Final look in 2013 at the exciting but disappointing Bears
BY ADAM L. JAHNS, PATRICK FINLEY and MARK POTASH Staff Reporters December 31, 2013 10:33PM
- Grading the Bears: Final report of 2013
- INSIDE THE BEARS: Updates, commentary and more
- Jay Cutler wants to stay, 'but you never know'
Updated: February 3, 2014 3:48PM
Say this for the 2013 Bears season: It was exciting.
Marc Trestman’s offense racked up 6,109 yards, the most in the history of the franchise, and missed the 1985 record of 456 points by 11.
And the Bears’ defense was the worst in franchise history, allowing the most points and yards ever.
And while the Bears’ 8-8 record left much to be desired — they could not win either of their last two games to make the playoffs — the team emerged from the season with answers on offense.
The Bears have a killer scheme, a solid offensive line, a breakout receiving star in Alshon Jeffery to pair with Brandon Marshall and a running back coming off his best season.
Entering the offseason, though, there are even more questions: Will Jay Cutler return? How will general manager Phil Emery shape the team’s defense? And how many of the Bears’ 27 free agents — from Charles Tillman to Devin Hester to Tim Jennings — will be re-signed?
When the season ended Sunday in the most painful way possible, it was never more clear: The Bears have a lot of work to do.
— Patrick Finley
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Adam L. Jahns: Without backup quarterback Josh McCown’s productive 3-2 run as the starter, the Bears never would’ve been in the playoff discussion. No one could have predicted that the 34-year-old journeyman would come through with a 109 passer rating, 13 touchdown passes and only one interception in place of Jay Cutler.
Patrick Finley: He didn’t have a breakout season a la Alshon Jeffery nor was he a Josh McCown-style feel-good story, but Matt Forte simply had his greatest season. He ran for a career-best 1,339 yards and had 594 receiving yards. No running back in the NFL played more snaps.
Mark Potash: Brandon Marshall was the highest-rated wide receiver in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, and it wasn’t close (37.8 to Jordy Nelson’s 24.7), mostly because of his invaluable blocking. Marshall made more good players better — Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Jay Cutler among them — with his selfless approach.
Jahns: The Bears needed an All-Pro season from defensive end Julius Peppers with longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher and former coach Lovie Smith out of football and the defense in flux. It didn’t happen. Instead, his erratic season meant more questions about his health, ability and value at his age.
Finley: The Bears knew their defensive depth was lacking, but injuries pushed it to the limit. The team started two players it signed midseason (Jeremiah Ratliff and Landon Cohen) and gave four more (Khaseem Greene, Jon Bostic, Nate Collins and David Bass) their first career starts.
Potash: Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker probably needed a tourniquet to stop the bleeding after losing five starters, but he didn’t even use a Band-Aid. Tucker’s inability to instill some kind of discipline and fundamentals and stop the run cost the Bears a playoff spot as much as anything.
Jahns: Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right side of the offensive line were huge bright spots. Growing pains? They happened every game, but everything suggests the Bears have two full-time starters here. As rookies, they already were upgrades from 2012.
Finley: The offense wasn’t struck with the same attrition rate as the defense. Quarterback was the only position to suffer serious injury among the starters; the same five offensive linemen played every snap until Jordan Mills’ left-foot injury in Week 17.
Potash: Josh McCown showed just how efficient the Trestman offense can be when he thrived in place of Jay Cutler. In eight games (five starts), McCown completed 67 percent of his passes and threw 13 touchdown passes with only one interception for a 109 passer rating, third-best in the NFL.
MOST TELLING MOMENT
Jahns: The defense failing to scoop up Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ fumble in the last game and seeing Green Bay score off that gaffe. It signaled the end of everything Lovie for the once-mighty, takeaway-hungry Bears defense.
Finley: Aaron Rodgers rolling left, away from a seven-man rush, and finding Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown in the last minute Sunday. It combined the Bears’ weaknesses — a popgun pass rush and sorry safety play.
Potash: A no-brainer. When the Bears stood around while the Packers’ Jarrett Boykin picked up an Aaron Rodgers fumble and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown in Week 17, it said loud-and-clear that whatever bite was left in Lovie Smith’s defense was gone.
MOST TELLING CUTLER MOMENT
Jahns: Coach Marc Trestman’s decision to stick with a one-legged Cutler against the Lions in Week 10 said everything — that’s his QB.
Finley: His 45-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery combined the best of Cutler — ridiculous arm strength — with a tendency to take chances that drives fans crazy. The touchdown started a 21-point quarter and a win against the Browns, quashing the team’s quarterback controversy.
Potash: In a harried two-minute drill in the rain in Week 2 against the Vikings, Cutler threw a perfect back-shoulder ball to Martellus Bennett for a game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds to play. When he had the opportunity, Cutler was a clutch performer in 2013.
MOST TELLING STAT
Jahns: The Bears set franchise records with 32 passing touchdowns and 4,448 gross passing yards. Modern offensive football finally has arrived in Chicago.
Finley: From Week 9 to 16, the Bears allowed 1,602 rushing yards — the most in any eight-game span in NFL history.
Potash: The Bears allowed 84 rushing plays of 10 yards or more — most in the league and well ahead of the Cowboys (65), Packers (62) and Texans (56). The Bears allowed 5.3 yards per carry — most since the expansion ’61 Vikings (5.4). And they allowed an NFL-high 11 100-yard rushers — the Packers had the second-most with eight.
MUST BE ADDRESSED
Jahns: Fixing the defense, which set team records for total yards allowed (6,313) and points (478), starts with improving the defensive line. Simply put, a better defensive line makes everyone better.
Finley: The worst defense in team history must be overhauled. Between cap concerns and ineptitude, no position is safe.
Potash: After two seasons, Phil Emery has to figure out what to do with defensive end Shea McClellin. He’s not an every-down, hand-on-the-ground defensive end. But McClellin still has NFL value. The Bears have to find a way to maximize it — whether it’s a position change, a role change or a trade.
BOLD OFFSEASON PREDICTION
Jahns: The Bears re-sign Jay Cutler to a three- or four-year deal and Josh McCown to a one-year contract, then draft a quarterback in the second or third round for Trestman to groom from the start — just in case injuries continue to mount for Cutler or he reverts to “Bad Jay” down the road.
Finley: A star has played his last snap for the Bears — and it’s not Jay Cutler. Julius Peppers’ cap number is about $18.2 million for next year, too high for a defense in need of an overhaul. Peppers’ 71⁄2 sacks were his lowest total since 2007.
Potash: The Bears will be thrifty with their free agents — except maybe Tim Jennings — but after a league-low 31 sacks, they will overspend to land the biggest, baddest pass-rushing defensive lineman they can find on the free-agent market.