Chicago Bears: 5 Things That Must Change in 2013
Even with a new coach, the Chicago Bears are in win-now mode, and some things are going to have to change drastically in 2013.
While the offensive line is certainly high on the list of things the Bears need to improve on, if they're going to contend for a Super Bowl, there are a few other things that need to happen.
The Bears simply need more production and consistency from their receiving options. Whether it be tight ends or receivers, they left a lot of points on the field in 2012-13 and that can't happen again.
What may help is if they use the playmakers they have on the roster. Matt Forte went under-utilized last season and the Bears have to do a better job of getting the ball in the hands of one of their best playmakers.
Still, as new coach Marc Trestman said, the quarterback has the keys to the car.
If the Bears are able to fix these five things and continue playing the kind of defense they did a year ago, they're going to be a tough team to beat in 2013.
Offensive Line Play
If it seems like this is an issue every offseason, that's because it is. Since acquiring Jay Cutler before the 2009 season, the Bears have ranked in the bottom 10 in pass-protection on Pro Football Focus every year.
This past season it wasn't just blocking for Cutler that proved challenging, as they ranked 27th in run-blocking and 30th in penalties. They were the fourth-worst pass-protecting team and ranked 30th overall on PFF.
Trestman seems to have a very good understanding on the importance of protecting the passer. In his first season in Montreal, the team face up 46 fewer sacks despite having 87 more pass attempts.
Trestman's first hire was Aaron Kromer—the former New Orleans Saints offensive line coach—as his offensive coordinator. Since Kromer took over as the Saints line coach in 2009, they ranked in the top half of the league in pass-protection in PFF every season except for 2010, when they were 17th.
The expectation is that the Bears are going to be aggressive in improving their offensive line through free agency and the draft, although GM Phil Emery hinted they may instead spend those resources on playmakers in his postseason press conference.
While it's unknown how aggressive the Bears are going to be to improve the roster in the offseason, it's clear they recognize something needs to be done. They have already started the process with the hiring of Trestman and Kromer.
Usage of Matt Forte
Matt Forte is considered among the best receiving backs in the league, yet former offensive coordinator Mike Tice didn't use him nearly as much as he should have in that facet.
Forte caught a career low 44 passes and was targeted just 60 times, 16 fewer than he was in 2011, despite playing three more games. Even when they did get him the ball, he wasn't in a position to do much with it as he averaged just 7.7 yards per catch, his lowest total since his rookie year.
While the Bears were force-feeding Brandon Marshall, Forte should've been used to take the pressure off of him.
This is something that should change with Marc Trestman taking over, as running backs have averaged around 65 receptions per season with him calling the plays.
It wasn't just that they didn't give the ball to Forte, he wasn't even used as a decoy. Just 16.5 percent of Jay Cutler's throws came on play-action, 19th most in the league. Cutler's numbers on play action strongly indicate they should've used it more as his completion was 4.5 percent higher—fifth in the league—and his overall rating was nearly nine points higher.
The more the Bears are able to get the ball to Forte, the more plays he'll make and the more everything else in the offense will open up. It's a no-brainer.
Production from the Tight Ends
For the last two years, the Bears have had the worst production from the tight end position in the NFL. Part of it may have been the systems they were in, but traditionally, it has been a featured position in the West Coast offense, so the Bears will need more from that spot.
I've already speculated that the Bears have players capable of producing more, but the key is getting them to do so.
It's possible a coaching change along will improve the Bears' production from that position. In Trestman's eight seasons as an offensive coordinator for the Browns, 49ers, Cardinals and Raiders, his top two tight ends have combined to average around 52 receptions per season, more than double what Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth combined for in 2012-13.
Included in Trestman's past are players like Roland Williams, Terry Hardy and Johnny McWilliams, so it seems he should be able to get more out of Davis, or whoever lines up at tight end for the Bears.
Regardless of who it is, the Bears need to get more from their tight ends. Playoff teams averaged nearly 56 catches from their starter at that position, while the Bears got just 19 catches from Davis.
With Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte expected to carry a heavy load of the offense, the Bears shouldn't need a whole lot from their tight ends, but they will need more than what they got last season.
While there's no arguing Brandon Marshall improved the Bears' wide-receiving core, they still left a lot of big plays on the field, in fact more than any team in the league.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears wide receivers dropped 7.8 percent of the passes Jay Cutler threw, the fourth highest in the league. What's staggering, however, is the number of big plays they left on the field as they averaged 12.23 yards per drop, the worst mark in the league.
With as many big plays as Marshall made, he still had the fourth worst drop rate in the NFL, dropping 26.67 percent of the catchable deep balls thrown his way, according to PFF. At least two of the drops could've been game-changing as he left points on the field against the Packers and the Texans.
Obviously, Marshall wasn't the only culprit. Who could forget Earl Bennett's drop against Seattle, or Alshon Jeffery's against the Vikings? Both would've been touchdowns that could've easily turned those games around as Seattle won in overtime and Minnesota prevailed by a touchdown. The loss to the Vikings was a particularly bad one for the Bears as Jeffery wasn't the only one to drop big passes.
Every team had dropped passes, but no team left more yardage on the field when they let the ball hit the ground. The Bears have the players to fix this, but they need to improve their concentration to get better results next season.
Jay Cutler's Consistency
With everything else seemingly crumbling around him, it's hard to expect a high level of play from the quarterback no matter who that is. Still, Jay Cutler showed he could play at a high level and the Bears need him to do that on a more regular basis.
Cutler's 2012 season consisted of a lot of ups and downs. He had five games with a passer rating above 95, five games below 75 and two games below 30. He finished the season with a rating of 81.3, a mark he topped in eight games this season.
It wasn't just from game-to-game. According to NBC Sports, Cutler was the highest-rated passer in the fourth quarter this season, however he had just a 72.1 rating in the first half of games, 16th in the NFC alone.
Much of this isn't completely Cutler's fault, as I detailed in a previous story. A lot goes into the quarterback's success, but the bottom line is that they need to know what they can expect from their passing game. Whether it be coaches getting him in a rhythm earlier in the game or best using the weapons at hand, the Bears have to be able to throw the ball better in the first half of games.
If they can do that and get a big lead, it will help open running lanes for Forte as well as a few more open receivers. If the Bears can get in a position where they know what to expect from their passing game week-by-week and quarter-by-quarter, it will make everything else easier.