For the first time in years, the city of Chicago has bonafide faith in their beloved Bears. Flaunting a potential franchise quarterback, a brand new head coach, a doglike defense, everything seems to point up for the Windy City. But, with the too-comforting rose-colored glasses taken off, the team still will probably be a pretty rocky squad with still a dubious amount of holes, raw and rough around the edges in every way possible. In order to stay competitive, a lot of factors must tip in their favor. So today, let us run down a few of those factors.
Offensive Line Must Stay Healthy
Injuries happen. For the Bears, they happen slightly more often. Either way, a poorly timed injury to a headliner would be a crushing blow to any team, not just the Bears. So obviously losing Danny Trevathan or Mitchell Trubisky would nearly be a season-ender but for the Bears to truly keep up in the playoff race, specifically the offensive line and primarily Kyle Long must steer clear of the IR. Though a position of rickety depth, the reliance on strong offensive line play travels a little deeper than the backups.
Young quarterbacks need stability and security in the pocket. Most often, they simply have yet to grasp the necessary stone-cold focus that exceptional under pressure quarterbacks possess. Trubisky struggled mightily when under heavy pressure in his rookie year, landing as the 33rd highest DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) when under pressure for quarterbacks. Ensuring his development with improved performances, which will also be a pivotal part of this season’s playoff hopes, will inadvertently flow through the offensive line.
On top of sustaining the passing game as a whole, the state of the offensive line influenced the production of the rush last season more than any other factor and distinctively, Kyle Long. Interestingly enough, the former twentieth overall pick may just be the most vital cog in the Bears offense outside of the quarterback position. Long easily had the largest impact on the rush, as in the nine games Long started last season, the Bears rushed for 1,186 yards for an average of 131.7 yards per game. However, in the seven games he missed, Chicago rushed for a mere 602 yards on a very unsteady average of eighty-six yards per game.
Keeping a pace of over 130 rushing yards a week would have put the Bears in the top four in the entire league for rushing yards, a massive boost to an offense that borderline has the pass figured out. The loss of Josh Sitton may not go down as easy as it may seem and to have Long miss significant time for the third season in a row will hurt. The addition of the quite mobile James Daniels will be a massive compliment to the far higher tempo that the Bears aim to maintain on offense but Long has to stay on the field.
The depth pieces simply cannot be relied on for major downs and to go without any of the starting interior linemen for any time will be a massive crutch to a squad that has thoroughly proven how detrimental a carousel offensive line can be to an unprepared offense. Though entirely out of their control, keeping all members of the line on the field as much as football will allow has to be the top offensive priority. Without it, the passing game could crumble and the run game could fully disappear. A possibility that could have season-ending implications.
Trubisky Cannot Be a Bust
With as much poured into the shining gem of the offense this offseason, the prospect of watching Trubisky crash and burn feels virtually impossible. After a season of offensive blunders and missteps, the Bears made it a mission to surround him with a massively revamped receiver corps at his fingertips, a bolstered (and hopefully healthy) offensive line, and a head coach hand-selected to foster as much progress out of the UNC product while leading the offense to the modern league.
And thoroughly did they succeed in every single category. Matt Nagy looks like the next great offensive-minded head coach for his ingenuity and uncanny quarterback whispering. For general manager Ryan Pace to supplement the previously barren offensive squad with former Pro Bowler Allen Robinson, speedster Taylor Gabriel, and the freshly-drafted Iowa center-turned-guard James Daniels should prove to be a profoundly improved offensive infrastructure.
That is if Trubisky figures it out as much as coaches and fans believe he will.
After so much rebuild and so many assets dropped for the dream of a franchise quarterback, Trubisky has to achieve these expectations if the Bears want to contend. He flashed talent here and there in his rookie year. An occasional dime, an intelligent read from time to time, just the sporadic play that indicated superstar potential underneath the grimy rawness. This season must be a large continuation of those flashes.
The offense naturally levels to the play of the quarterback and not having elite quarterback play has proven to be a death wish in professional football. Franchises can only go so far sans a franchise signal caller and the Bears may miraculously have one on their hands. The offseason highlighted the trust they have in Trubisky, both leadership and talent wise. But when the lights come on, the hopes and ambitions must come to fruition. Trubisky must prove himself worthy of the sheer amount of faith both the club and the city have in him.
