In twelve months we could be talking about the Bears as the kingpin of the NFC North, as long as General Manager Ryan Pace pushes the right buttons and quarterback Mitch Trubisky takes a big step in the seven months leading up the 2018 season.
It seems crazy to suggest the team that has finished last in the division the last four seasons could win it next year. But 12 months ago it would’ve been crazy to suggest the Rams could win the NFC West or that the Eagles could win the Super Bowl. The Bears have talent on their roster, they just need two of the three most important men in their organization to deliver.
A lot of credit has been given to the coaching staffs of the Eagles and the Rams – deservedly so – but their quarterbacks took a leap largely because of their off-season work away from the organization. Both had personal quarterback coaches who helped them hone their fundamentals, an area Trubisky needed a lot of improvement in last year.
A new coaching staff and offense could help Trubisky, but he needs to improve his footwork if he’s ever going to be a great starting quarterback. He seems to understand that because he has already spent time this off-season working with Jared Goff and coaches Tom House and Adam Dedeaux at 3DQB.
NFL rules have changed so that coaches don’t get anywhere near as much contact with players as they used to. That is largely why you haven’t seen as many quarterbacks actually develop in the last decade. The coaching staff can help make reads easier for Trubisky as he continues to learn how to read NFL defenses, but NFL coaches don’t have time to refine mechanics anymore. It’ll be up to the young QB to do that on his own time and, based on all character reports, he will.
Of course what will help Trubisky more than anything is better pass catchers. Really, that’s the one area in which Pace must focus. If he can get that position to even an acceptable level and Trubisky makes the necessary improvements personally, you’ll see the Bears offense take off.
The other aspect of this is that, while talented, the NFC North is fragile right now.
Because of their defense, the Vikings should be solid, but they have some major issues on offense. I think it’s highly unlikely that they’ll get anything close to the performances they got at quarterback or offensive coordinator last season.
- I wouldn’t bet on Case Keenum repeating his 2017 performance and who knows what to make of Teddy Bridgewater at this point? Maybe they can sign Kirk Cousins, but he seems likely to go to the highest bidder.
- New OC John DeFilippo might be a great offensive coordinator, but he wasn’t great with the Browns and I don’t see how anyone could be better than Pat Shurmur was last year.
The Packers have long been the big dogs in the North, but they have a new GM and a head coach who is essentially in a make or break year. Maybe those don’t matter if they have Aaron Rodgers, but Rodgers is going to turn 35 next year and, outside of an amazing six-game stretch at the end of 2016, he really hasn’t been what he once was. Even if he is great again, they have major questions on defense.
The Lions just fired one of the most successful coaches in the history of their franchise — seriously. They were stuck in purgatory and had to make a move, but I don’t think it’s anywhere close to a given that Matt Patricia is going to be a good head coach.
If Pace got it right at quarterback and head coach, the Bears are going to be sitting pretty for the foreseeable future. Those are two huge question marks, but outside of those, I don’t think the Bears have any more than the rest of the teams in the division.
It really isn’t unrealistic to think that if Trubisky can make the same kind of improvement Goff and Carson Wentz did and if Pace can improve the rest of the roster the way the Rams and Eagles did that the Bears could be competitive.
But, there’s a lot of work to be done before we get to that point.