I know, I know, the Bears still have one game left on the schedule, but at 7-8, their season ended when they lost to Green Bay last Sunday night. For all intents and purposes, the Bears’ season ended when Jay Cutler was injured five weeks ago, we just didn’t realize it then. At that time, the Bears were 7-3 and riding a five game winning streak and were in control of their playoff destiny with tie breakers over Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit. Cutler’s injury was a blow, but many didn’t think the Bears would completely collapse under Caleb Hanie’s direction. Yet here we are, five losses later and Hanie has been replaced by an ex-high school football coach, Josh McCown. So whatever the Bears do in this last game, it will not really affect the end result. 8-8 or 7-9 doesn’t alter the Bears’ divisional standing and only means a moderately better middle round draft pick.
With that said, let’s look at how the Bears did based on position group:
Quarterback: The overall grade for the Bears’ QBs is a D+. The group of Bears’ QBs completed 56.5% of their passes (253 of 448) for 3,186 yards, 17 TDs and 19 INTs for an overall 73.8 passer efficiency rating. Given the huge passing numbers the league has been putting up, these numbers are well below average. The Bears are 26th in passing yards and 28th in passer rating. Granted a large part of this failure is due to the offensive line and the wide receivers, but let’s also acknowledge the QBs part of this fiasco. Having said that, I would give Jay Cutler a solid B for his efforts. His passer rating of 85.7 and his 231.9 yards per game passing put him in the upper half of the league. Again, given the bad OL and sub par WRs, Cutler’s numbers are very respectable. It’s obvious that Cutler’s value to the team is an A+. 7-3 and in line for the 1st wild card spot before the injury, 0-5 and out of the playoffs after the injury speak for themselves.
Running Back: Here the Bears get a B+/A-. Before his season ending injury, Matt Forte was in the top five rushing leaders and leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage. Even now, Forte is 15th in the league in rushing and 7th in the league in yards from scrimmage, and he hasn’t played the last four games. If you rank the RBs by yards per game, Forte is 5th in the league at 83.1. Let’s not fail to mention that Forte is still leading the team in catches with 52 receptions. In addition to Forte, you have Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell, who both stepped in admirably to fill in for Forte. Barber did have those two incredible mishaps that ended up losing the Denver game, but aside from that, the hard running Barber has been a pleasant addition to the team.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The overall receiving corps for the Bears gets a D+. Johnnie Knox showed some flashes as well as Roy Williams, but too many dropped passes and inconsistent play. Knox led the receiving corp with 37 catches at 19.6 yards a catch and 2 TDs. Williams was right behind him with 33 catches for 447 yards and 1 TD. Earl Bennett gets an incomplete as he missed much of the season with an injury. When he was in the game, he was Cutler’s favorite target. After Cutler’s injury, Hanie and McCown seemed to forget about the reliable Bennett. The tight ends were practically non-existent. Of course, that’s normal for a Mike Martz offense, but even so, it makes me question the wisdom of trading Greg Olsen earlier in the season. The combined TE numbers were 25 catches for 256 yards and 7 TDs (clearly the TE became important on the goal line). The Bears definitely need to obtain a game changing WR either through the draft or through free agency. A real WR would make Cutler all that much more dangerous next season.
Offensive Line: As a group, I’d have to give the OL an overall grade of D-. The only reason it’s not a failing grade is because the running game was moderately successful. Even at that, the Bears’ had to use TEs and a blocking FB to assist in the run game. As a unit of five blockers, these guys aren’t very good. Granted the line sustained many injuries, but it wasn’t all that good before the injuries. In addition to this, the Bears were 6th in the league in sacks allowed. Now I know Hanie wasn’t the quickest decision maker in the world, but the OL still needs to give the QB some time. Part of the problem is the Martz offensive scheme which calls for many formations in which only five guys are blocking. You just can’t run that offense with the talent the Bears have. The front office never seemed to make drafting OL a priority and it shows. This offenses will never get better until the guys blocking up front get better. Kudos to Mike Tice for getting the best out of the limited talent he had available to him.
Defensive Line: The DL for the Bears gets a solid B. 28 of the Bears 31 sacks came from the DL. Julius Peppers was a monster this year with 10 sacks. Henry Melton and Israel Idonije sparkled at times as well. What keeps this grade from being an A is that the DL was inconsistent in its pass rush. When the Bears can generate a decent pass rush with their four DL, the defense works like a charm. However, there were several games in which the pass rush was non existent, and when the Bears have to rely on blitzes to sustain a pass rush, the results aren’t good.
Linebackers: The linebacking corps get a B+. Another solid year for Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, but their age is finally catching up to them. There were games in which the two looked old and tired against younger RBs and TEs. That being said, I still would take the Bears’ LBs over most of the league. The problem is the window of opportunity to win while these guys are still productive is shrinking, and there are no viable backups for either superstar should they go down with serious injuries. The LB corps is the strength and key to the Bears’ defense. If they go down, the defense goes down with it.
Defensive Backs: The Bears’ DBs get a C. Charles Tillman is still an outstanding CB. He’s our most reliable cover man and he’s also a genius at stripping the ball, which leads to many of the Bears’ turn overs. Tim Jennings is a solid #2 CB and has made his share of the plays. What drags this group’s grade down is the inconsistent play at safety. For awhile, the Bears were playing Chris Harris and Brandon Merriweather. That experiment was quickly shelved. Then they started Chris Conte and Major Wright. That had better results, but Wright is injury prone. Craig Steltz even saw some playing time as a starter, but his lack of recovery speed only makes him ideal in run support. The Bears are going to need to address the DBs in the off season.
Special Teams: The Bears’ special teams gets an A-. Robbie Gould was his usual accurate self in making 87.1% of his FG attempts. Gould was also great on kickoffs with the number of touchbacks he forced. Adam Podlesh has a respectable 43.5 yards per punt average. The return game is where the Bears shine. They have the best return man in the game with Devin Hester. Hester managed to return two punts and one kick back for scores. He probably would have had more if he weren’t battling ankle injuries during the last half of the season. Johnnie Knox is a dangerous alternative as a kick returner.
Coaching: The coaching staff gets a B- for the season. Lovie Smith did a fine job coaching this aging and under talented bunch into playoff contention before Cutler’s injury. We already credited Tice’s work with the OL. The defensive coaching was adequate. The problem is with OC Mike Martz. I know there are going to be those who will say “I told you so” in regards to Martz. I was elated when they hired Martz to coach the offense. However, my bubble was burst when he refused to alter his offensive play calling to work better with the Bears’ talent level. The last two seasons, he waited until Cutler was nearly killed before changing to a run-oriented attack. Too little too late. Once Cutler was injured, Martz seemed to go back to full passing attack mode. Martz is inconsistent as a play caller. He abandons the run too quickly and doesn’t put his QB in the best position to win games. I don’t know what his future with the team will be, but I would be surprised if he is retained for next year. The only downside with that is that it means yet another new offensive scheme for the Bears to learn and perfect.
Overall Team Grade: C/C-. To go from playoff contenders to also-rans because of injury is understandable, but ultimately unacceptable. It’s management’s job to get adequate talent to ensure against loss due to injury, and Jerry Angelo’s talent evaluation is suspect to say the least. I know not too many teams can sustain injuries to their starting QB and RB, but if we had a capable backup QB who could manage the team, we might have won some of those games we lost. A C/C- is what a 7-9/8-8 teams deserves.
There you have it. It will be interesting to see what changes the Bears make in front office, coaching staff and the roster during the off season. Here’s hoping next year is better than this year!