I remember all too well the refrain among Bears fans (including myself) last offseason: the Bears finished 2nd in scoring in 2013. They have an elite offense, and just need a defense to be competent to be really good.
Then 2014 happened, and the offense was far from elite. They finished 21st in yards and 23rd in points. The defense didn’t exactly return to competency like hoped, but this post is focusing on the offense, so let’s stick to that.
Former general manager Phil Emery built the roster around the offense. That isn’t to say he ignored the defense (contrary to popular belief, he didn’t), but his ideal was to build an elite offense that was stacked with playmakers at every position.
Here’s the problem with that approach: the Bears don’t have a high enough caliber of quarterback to consistently have a top-shelf offense. This is not to say Jay Cutler is a bad quarterback (he’s not), but history shows only teams with top-shelf quarterbacks can count on consistently having top offenses.
Looking at the last ten years, only 6 quarterbacks have guided offenses to top 5 scoring status more than twice in that span: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, and Aaron Rodgers. That sextet has combined for 35 of the 50 top 5 scoring offenses over the past decade. Outside of that group, only Eli Manning (2) has guided more than one top 5 scoring offense in the last ten years.
Trying to build your team around the offense without a top-level quarterback is a fools’ errand that will never succeed. You could easily argue building your team around any one side of the ball is a fools’ errand that won’t lead to titles, but that’s another story.
Teams with great offenses (which need great quarterbacks) can routinely drag poor defenses into the playoffs, but they will fall short of a championship. But teams with only good quarterbacks cannot follow that route, which means that the Bears were doomed to fail before the 2014 season even started.
Fortunately for Bears fans, Chicago’s moves this offseason signify a clear re-focusing on defense. They hired a head coach with a defensive background and track record of quality defenses, then went out and signed the best defensive coordinator on the market in Vic Fangio. A new influx of talent is needed, but there is little doubt in my mind the Bears will be back to fielding a quality defense again within a few years.
Thankfully, I do not expect the offense to be ignored and sink back to Lovie Smith-era levels either. The Bears hired a well-respected offensive coordinator in Adam Gase, and the offense is still stacked with talent. Based on the trends I talked about above, I do not expect Chicago’s offense to consistently be a top 5 unit, but the top 10 should be attainable in 2015, assuming they don’t cut or trade away key personnel.
Until they find a top quarterback, the Bears won’t consistently have a top-tier offense, but the good news is they shouldn’t need to.