What's wrong with the Chicago Bears?
By MATT BARBATO
College Contributor Network
The 2014 season was slated to be a big one for the Chicago Bears. It was the season when everything would come together.
Gunslinger quarterback Jay Cutler and his plethora of weapons would post unprecedented numbers in offensive guru Marc Trestman's second season in the Windy City. The front seven, supposedly revamped with the free agent signings of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, could only go up after setting franchise history for defensive futility.
At the very least, a playoff berth was in the team's future.
The Bears have squandered those lofty preseason expectations halfway through the season. The offense hasn't been as high-powered as many expected. The Bears are 13th in yards gained and 19th in points scored through their first eight games. The defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in yards and points allowed.
Many believe Chicago's struggles fall mainly on the oft-criticized Cutler, but he is merely a small piece of a broken puzzle. Yes, Cutler has eight interceptions and nine fumbles (six lost), however, he is putting up very good numbers in comparison to his career averages.
Cutler's 67.2 completion percentage is by far the highest number of his career. He's also on pace for just his second 4,000-yard season and could reach the 30-touchdown plateau for the first time of his career.
His 62.37 Total QBR is the third-highest of his career, even with the turnovers and less than clutch performances. It's hard to believe, but Cutler is making strides in most statistical categories.
The underlying problem may be Trestman's over-reliance on his quarterback. The Bears have thrown at least 30 passes in each of its eight games and Cutler is averaging over 36 attempts per game. That's far too many dropbacks for a quarterback as prone to turning the ball over as Cutler.
Chicago should utilize running back Matt Forte as much as it can. Forte is a unique talent because he is one of the rare three-down backs in a league centered on using a backfield by committee. However, he is averaging only 16 carries per game. Forte gets a surplus of touches as a receiver out of the backfield, but utilizing him more in the running game could take the pressure off of Cutler's arm.
The biggest problem in Chicago is the defense, the unit that was the franchise's calling card for decades. Chicago's defense has only marginally improved despite the offseason emphasis put on it by GM Phil Emery. Allen looks old and isn't impactful. Houston was unproductive, then ended his season by celebrating his first sack as a Bear and subsequently tearing his ACL.
The defensive line has been slightly better thanks to Young's emergence and spotty production from Stephen Paea and rookie Ego Ferguson. Safety Ryan Mundy leads Chicago with 43 tackles and Emery's first-round pick, Kyle Fuller, has shown signs of being a talented cornerback in the league.
The issue lies in the middle of the defense. Chicago's linebacking core may be one of the worst in the league. D.J. Williams leads the unit with just 30 tackles. Lance Briggs, once the anchor of the front seven, is struggling to stay on the field and struggling even more to produce when he is playing. Youngsters Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin haven't developed into quality starters and McClellin is far from the player the Bears hoped he would become when they took him 19th overall in the 2012 draft.
The pass defense has also been putrid. Opposing quarterbacks complete 67.2 percent of their passes against the Bears defense with an average of 8.2 yards per completion. Fuller and Tim Jennings are a nice cornerback duo, but the safety play hasn't improved. The veteran Mundy has been a nice addition in run defense, but the Bears lack a true ball-hawk at the position.
The bye week could not have come at a better time for Chicago. The talent is there for the Bears to make a playoff run, but things must come together quickly. At 3-5, the Bears may have to win seven of their next eight games to make the playoffs in a highly competitive NFC. The revival will have to start next Sunday night at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. A loss there could destroy any slim hopes of earning a playoff spot.
It might be too late for Chicago. Rumors have circulated about a lack of leadership along with chemistry problems in the locker room. It would take a change in approach from Trestman and possibly a miracle from Mel Tucker's defense, but there's still hope for Chicago's potential to come to improbable fruition.
Matt Barbato is a senior at Marquette University. His favorite sport is football and is an avid New York Jets fan, for better or worse. You can follow him on Twitter @RealMattBarbato