Where Bears need improvement
Marc Trestman should focus on disappointing offense
Just like that, the Chicago Bears have a new head coach.
The choice of Marc Trestman comes as a surprise to many, because he has been out of the league since 2004, but given how well prepared general manager Phil Emery has been, are you going to doubt the choice?
Trestman comes in and takes over a team that is competitive, even if its inability to consistently make the playoffs has left it irrelevant come January. What does he have to work with? And what pieces of the puzzle are the Bears missing?
Let's take a look.
The Bears paid a hefty price to make Jay Cutler their franchise quarterback, and the results have been largely mixed. At times he's displayed the kind of talent that would make even Phil Simms want to use the word "elite," but all too often accuracy issues and carelessness with the ball have come back to haunt him.
It would be easy to blame this on his offensive line, but Cutler is averaging exactly the same yards per attempt (7.0) when pressured as he is when not, while his completion percentage drops from 60.7 percent to only 54.5 percent. Cutler's general accuracy is a bigger issue, finishing only 27th (out of 38) in our adjusted accuracy percentage with a 70.5 percent score.
Matt Forte played so well in 2011 that even missing essentially five games' worth of action, he still finished the season third in our running back grading. So it's disappointing that he couldn't have the same success in 2012 (he was 30th out of 59), with his elusive rating dropping from 52.6 to just 19. If he can come back healthy and regain his form (he just turned 27), then he's an every-down back who is lethal in space.
Wide receivers and tight ends
One of the first things Emery did was to bring in Brandon Marshall. Suffice it to say that move paid dividends immediately. The 2.76 yards per route Marshall ran was the third-most in the league, and he finished third in receiving yardage and eighth overall in our receiver ratings. His ability in the end zone (11 touchdowns) and work after the catch (17 forced missed tackles were the second-highest of any receiver) were particularly important.
Only now the Bears need to find some guys to complement him. In 2010, Earl Bennett looked like a guy who could produce consistently, picking up 447 yards from the slot (where his 2.0 yards per route run were second-highest in the league). In the past two years, though, he hasn't built on that, while at this stage none of us can really be sure how wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will turn out. A bigger issue may be at the tight end spot, where Kellen Davis dropped 29.63 percent of catchable balls, second-highest of all tight ends. This is definitely an area they'll need to upgrade via the draft or free agency, and it wouldn't be a surprise for the Bears to reach out to Martellus Bennett -- the best available tight end on the market.
What do you do with a line like Chicago's? First, it's worth pointing out that it wasn't all bad. In a development we didn't see coming after his first two years in the league, J'Marcus Webb took a big leap forward. He ended the year with a positive grade for his pass blocking, he cut down on the penalties and made himself a serviceable starter.
The right tackle spot didn't get quite the same production.
Right now Gabe Carimi is walking dangerously close to being a first-round bust, if he doesn't take a substantial step forward in 2013. Carimi finished the season as our ninth-ranked run-blocking tackle, but his work in pass protection earned him our third-lowest grade and the fourth-lowest pass blocking efficiency rating. He gave up 46 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 375 pass-blocking snaps at tackle.
The interior doesn't stand out quite as much (for better or worse) but it's been a consistent problem for the team to generate enough push to make life easier for the backs. In the end, 20.9 percent of the Bears' runs went for no gain or negative yardage, the eighth-worst in the league. This year's class of free-agent guards isn't quite as strong as last year's, but a guy like Geoff Schwartz could provide a cheap and instant upgrade. Finding a right tackle likely won't be quite so easy, because it's hard to see guys like Andre Smith, Sebastian Vollmer or Phil Loadholt actually making it to free agency.
Traditionally one of the stronger parts of the Bears' defense, there was a lot to like in 2012, even if you question the depth of the unit that forced Israel Idonije into duty as a full-time defensive tackle at times. He responded well, but it left the team struggling at defensive end to replace his impact, with Corey Wootton not suited (at this stage) for an every-down role, while Shea McClellin failed to have much of an instant impact situationally.
Next season, the team will need to get more out of Julius Peppers, who finished strong but was far too quiet during the first half of the season. By the end, he was 17th in our pass rushing productivity rating for defensive ends, behind Idonije, who was 12th.
The continued bright spot is the emergence of Henry Melton, one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the league. He will take himself out of plays, but his 11.6 percent run stop percentage led all defensive tackles, and his 37 quarterback disruptions were fifth-most among all of his peers. Still, questions need to be answered as to who else will get playing time here, and it's possible that defensive tackle is a spot the Bears will be looking to improve.
Whether it was because of age or injury, few would say Brian Urlacher was at his best in 2012. Sure, he still looked the part dropping back in coverage, but he struggled getting off blocks and making plays in the running game. His run stop percentage figure dropped from 10 percent in 2011 to 8.7 percent, with Nick Roach up at 10.9 percent when he filled in for the legendary linebacker.
Emery will need to decide whether this is the result of the lingering effects of a knee injury, or an indication the Bears need to get younger at the spot -- especially if a change in defensive schemes is forthcoming, thus rendering what Urlacher does well (dropping back deep) less important. The other starters are likely to return.
In the slot, Kelvin Hayden came in for D.J. Moore, but didn't do anything to suggest he was the long-term answer there. Moore, like Hayden, is a free agent, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Chicago go in another direction at the spot as they look to find some long-term prospects; Tillman turns 32 next month.
At the safety spot, Major Wright had his best season to date and solidified his status as a starter, even if asking him to go man to man with tight ends wasn't always the best use of his skill set. He looks locked in as a starter while Chris Conte didn't do an awful lot wrong playing the deeper spot.
This isn't a unit that will need a lot of overhaul, though Devin Hester presents an interesting option. The plus side is that regardless of what they do with Hester, Eric Weems is on the roster and proved to be one of the best returners in the league during his time at Atlanta.
This is a team that has a lot of work to do. Only two of their 10 wins came against playoff teams, and they were rarely convincing. On defense, it may be a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but the offense needs plenty of attention in this offseason.
The line needs to do more to help their running backs out and they need receiving options that can lessen the load on Marshall. The hiring of an offensive mind as head coach indicates the Bears know changes in this area are needed, but only time will tell if Trestman is the right man to help achieve this.
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