NFL 2014 Team Grades: Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears were easily the most disappointing team in the NFC North, if not the entire NFL, in 2014. While this writer was always of the opinion that the Chicago was being overrated by many who saw them as a legitimate division title contender coming into the season, fresh off a mediocre 8-8 slate in 2013 (and a 2-4 record within the division), their lackluster play overall was still surprising and a bit unsettling.

Offensively, the Bears got decent seasons from Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffrey, though in hindsight the belief that their talented triplet of threats could compensate for the team's obvious flaws on defense seems ludicrous. Last year the Bears were historically bad on defense, and 2014 saw more of the same. Their off-season fix was to bring in veteran talent, a formula that almost never works when talking about a total rebuild. Jared Allen was the marquee name in that group, though it was Willie Young who was the best of the defensive newcomers, showing the kind of fierce pass rushing ability off the edge consistently that he had rarely flashed during his time in Detroit.

Still, the Bears defense was only a shadow of its former self. The hard hitting and stingy units that previous head coach Lovie Smith fielded seeming like a distant memory. The apparent belief on the part of now deposed GM Phil Emery that there is something wrong with winning with defense (as Smith did going 10-6 in his final season) and/or that fancy passing stats and a high powered offense is all that is needed to win seems more befitting a fantasy football league owner than an NFL general manager.

The fact of the matter is, despite all that talent and 2013's heady-if misleading-offensive numbers, the Chicago offense wasn't very explosive nor consistent. No discussion of the Bears can be complete, or even taken seriously, without a reference to the quarterback position. Jay Cutler is a wonderfully talented passer who in 2014 did not, and frankly never has, shown the consistency and decision making needed to be considered an upper level quarterback. The real question is why some continue to think that he is. Having said that, Cutler is a good enough quarterback for a team to win with if it is solid on both sides of the ball.

The Bears do not remotely fit this classification due, in large part, to their aforementioned porous defense. For the second season in a row, an organization that has traditionally prided itself on great defense offered little to no resistance on most Sundays to opposing offenses. The low point in a disappointing season had to be the Bears getting destroyed in Green Bay on a Thursday night. To get beat by a good team clicking on all cylinders on the road is one thing. To give the strong impression that you have stopped competing is another. Their collective effort (Brandon Marshall being a notable exception) in the game at Green Bay was an embarrassment, especially on defense.

Clearly, there was a chasm between the coaching staff and players, and the Marc Trestman regime ended after just two seasons. Despite this negative take on what 2014 produced for Chicago, the belief here is that the outlook for 2015 is not as bleak as some might think. New coach John Fox will quickly get that defense playing better-admittedly not saying much when compared against the last two seasons–and one has to think that Chicago will make a decision on its quarterback future as well. The belief here is that Chicago will look to trade Cutler, but will not be able to find suitable return for him. Say what you will about Cutler, and his contract, he is simply too good to just give up on or give away for nothing.

Jimmy Clausen's stable play in a backup role this season has to provide some comfort. Further, the Bears have some good young pieces to build upon in addition to their established stars. Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller was outstanding this year and the offensive line was fairly solid. The feeling here is that the first thing the Bears need to do is to realize that they are not as supremely talented as they think they are, and look to address their obvious deficiencies.

Having, arguably, the best wide receiver combo in the game isn't going to help you stop the run. As such, it would be nice to see them focus on the defensive side of the ball in the upcoming draft as well as resist the urge to overpay in free agency in search of that quick fix. If Chicago enjoys a strong draft in May, Cutler cleans up some of his poor decisions, and the remaining players buy in quickly to a coach who has taken two previous organizations to the Super Bowl, wild-card contention for Chicago is a possibility in 2015.