The official start of the season should be an exciting time for NFL fans all over the country, but Bears fans are almost unanimously unexcited.
The reason for this is pretty clear. With their present quarterbacking situation, the starting of Mike Glennon, they’ll need perfection from pretty much everyone else on the roster. Have teams done it? Sure. But most teams in this situation end up picking in the top 10 of the draft.
That said, the Bears do have more going for them than a standard three-win team and there are a few reasons to be excited.
Here are five:
5. Return of Dominant Defense
It’s been a minute since the Bears have had even an adequate defense. Under Lovie Smith, they ranked in the top half of the league in scoring defense eight times in nine seasons and in the top five four times.
Since Smith was fired, they haven’t cracked the top twenty and finished in the bottom ten three times.
This year should be different.
John Fox has a long history of building really good defenses. While he didn’t win a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, he was just as responsible for building that defense as anyone. Vic Fangio is considered among the league’s best defensive coordinators and now they finally have the most important ingredient: players.
Earlier this week, Fox said the Bears front seven is as good as any in the league and he isn’t wrong, especially with Pernell McPhee back in the fold. If McPhee can play even half of the team’s snaps and Eddie Goldman stays healthy, that’s two major players they missed last year. Early indications are that Jon Bullard is going to be a stud too. They don’t really have a weakness in the front seven.
Their secondary still isn’t great, but it should be a lot better than it was last year. They now have at least three competent NFL cornerbacks and two safeties who’ve shown a knack for taking the ball away. If Eddie Jackson is as special as a few people think, this defense could easily steak into the top five in the league. A top-five defense alone pretty much guarantees nine wins. The last team that failed to win at least that many was Cleveland in 2011.
4. Backfield Duo
Tarik Cohen could’ve cracked this list by himself but he’s here to complement the second-leading rusher in the NFL last year.
Jordan Howard’s 2016 season was one that only guys like Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have put up in recent years. If the offensive line can stay relatively healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t repeat his success.
But Cohen gives the offense another dimension. They finally have a guy who can create offense by himself, hence the nickname “Chicken Salad.” I’m eager to see how Dowell Loggains uses Cohen as I suspect he hasn’t even scratched the surface yet.
Last year Loggains spent the bye week studying how to improve the team’s red zone offense and he came out of it saying the key was getting players in space. He was half right. The key is getting players who can do things in space. Cohen will be hard to tackle in a phone booth. And if teams decide to go small to match up with him, Howard will blow right through them.
3. Leonard Floyd
There were flashes of brilliance last year, but we didn’t see it consistently. Throughout camp and preseason, however, Floyd has looked like a different animal.
He’s gotten bigger, which is important, but not nearly as important as the fact that he’s learned how to use his hands. He got by last year almost entirely on athleticism and now it appears he has developed some moves to go with that. Taylor Lewan, one of the NFL’s better tackles, had a tough time with him in the preseason and it’s a good bet that he won’t be alone.
An elite pass rusher makes everybody else’s job easier. We saw that when the team added Julius Peppers in 2010. Pass rushers have been hard for the Bears to find. Adewale Ogunleye had a couple good years and so did Roosevelt Colvin, but neither were anywhere near the kind of player Floyd can be.
2. Trubisky will get in at some point
Maybe this is just hoping, but I have to believe that at some point Trubisky is going to see the field. A lot of teams don’t plan on playing their young quarterbacks and almost all of them do. At some point, John Fox is going to get sick of seeing Glennon force bad passes and miss wide open guys. Either that, or Ryan Pace is going to get sick of it and force Fox’s hand.
1. We’ll know if they’re headed in the right direction
This is the most important thing. If the Bears don’t show improvement and don’t win at least a few more games, they’ll be forced to make some major changes, most notably with the coach.
While I think everyone underestimated exactly how much Pace had to do, I believe the GM has done a good job bringing good players in and now it’s time to start winning some games.
They should have a top 10 defense and a top 10 rushing team. Those two things alone should produce seven wins. If they can’t win at least seven games — whether that be because of the quarterback or other reasons — it’s a clear sign to me that something is terribly wrong and it needs fixing. Even if injuries are the reason, three straight years of enough injuries that the team can use them as an excuse is a problem that needs fixing.
As fans of a losing team, we want to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We want hope that the team can contend for a Super Bowl in the near future. We want to know that they’re headed in the right direction and, if they’re not, they’ll do what’s necessary to get there.
This year provides us with just that.