2013 ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Bears, failing to win their final two games and surrendering the division to the Packers. The division title is not a lock for any team at this point. Since its Valentine’s Day, the following are a few things you should love about next year’s team that will help bring the title back to The Windy City.
Jay Cutler is poised for a breakout year
Jay Cutler’s never had continuity at offensive-coordinator since coming to Chicago. Third year offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer doesn’t look to be going anywhere after last year’s numbers. In 2013, Cutler had his best year as a Bear in terms of completion percentage (63.1), yards per game (238.3) and QBR (89.2). He should be more comfortable in the offense this year since there won’t be any big changes. Cutler’s All-Pro arsenal of weapons are still at his disposal, and if the Bears can pick up a quality slot receiver, they’ll be able to spread the field so much it will be hard for defenses to contain them. Cutler should have time to go through his progressions, as a much improved offensive line will remain intact, with center Roberto Garza being the only free agent.
The skilled positions are locked up
Matt Forte’s worth every penny of his four year deal as he continues to impress each season. He finished second in the league in rushing last year with 1,339 yards, despite having minimal support from backup Michael Bush. He put up career highs in catches (74) and receiving yards (594), earning his second trip to the Pro Bowl. Fellow Pro Bowlers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey are returning as well. With a much improved offensive line protecting Cutler, they should have plenty of time to get open. If the Bears pick up a reliable slot receiver, both will draw fewer double teams, and you could see them in Hawaii again, unless they have a game the next week. Chicago new comer Martellus Bennett adjusted quickly to a new team and system, racking up career highs in receptions (65) and yards (759) in 2013. He also tied a career best with five touchdowns. Only Hall of Famer Mike Ditka has more catches in a season as a tight end with 75 in 1964.
The O-line should be strong again
Jay Cutler’s protection has always been a weak spot, but the o-line was completely re-vamped in 2013 with rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on Cutler’s right, veterans Matt Slauson and Jerom Bushrod on the left, and Roberto Garza snapping the ball. The new line came together quickly, surrendering just 30 sacks, tied for fourth best in the league, and their sack to pass attempt ratio was almost cut in half, going from 9.07 in 2012 to 5.2 last year. Expect Long and Mills to improve since they’ve had a year to learn and adjust to the blocking schemes. Slauson is a model of consistency, and if Bushrod’s performance becomes more commensurate with his salary, Cutler could have a Pro Bowl quality year.
There should be plenty of new faces on defense
Most years this would be bad news for Bears fans. After 2013, fans are jumping for joy that half the starters are free agents. Julius Peppers is not a free agent but will likely be traded, since only Jay Cutler is due more money in 2014. Dumping Peppers’ salary would almost double Chicago’s cap space. Re-signing Charles Tillman, Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, and Zackary Bowman will be a big focus. GM Phil Emery likes to find talent in the later rounds, which will be key this year with the amount of holes there are to fill.