2016 NFL Season Preview: Chicago Bears

Free Agent Additions: 
QB Brian Hoyer, OT Bobby Massie, G Patrick Omameh, C Ted Larsen, DE/DT Akiem Hicks, ILB Danny Trevathan, ILB Jerrell Freeman, S Omar Bolden.
Early Draft Picks: 
DE/OLB Leonard Floyd, G/OT/C Cody Whitehair, DE/DT Jonathan Bullard, LB Nick Kwiatkowski, S Deon Bush, CB Deiondre’ Hall.
Free Agent Losses: 
RB Matt Forte, TE Martellus Bennett, OT Jermon Bushrod, G/C Matt Slauson, DE/DT Jarvis Jenkins, DE/LB Shea McClellin, S Antrel Rolle.

2016 Chicago Bears Offense: 
Who is the worst QB in the NFL? If you ask Michael Bennett, a defensive end for the Seahawks, he’d tell you it’s Jay Cutler. Looking at last season’s stats however, Cutler actually did pretty well on his way to throwing for 3,659 yards, 21 TDs, and 11 picks in 15 games. One issue is that the Bears’ offensive coordinator from last year, Adam Gase, is now head coach of the Dolphins. It remains to be seen whether Cutler becomes a turnover machine again.

Gase’s departure, however, could be mitigated by the fact that Cutler has better downfield weapons at his disposal. Alshon Jeffery is still the No. 1 receiver, and he’ll be looking to bounce back after playing just nine games in 2015 because of numerous injuries. Jeffery was terrific when on the field, so he figures to have a great 2016 campaign if he can remain healthy. Teams also won’t be able to pay as much attention to him because of WVU favorite Kevin White. The seventh-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, White missed his entire rookie season because of a stress fracture in his leg. If he stays healthy, I think White tops 1,000 receiving yards easily.

Cutler’s other aerial weapons include slot receiver Eddie Royal and tight end Zach Miller. Miller emerged at the end of last year, catching 18 passes in his final three games. He showed some great chemistry with Cutler, so re-signing him to a $6 million deal this offseason was crucial.

One player not on the list in the previous paragraph was Matt Forte, who signed with the Jets this offseason. Forte was both a terrific runner and a very important safety valve out of the backfield for Chicago for many years. However, Forte showed signs of decline last year, so it was the right time to move on from him. The problem is that the Bears don’t have a viable replacement for Forte in terms of a pass-catcher. Jeremy Langford didn’t look overly comfortable in that role, even dropping a crucial ball that ended up costing Chicago a victory against the Vikings. Langford wasn’t even that great of a runner, mustering only 3.6 yards per carry. Fifth-round rookie Jordan Howard has some potential, but he can’t be counted on to be productive.

While Cutler has some nice downfield weapons at his disposal, his offensive line is in shambles. The tackles are absolutely horrendous. In fact, Chicago may have the worst starting pair of tackles in the NFL. Charles Leno is currently the left tackle, and he allowed 6 sacks in 13 games while giving up many more pressures. Right tackle Bobby Massie, formerly of the Cardinals, isn’t much better. He was responsible for Carson Palmer’s season-ending injury two years ago. It’s unclear why the Bears eschewed addressing the tackle position this offseason, especially when Laremy Tunsil fell into their laps during the draft.

Chicago at least found a new guard, spending a second-round selection on Cody Whitehair. However, the team may have downgraded one of the interior positions as a result because Matt Slauson was released after the Bears drafted Whitehair. Slauson performed very well last year, and he didn’t count much against the cap, so it’s unclear why the Bears opted to part ways with him. At any rate, Whitehair will start at guard along with Kyle Long, who is finally moving inside after struggling at right tackle. Hroniss Grassu, the Bears starter at center last season, is already out for the year with a torn ACL. He will be replaced by Ted Larsen, so center will be a problem area this season.
2016 Chicago Bears Defense: 
The Bears had possessed a great defense for a long time, thanks to Brian Urlacher and company. That has not been the case recently, as Chicago has struggled immensely on this side of the ball, surrendering close to 25 points per game last year. However, the Bears were very active in signing defensive help in free agency.