If not, if he requires another year to figure the league out or if he never does, the Bears will sink to the bottom of the division indefinitely. The entire franchises’ future rests on Trubiskys ability to put the pieces together and blossom into the franchise gunslinger. Without it, the rebuild will rage on for who knows how much longer. But it all starts with this season. Easily the most pressing ingredient, Trubisky cannot fail this team.
The Allen Robinson Signing Cannot Fail
With so much resting on Trubisky to succeed, the surrounding cast cannot leave him high and dry. And the number one weapon of the offense will be the newly signed receiver, Allen Robinson. As a former Pro Bowler and 1400 yard receiver, Robinson should theoretically have instant and considerable impact on the passing game, especially with a budding quarterback under center to catch from.
And while this should be a pretty safe assumption, the contract backfiring could very well be an option as well. The first cause of worry will obviously be his torn ACL last season. In the first game of last season, he went down after a single seventeen-yard reception. Though his recovery should be absolute, as a relatively young player and given an abnormal amount of recovery time, knee injuries at such a mobile position always give cause for concern.
Secondly, it has been two whole seasons since the Pro Bowl level Robinson has seen the field. The subsequent season after his monster 2015 year fell off bewilderingly hard. He caught less than half of his previous touchdown count (fourteen in 2015 to six the next season) and put up a far more pedestrian 883 yards. To make matters even more confusing, he had exactly the same amount of targets as he did the season before and only seven less catches.
This can be chalked up to the severe regression of quarterback Blake Bortles and a high-pressure scheme that forced very low percentage routes on him but it cannot be completely discredited. With a far more creative system and an arguably better option under center than Jacksonville, Robinson should be in for a solid comeback season. While the passing game does not rely solely on him nor Trubisky, both must have the finest seasons of their careers if the Bears want to keep pace in a wickedly competitive NFC North.
The Pass Rush Must Be Serviceable
By far the weakest element of the flowering Bears defense, the pass rush appears to be in shambles after purging three of the top six sack leaders from last season during the offseason. A risky move to make, the keys to the pass rush have been placed in the hands of the often-injured Leonard Floyd. And as of right now, he must earn his first round pedigree if the Bears want any chance of shutting down elite opposing offenses.
As the ninth overall selection in the 2016 draft, it seemed as if the Bears struck the next great pass rusher. However fast forward two seasons and the off-kilter linebacker has only seen twenty-two games of action with a somewhat measly total of 11.5 sacks. A brutally unlucky sophomore slump saw only 4.5 sacks out of him, terminating any hope of a breakout year from him. On top of that, a serious knee injury could linger into this upcoming season, which could be a total nightmare for an otherwise barren pass rush.
Outside of Floyd, only the precarious free agent signing Aaron Lynch and an equally injury prone Kylie Fitts could be considered as legitimate pass rush options. Though Lynch had a decent start to his career with two straight six sack seasons to kick off his career in San Francisco, he quickly fell out with injuries, suspensions, and even healthy scratches sapping playing time from him. Only appearing in fourteen games in his final season, it will more than likely be make-or-break for the former fifth-rounder in his tenure with the Bears.
While a great training camp could indicate starting potential, Fitts may struggle with injuries similar to his final couple of seasons in college. A foot injury knocked him out of the ring in 2016 after only two games and a multitude of injuries limited his final season to ten games. And even then, three sacks in 2017 doesn’t incite that much excitement for him. He will more than likely prove to be a solid steal for a sixth rounder in his rookie year but he won’t be a solution, especially if the injuries creep in.
For expectations of an equivalent pass rush crew to the quietly dominant seventh-placed sack count of last season would be unfair. Luckily, Akiem Hicks, the most prolific pass rusher on the Bears, remains but even he will be unable to fully carry the pass rush. As of right now, the unit simply must be serviceable for the rest of the defense to succeed. With this unavoidable limiting reagent, having the pass rush exceed anything beyond nonexistent will be a slight lift and mitigate the potential disaster just a tad.
With the extreme emphasis on getting to the quarterback the modern league, the Bears could be flat out of luck if Floyd doesn’t explode like the defense demands or if Lynch or Fitts can’t step up as a second option. Only an above average secondary sits behind them and the inability to put pressure on the quarterback directly puts far too much pressure on an otherwise respectable secondary. A careless pass rush will be the deadly Achilles heel of the Bears defense either way but Floyd must alleviate the blow for the Bears to chase their playoff hopes.