It’s the final day of our 30 day challenge here at Windy City Gridiron. It’s been a rocky ride full of insight, joy, tears and laughter. In the end, I believe we’ve all come out better for it. Today I have the privilege of writing our victory lap. In an attempt to build upon the tremendous excitement generated by this challenge, I will address the question of what excites me most about the Chicago Bears as they enter the 2017 season.
The Chicago Bears have a lot to be excited about for a team coming off a three win season. Everyone’s looking forward to the sequel to Jordan Howard’s electrifying rookie season. Whether you’re hopeful or pessimistic, it’s hard not to be anxious to see how Mike Glennon will look running Dowell Loggains’ offense—not to mention the potential of promising rookie Mitch Trubisky taking the reigns. And say what you want about the Bears’ receivers—certainly plenty of pundits have—but I remain excited to see who will step up and stand out amidst a group of rag-tag uncertainties.
In a general sense, what excites me most is the opportunity to show the football world that the Bears are better than a three-win laughing stock. I can barely wait to see all of the lazy analysts who jumped in on the poorly-informed mockery of our Beloved realize the error of their ways and become overwhelmed with shame and self-loathing until their only recourse is to double down and jump in on poorly-informed mockery of a different team who becomes the consensus off-season punching bag.
In a specific sense, what excites me the most is the potent potential of the Bears’ sack attack. Touchdowns are thrilling and turnovers can change the trajectory of a game. But nothing satisfies me more than seeing a big bruising Bear break beyond an opponent’s bulwark and bear their beautiful mass down upon a pitiful passer in a smothering symphony of suffocating smoshery.
The Bears’ edge rushers are all coming into 2017 healthy, and Pernell McPhee thinks they are primed to “dominate, destroy every opponent that [they] face.” I’m tempted to agree with him. For his part, McPhee is coming into this season in his best shape ever as a Bear, increasing my hopes that he can stay healthy and reclaim the elite performance he showed in the first half of 2015.
When it comes to returning in better shape, nothing excites me more than the potential of a bulked-up Leonard Floyd entering his second season with a year of experience, a full off-season of training and the realization that keeping your head up when you tackle is not just for children. Floyd seemed to improve on a weekly basis during his 2016 season, gaining more confidence and even incorporating more moves. It was as if he was following my Madden franchise and instantly gained the swim ability when I purchased it after week four. Hopefully, he will continue to follow my franchise into the 2018 season when he breaks the single-season sack record after a week 15 sack-a-thon against the Rams.
Lamarr Houston is coming back from an ACL repair. The last time he came back from an ACL repair, he led the Bears in sacks despite playing only 40% of the snaps. I’m going to ignore any evidence that this was not a causal association and instead use this to add to my blossoming excitement about the Great Ursine Sackstorm of 2017.
After ankle injuries in his first two seasons, Eddie Goldman is doing preventative strengthening exercises to ensure he can stay on the field this year. Goldman played with a nagging injury last year, and was on the field for less than 20% of the Bears’ defensive snaps. He managed to accumulate 2.5 sacks in that time, which was actually a more efficient rate than Akiem Hicks.
I’ve taken the liberty to predict the sacks of the Bears’ top rushers—if all remain healthy—based on their previous per-snap performance. For McPhee and Hicks, I simply used their 2016 averages. For Floyd, I gave him the benefit of getting adjusted to the NFL, and used his per-snap sack averages excluding the first four games of the season. For Houston and Goldman, I used their combined 2015 and 2016 averages. For Young, I took the average of his 2016 season and his best season—which was 2014. These decisions are reasonable, but admittedly biased towards giving Bears the benefit of the doubt.
I only projected two defensive linemen because the Bears only play two in “sub” packages (which are played more than half the time) and because there are only two whose sack production excites me.
This sack total would best any team in 2016, when the Arizona Cardinals lead the league with 48. And it doesn’t include any of the scattered sacks picked up by a middle linebacker, defensive back or third defensive lineman. Is this an optimistic projection? Of course. Do I think it’s possible? Hell yes. That’s why I’m excited!
What’s not to be excited for? Eddie Goldman can finally earn the nickname “Goldman Sacks.” McPhee can finally earn his contract. Lamarr Houston can learn to celebrate without breaking himself. Floyd can claim the title of the best speed rusher in the NFL. And a ravaged Aaron Rodgers can wobble his way to the medical tent, forcing his doctors to invent a new diagnosis of “sack ataxia.” Let the smoshery commence!
So what are you all most excited about for the Bears’ 2017 season?