Two major free agent acquisitions were linebackers. The Bears signed Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, both of whom will start on the inside. Chicago has had a huge void at inside linebacker ever since Urlacher began declining. That will no longer be the case, as Trevathan and Freeman enjoyed excellent 2015 campaigns for the Broncos and Colts, respectively.

A third new linebacker was acquired via the draft when the Bears moved up from No. 11 to 9 to select Leonard Floyd. The Georgia product will start outside and should provide a better pass rush than anyone provided last year, save for Pernell McPhee. Floyd would be replacing Willie Young, who is coming off a torn Achilles and has told the media that he wants a trade because he’s not happy in a 3-4 scheme. Floyd should be, as he projects as a high-impact edge rusher. McPhee qualifies as one as well, and he is great in run support as well. The Bears will have a nice rotation going with Lamarr Houston included as well. Houston could even start if Floyd isn’t deemed ready, but he’s coming off a down season as a result of a knee injury.

The Bears also have some new players who can get to the quarterback from the defensive line. A third-round choice was spent on Jonathan Bullard, which seems like a great move because there was some speculation that Bullard would be taken at the end of the first frame. He should fit in as a five-technique in Chicago’s defense though, and he could start as a rookie along with Akiem Hicks, who is also new to the team. Hicks was solid for the Patriots last year, prompting the Bears to sign him as a free agent. Hicks and Bullard could easily be much better than last year’s starters, Jarvis Jenkins and Will Sutton. Rounding out the defensive line, Eddie Goldman, last year’s second-round choice, should continue to be solid at nose tackle.

With a much improved pass rush, the not so strong secondary will obviously stand to benefit. A pair of fourth-rounders – cornerback Deiondre’ Hall and safety Deon Bush – were added, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll make much of a difference as rookies.

That said, Hall could challenge for Tracy Porter’s corner job. Porter played well at the beginning of last season, but was a major liability to close out the year. Kyle Fuller, taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, was better, but only by default. Fuller was actually the top corner on the roster, but he struggled at times.

As for the safeties, the Bears at least have one promising one in Adrian Amos, who performed well above expectations as a fifth-round rookie. The problem is that there’s nothing viable next to Amos, as Antrel Rolle is no longer on the roster. With Rolle gone, the Bears will have to go with either Chris Prosinski, who was abused in coverage last year, or Bush, the aforementioned rookie.

2016 Chicago Bears Schedule and Intangibles: 
There surprisingly hasn’t been much of a disparity between Chicago’s home and road records recently. Over the past six seasons, the Bears are 25-25 as hosts and 26-22 as visitors. They were 1-7 at home in 2015, with their lone victory being a 2 point win over the Raiders.

The Bears outgained their foes on both punts and kickoffs last year, but surrendered three touchdowns while scoring none of their own.

Robbie Gould missed many clutch kicks that cost the Bears last year. He went 33-of-39 (7-of-9 from 50+). He missed just one of his 29 extra points.

Pat O’Donnell was one of the league’s worst punters in 2014, ranking 27th in net yardage. However, he improved to 19th in that category last year.

The Bears have a chance to get off to a nice start. Following a tough game at Houston, they get the Eagles, Cowboys, Lions and Jaguars in four of their next five games.

2016 Chicago Bears Positional Rankings (1-5 stars): 

bears

2016 Chicago Bears Analysis: The Bears figure to be much more competitive in 2016. Kevin White will make the passing game much more explosive, while the defense should be much, much better. The most important factor, however, is Jay Cutler. Will he regress without Adam Gase? Personally, I don’t think so, as he has a talented team around him that is worth caring about, especially with him approaching the twilight of his career.

Projection: 9-7 (3rd in NFC North)

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