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Then and Now: The Rebuild at Year 5

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The Chicago Bears are rebuilding. Was 2018 the shape of things to come, with 2019 as a temporary setback? Or was 2018 a blip with more disappointment to follow.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Chicago Bears are off to a rough start, but things have been worse. I was curious, however, as to how much worse things have been, and how recently. Therefore, I decided to compare where the Chicago Bears are at now to where they were at five years ago, in 2014. That was a low point for the franchise, and taking stock of the progress (or lack thereof) should be a good way of checking in on the rebuild.

1). Overall Record

In 2014, Chicago ended the season 5-11 and then cleaned house, setting the stage for the Ryan Pace era. How did things look nine games into the season?

2014: They were 3-5 coming out of the bye and lost a divisional game to go down 3-6.

2019: They were 3-5 heading into a divisional game and won, improving to 4-5.

Advantage: New Bears. It’s not much of a margin of improvement, but it is improvement.

2). Quarterback

In the modern NFL, a team needs a capable quarterback to take it places. This perhaps might be the reason the Bears have struggled in the modern NFL.

2014: Jay Cutler had a 5.57 ANY/A for the season and a passer rating of 88.6, which put him 17th among qualifying quarterbacks.

2019: Mitchell Trubisky has a 4.90 ANY/A for the season and a passer rating of 85.2, which puts him 25th among qualifying quarterbacks.

Advantage: Old Bears. Wow, that doesn’t seem right, but it is. Is there a difference in their contract situations? Sure. However, right now, on the field, the Bears are getting less advantage out of playing Mitchell than the Trest Coast Offense managed to squeeze out of Smoking Jay.

3). Offensive Playmakers

If it’s the Jimmies and the Joes instead of the Xs and the Os, it’s worth looking at which Jimmies and which Joes the two teams had available.

2014: The Bears had Matt Forte (1846 yards from scrimmage), Alshon Jeffrey (1133 receiving yards), Brandon Marshall, and Martellus Bennett in a Pro Bowl year. This offense was stacked.

2019: The Bears have David Montgomery (on track for 1000 yards from scrimmage), Allen Robinson (on track for 1100 receiving yards), Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton. Tarik Cohen should figure in here somewhere, but he’s not a difference-maker this year, really.

Advantage: Old Bears. There’s a bit of a chicken vs. egg thing going on here with quarterback, too, because it’s arguable that Trubisky would look much better surrounded by the same offensive weapons Cutler enjoyed. However, one way or another, the offense was much more dynamic in 2014.

4). Defensive Playmakers

The 2014 defense was putrid. It was horrifying. There are Chicago fans who still make superstitious signs to ward off evil when invoking the Mel Tucker cover-none defense.

2014: The Bears had Willie Young in a 10-sack season, plus Kyle Fuller and Ryan Mundy manage 4 interceptions a piece (Chris Conte had 3). Jared Allen had 18 quarterback hits. However, the team as a whole gave up 2.38 points per drive and ranked 28th in DVOA.

2019: The Bears have Nick Williams and Khalil Mack, both of who are on track for 10-sack seasons. Kyle Fuller and HaHa Clinton-Dix both have legitimate chances at matching the 4-interception seasons of five years ago. The Bears have three different players who might match Allen’s 18-qb hit season, and they are only allowing 1.53 points per drive.

Advantage: New Bears. The defense is the clear accomplishment of the Pace era, and while it is not proving to be as dominant as it was in 2018, it is the clear strength of the team.

5). Age and Roster Composition

2014: The Bears had an average age across the 53-man roster of 26.7, ranking them 30th in the NFL. They had a total snap-weighted age of 27.2, the second-highest in the entire NFL that year. These were tired, old Bears--and it showed on the field.

2019: The Bears have an average age across the 53-man roster of 26.2, ranking them 22nd in the NFL. The total snap-weighted age of the Bears in 2018 was 26.1 (obviously, we don’t have a total snap-weighted age for 2019 yet), which was the 7th-highest in the NFL.

Advantage: New Bears. The Bears have gotten younger. However, they have not gotten significantly younger. A lot of key players are past the tipping-point age of 26.5, which serves as a sort of mid-point for careers in the NFL. Of note, every starting defensive back is over that age, as are three of the four starting linebackers.

Conclusion

Five years into the rebuild, the Bears have question marks at quarterback, one strong unit and one weak unit. Their stronger unit is built on older players, however, and their younger players are not established.

The results should be what matter, though. Is it enough? We’ll see. Pace arrived in town saying he wanted to build a culture of sustained success. Chicago is 4 wins and a tie away from a second season with a winning record, which would make for the lowest possible threshold of “sustained success” (i.e. two consecutive seasons with winning records).