The Bears finished their first season under John Fox and Ryan Pace with a 6-10 record, a meager one win improvement from the regime they replaced.
However, few, if anyone, would say that the 2015 season was worse or not a step forward from 2014. Fox brought his quick turnaround with his positive attitude and tough mentality. Sure it didn't end with a playoff push, but good coaching and accountability can only do so much for a roster devoid of talent.
For Pace's part he showed that he can identify talent. Rookie draft picks Adrian Amos, Eddie Goldman and Jeremy Langford all made impacts and were contributors right away. He also showed he may have an eye for working the waiver wire and undrafted talent pools by finding and bringing in guys like John Timu, Harold Jones-Quartey, Deonte Thompson and Cameron Meredith who also filled in depth spots and ended up contributing.
All that said though, injuries wrecked havoc on a roster that was already short on playmakers. When a team has over half a dozen expected starters missing four or more games, they are going to see some losses.
The Bears rallied and fought hard, they played above their opponents several times but also played down to them other times, but they were in the vast majority of their games.
The 2016 season should be better. But, a schedule changes so much over an offseason and even during a given season, that it is simply too difficult to look at it and say that there are X-number of wins to be had. There is so much change year-to-year in this league it is hard to project a schedule's difficulty.
Plus, it still comes down to beating division opponents, which the Bears managed to do only once this season. The reality is that they need to close the gap to Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit, on the field and in the standings. As long as they are looking up at those teams and on the wrong side of the scoreboard when they play, Chicago won't be winning anything.
All-in-all, the 2015 season was about what was expected. It was a step forward, a positive movement and hopefully a building block to something more. Now, it will be up to Pace, Fox and his coaches to find talent and develop the talent that is already in house and get results.
Let's get to those takeaways:
Jay Cutler has come so far, but still came up short - While not new, Cutler was certainly improved in '15 and had an impressive streak of no multi-interception games that came to a streaking halt yesterday. Unfortunately, with the three picks he missed out on something many, many pundits have said he would never do: hit the 2:1 TD to INT ratio. Cutler finished the season with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions after entering week 17 with 19 TDs and nine INTs. So close. The numbers were still impressive. Cutler has played his most efficient football and overcame a ragtag bunch of receivers for much of the year and finished with a career high passer rating and second best completion percentage. He will be the starter next year, unquestionably.
The Bears secured the 11th overall pick - The Bears just missed out on a top 10 pick but are still in a perfectly fine spot to find talent. Their list of needs is long and they will need to find playmakers, regardless of position. They have needs at cornerback, ILB, defensive line, offensive line and tight end. What positions do you have as their biggest need right now?
The Bears will look drastically different in 2016 - The amount of one-year deals and expiring contracts that the Bears have on both sides of the ball is staggering. I count a dozen on each unit, which includes eight starters. Some of the one-year deals worked out and it will be interesting to see if those players are brought back (Tracy Porter) or if some of the ones that busted (Will Montgomery, through no fault of his own) are offered deals. There is young talent but there will need to be some veterans brought back or in as well.
Adam Gase will be gone, but it doesn't matter - Adam Gase may or may not be head coach material. In fact, the sheer odds and landscape of the NFL coaching carousel suggests he will not be successful. However, he is in demand, allegedly having as many as three interviews set up for this week. Gase will probably get offered one of those jobs, he will likely accept it, as he should. Most coaches would like to one day get a head job and while Gase has worked wonderfully with Cutler, the offense didn't set any records. The Bears' offense was still not great. There is no reason to think that Dowell Loggains couldn't do a similar or better job. Gase will go down as the first coach Cutler got hired instead of fired. He was mostly a good playcaller. John Fox has a history of building good staffs and finding coaches who fit his vision. This will be no different.
The arrow is pointing up - If it's been said once, it's been said a thousand times. Heck, I remember saying it after Marc Trestman's first year too but this seems different. Fox has a proven track record and while the Bears lost all but one home game and lost four of their final five, there is plenty of reasons for optimism. In his previous two stops, Fox tacked on wins to bad teams in year one, but in year two he really hit his stride. In Carolina the team added four wins to it's first-year results under Fox (7 to 11 wins) and in Denver he added five (8 to 13). Continuity is a key to success and Fox can bring that. The players will return knowing what is expected of them and what to expect. Players who don't fit but the team was tied to will be jettisoned. More players will be brought in. There is definitely reason for hope for the 2016 Bears, even if they won't be title contenders. But never say never.
What are some of your takeaways from this season?