Most of my writing this off-season has ended up being very positive about the Bears’ outlook for 2019. I’ve been very clear that I think Chicago should be considered one of the Super Bowl favorites this year, and most of the stats I’ve dug into have logically come to conclusions that support that notion, or at least do nothing to refute it.
However, I do think it’s important to try and remain balanced, so with that goal in mind, today I want to think about what might be legitimate reasons for concern for the Bears in 2019. Another way to think of this might be, if something goes wrong and the Bears miss the playoffs, what will be the reason(s) when we look back and figure out why?
I can think of six most likely possibilities, presented in no real order. Here are the first three.
Injuries are always the #1 cause for concern for a football team. In a salary-capped league like the NFL, even the best team can be completely undone by one or two key injuries, usually to the quarterback. The two obvious players the Bears simply cannot win a Super Bowl without are Mitchell Trubisky and Khalil Mack, but they have a number of stars whose loss would certainly be felt should they get hurt (especially in areas with questionable depth, like tight end and offensive tackle). The Bears are counting on several players with lengthy injury histories to stay healthy and produce in 2019, including Danny Trevathan, Kyle Long, Eddie Goldman, and Prince Amukamara.
And we can’t forget about the cumulative impact of a number of injuries to players who might not be as important. After years of being one of the unhealthiest teams in the NFL, the Bears were the 3rd healthiest in 2018. Given that there’s a strong relationship between health and team success, worse injury luck in 2019 could derail Chicago’s Super Bowl aspirations in a hurry.
II. Special Teams
Given how Chicago’s season ended in 2018, kicker is an obvious cause for concern in 2019. The Bears don’t have one they know they can trust with the game on the line right now, and that’s a problem for a team hoping to win a Super Bowl. The odds of running through 3-4 consecutive playoff wins without needing a kicker to come through in the clutch in any of them seem pretty low.
But I’m also worried about special teams units in general. The Bears lost three core contributors in Josh Bellamy, Daniel Brown, and Benny Cunningham. New players brought in to replace them on offense (notably Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson) don’t contribute on special teams in that manner, meaning other guys are going to have to step up. They did bring in some options with special teams experience, including Marvin Hall, Kerrith Whyte, and Stephen Denmark, but those players will have to earn a roster spot and be active on game day in order to contribute.
One way or the other, Chicago needs to cobble together coverage units that won’t give up a big play in a bad spot to cost them a key game.
III. Run Defense
This is another area of concern that I think has flown below the radar this offseason with the losses of Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos. Both are in the secondary, which you normally think of for pass coverage first, but both were very good against the run, and I don’t know that the same can be said of Buster Skrine and HaHa Clinton-Dix, the players brought in to replace them. Both players saw the defenses they were on in 2018 get worse against the run when they were in the game, and Chicago needs to hope the same thing doesn’t happen here.
The good news in this regard is that running the ball (or stopping the run) isn’t as important as passing (or stopping the pass). But still, you don’t want to have an area of weakness if you can help it, and this looks like it might be one for the Bears (though Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks might have something to say about that).
Part II: Tomorrow.