By Bryan Dietzler
The 2015 NFL season is over for the Bears and they failed to make the playoffs or post a winning record this year. They ended the 2015 campaign with a 6-10 record and lost most of their last few games. There were high notes on the season but there were many more low notes and the Bears have a lot of work to do to get things into shape for next season.
We will take a closer look at the offense in this article and give out position specific grades for each unit. There is also a little insight into how things might stand for next season.
Quarterbacks-B+-This was perhaps Jay Cutler’s best season as a Bear and maybe his best season in the NFL. He cut down on the interceptions and didn’t have a multiple interception game until the final game of the year. He helped move the ball down the field effectively and even did well when the Bears didn’t have their top receivers in the lineup working with the less than stellar talent he had to work with. He made good decisions and thrived in the new offense.
Cutler did miss a game and a half with a hamstring injury this season and former backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen took over for him during that absence. Clausen was not effective and the Bears lost the games that he played in. Chicago cut Clausen in the middle of the season and elevated David Fales to the active roster as a backup to Cutler. Fales didn’t see any action for the Bears this season.
General Manager Ryan Pace has stated that the Bears are going to keep Cutler around for 2016 and build the offense around him. With Cutler staying in place the team has also elevated quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggins to the offensive coordinator spot that was vacated by Adam Gase when he took the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins. So look for Cutler to remain with the Bears at least one more season as they attempt to put an effective offense around him and make things better in 2016.
Running Backs-A– -The Bears running back group saw an old face take a back seat to a new face as Matt Forte saw his load reduced this season due to injury and the emergence of rookie running back Jeremy Langford. While Forte was out, Langford stepped in and did a nice job and showed the Bears that they have talent in Langford and that he might be able to take over for Forte if he leaves in free agency. Ka’Deem Carey also stepped in and made a few plays for the running backs this year.
The running game was effective for the most part this season when the Bears used it and we saw in their final games that the running game could really help them move the ball and keep possession of it. Next season, the Bears should use the running game more to complement the passing game and keep possession of the ball. Look for Chicago to feature the running game even more next season.
It’s hard to tell what is going to happen with the running backs next season. A lot of what happens will depend on whether or not the Bears decide to bring Forte back but the Bears may not re-sign him. That would leave them with Langford and Carey and while they are two capable backs, it would be nice to have Forte available for the Bears to keep the running back rotation going strong but that just may not be possible. The Bears will most likely head into the 2016 season with Langford and Carey and an option or two as backups to these them. It can almost be safely stated that Forte will not be a Chicago Bear in 2016.
Wide Receivers-D-The Bears wide receiving corps was much maligned during the season due to injury and ineffective play. Its stars, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Kevin White missed a lot of time due to injury and the Bears had to rely on third and fourth string wide receivers to carry the load for a majority of the season. Cutler did do well with what he had to work with but he did better when guys like Jeffery and Royal were in the lineup. If they could have had them for an extended period of time this season the Bears offense might have done better.
Some of the other guys did step up when called upon and played fairly well. Marc Mariani caught just about everything thrown his way and Josh Bellamy came up with some nice catches. Marquess Wilson was having a good season until he injured his foot and went on IR. Deonte Thompson showed flashes but was never fully committed to the offense so the Bears didn’t get a good look at him this past season.
The biggest question heading into this offseason is what are the Bears going to do about Jeffery? He is a free agent this offseason and while he hasn’t shown that he can stay healthy, when he is in the lineup, he really helps the offense. The Bears may or may not choose to keep him. If they don’t decide to keep him then they will hope that White is ready to step in and take over as the number one receiver. If they have both Jeffery and White available next season (if the re-sign Jeffery) the passing offense is going to be very potent.
Tight Ends-B- -The tight end position was up and down all season but could be looking up for them in 2016 depending on what happens with Martellus Bennett. Speaking of Bennett, he was on pace to have a decent season catching the football but was placed on injured reserve during the latter half of the season with a rib injury. His backup, Zach Miller, performed very well in most occasions but was deemed not healthy enough to finish the last game of the year. Health was a concern for the group this season.
Bennett may not be happy in Chicago and may be on his way out if he doesn’t get more money or if the team can’t talk him into staying. If he does go it will be a big loss and the Bears will need someone to step up and contribute at the position or they may have to find someone through the draft or free agency. Miller is only signed to a one year deal but it’s almost a sure bet that the Bears will bring him back for another season. Their depth at the position is weak and if they lose players there this offseason they are going to have to build at the position and make it stronger.
Offensive Line-C-The offensive line gets a solid C for this season. There were several changes on the offensive line as former guard Kyle Long slid in a right tackle and Jermon Bushrod spent most of the season on the bench as Charles Leno Jr. filed in nicely at left tackle. There was some switching around that had to take place in the interior of the line including guard Matt Slauson’ s move to center at times this season. They also had to remove Vladimir Ducasse from the starting lineup because he wasn’t an effective pass blocker. Different starting combinations sort of set the line back but they did well enough at times in both pass and run blocking.
The Bears might sport a different look on the offensive line next year depending on what they think of their existing talent. They may try to find some competition at the left tackle position and one of the guard positions to give them more depth and push the starters a little bit. It would appear as if Long is going to stay at the right tackle position for next year. So the Bears will have some continuity on the line (the center and Slauson’s guard position are pretty much set along with Long’s right tackle positon) but will have to do some tweaking to make on the line to make it better.
The Bears offense is on the right track, they just need to stay healthy, find a few more pieces and add some depth and they might be a better unit next season. It will be interesting to see how this part of the team reacts to Loggins being installed as the offensive coordinator for next season. Will he run a similar offense to what Gase had in place in 2015 or will it be different? Hopefully it’s somewhat similar so the Bears don’t have to learn an entirely new offense next season.
The overall grade for the offense is a C. The offense had a good go of it at some points in the season but overall they struggled. That was expected in their first year under a new offensive coordinator and system so fans shouldn’t be too worried that the Bears had their problems this season. If the Bears can continue in the same or similar offense that they had this season and grow and stay healthy then they should have a better run in 2016 and win more games.