It’s natural for a Chicago Bears fan 35 years old or younger to approach this season with apprehension. Because we’ve been here before.
The 2018 Bears were the surprise worst-to-first team in the NFL before making an early exit in the playoffs. And every time that has happened the Bears have gone into the next season with sky-high expectations. Almost every time, they have let down. Just this century, the Bears went into the 2002, 2007, 2011 and 2014 seasons with high expectations, but failed to make the playoffs each time.
But there are plenty of reasons to believe this team won’t take us through the same hell as those much-anticipated teams of the past. Here’s why:
Mitch Trubisky doesn’t have to be an elite quarterback. He’s still better than Jim Miller, Rex Grossman and, possibly, Jay Cutler.
Miller went 11-2 as the Bears starter in 2001 during a 13-3 season in which they had the best defense in the league and won a series of mid-season miracles. (They were subsequently trounced by Philly in the playoffs.)
But Miller was bad. That season he completed just 57.7 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 74.9. He was in the bottom 10 pretty much across the board statistically. The next year Miller was actually better statistically, but he was still well below league average and managed to play in just eight games before his career ended.
Perhaps the biggest mistake any Bears team has made came in 2006 when Rex remained Lovie Smith’s quarterback through thick and thin. Grossman threw touchdowns at a high rate, but completed less than 55 percent of his passes, had one of the worst interception rates in the league and was bottom ten in passer rating.
If the Bears had gone with Brian Griese instead, is there any doubt that they would’ve won the Super Bowl that season? Instead, they waited until the next season to bench Grossman for Griese, a considerable upgrade, but the team faltered for other reasons too — don’t worry, we’ll get there.
In 2011, Jay Cutler had the Bears well on their way to a return trip to the playoffs as the team had seven wins through its first 10 games, but then Cutler broke and the wheels fell off. Cutler was playing at a high level then, but the injury was predictable simply because the Bears didn’t protect him and he didn’t do a good enough job of protecting himself.
Trubisky didn’t necessarily set the world on fire last year, but unlike Miller and Grossman he wasn’t in the bottom-10 in very many statistical categories. He settled in right at the middle of the pack as a passer and — again, unlike the others — is one of the best running quarterbacks in the league.
They Didn’t Trade Their Best Offensive Player
The Bears did trade their starting running back in the offseason, but he wasn’t their best offensive player like Thomas Jones was for the mid-2000 Bears.
At the time, it was defensible. The Bears had Cedric Benson waiting in the wings and he earned more carries. He turned out to be a very good back himself, just not with the Bears. But, looking back, trading your best offensive player when you’re attempting to win a Super Bowl is flat out stupid.
Of course, Angelo did it again a few years later when he traded Greg Olsen off of the 2010 NFC runner-up team for a draft pick. Olsen might not have been the team’s best offensive player, but he was one of them and went on to have a terrific career.
Jordan Howard was a fine player for the Bears at one point in time, but he wasn’t coming off a career year like Jones was in 2006. Meanwhile, Matt Nagy added players at the position in hopes to improve the rushing attack.
They’re On The Same Page
It wasn’t a big secret that Jerry Angelo wanted to fire Dick Jauron after the 2001 season, but a 13-3 record meant he had to wait two more years before he could pull the trigger. There went his dreams of hiring Nick Saban before anybody really knew what Saban was.
After the Bears fell off a cliff the next season, Angelo waited and made Jauron a sacrificial lamb in 2004. That’s when he went after Saban — only to hear Saban say he wanted at least part of Angelo’s job too — and settled on Lovie Smith.
Over the next half-decade, Smith won a lot of games with the Bears, but he wasn’t even the best coach on his initial staff. That was Ron Rivera, a defensive coordinator Smith never wanted to hire.
Chico followed Lovie’s lead playing a lot of the famed Tampa 2 defense, but he also mixed in some of his own things. It became clear Lovie wasn’t on board with some of Chico’s decisions, essentially firing the defensive coordinator of the best defense in the league for two straight years in order to promote his buddy, Bob Babich.
Chuck Pagano Isn’t Bob Babich
Pagano doesn’t have a lot of experience as a defensive coordinator, but he has shown he can do the job.
Lovie handed the keys to the best defense in the league to a linebackers coach who simply wasn’t capable. The Bears went from third in scoring and fifth in yardage to 16th and 28th. In three years with Babich as the coordinator, the Bears never finished better than 16th in scoring or 17th in yardage.
It wasn’t until Lovie hired Rod Marinelli that the defense got back on track.
(Quick recap: After going to the Super Bowl in 2006, the Bears got rid of their best coach and traded their best offensive player. Seriously. F-ing SERIOUSLY).
They Don’t Have Turds
I’ve gone this far without mentioning the 2014 Bears. This is a team that should never be mentioned ever, under any circumstances, but I picked those jackasses to win the Super Bowl that year.
And I wasn’t the only one.
They had the second best offense in the league in 2013 and a defense that was supposed to be a lot better after a franchise-worst season. Turns out, the defense was just as bad and the offense imploded because they had a bunch of egomaniacs and a coach who didn’t have a backbone.
Even if you don’t think Matt Nagy is an offensive genius, it’s clear he has the respect of the team and one hell of a backbone. And, as Nagy said himself, they don’t have a bunch of turds on the roster.