him. It was very much like what the San Francisco 49ers did with Frank Gore last season — a decision that looked smart in hindsight, as Gore’s career is clearly winding down.
In all reality, the Bears will likely feature a running back committee this year, which could be great for the offense if it’s featured with intelligence. Fantasy owners, on the other hand, will hate this news.
Langford should still be featured more than Jacquizz Rodgers, Ka’Deem Carey and rookie Jordan Howard. He’s been bulking up for a potential heavy workload, and he proved in his rookie campaign that he can make defenses pay on the ground and through the air.
3. Will the defense be better in Year 2 under Vic Fangio?
Chicago invested wisely during free agency to help Fangio’s defensive scheme. Inside linebacker, which was an area of weakness last year, was addressed with the signings of Jerrell Freeman out of Indianapolis and Danny Trevathan, who just won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.
Rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is going to be a special player on the edge rushing the passer.
Chicago also drafted a bunch of defensive backs to build depth and competition.
The defense was improved last year in Fangio’s first year compared to 2014, when it finished 31st in the NFL. However, there is still much room for improvement. Based on what Fangio accomplished in San Francisco, and what the Bears did to bolster the roster on the defensive side of the ball, fans should be optimistic about the future.
Leonard Floyd, outside linebacker
Fangio loves his outside linebackers, and the Bears drafted a gem in Floyd.
Though a bit light on the scales still, his first-step quickness and raw speed will help him become a force on obvious first downs in his rookie season.
Outside linebacker coach Clint Hurtt is excited about his potential, especially his ability to bend and get around offensive tackles.
“It’s a very unique skill. It’s something you can’t teach,” Hurtt said on WGR Radio. “He just has it. His ability to bend, the flexibility, the fluidity in his hips, obviously is uncanny. And his feel in the rush — when to take inside moves, when to dip his inside pad when he gets on the edge — and once he understands what to do with his hands, so people can’t get into his body, he can be special.”
Though he will likely not be a three-down player this year for the Bears, Floyd’s influence will be felt throughout the season as a pass-rushing specialist on obvious passing downs.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
The Bears have a solid coaching staff, led by veteran John Fox. He immediately brought stability and a sense of calm last year to an organization that needed both.
Fangio’s defense has a chance to be special, if circumstances work in the team’s favor as far as health and young players developing is concerned. Also, if Cutler can continue to take care of the ball the offense has enough playmakers to move the chains and put points on the board.
REASON TO DOUBT
Despite some positive momentum, there is no doubt Chicago is still behind its NFC North rivals in terms of roster depth and talent. Furthermore, it’s awfully hard to have faith in Cutler, despite his improved 2015 campaign.
Finally, while the defense should be better, it is still a year or two away from becoming the rock-solid unit Fangio envisions.
It could be another long year for Bears fans.
Prediction: 6-10, last place in the NFC North