Hovering around or at .500 can be one of the more confusing experiences in the NFL. You’re either not good enough to hang with the true contenders, or you’re not terrible enough to acquire meaningful, top-end talent in the draft. Sitting at .500 is a crossroads of sorts in that you can convince yourself the smallest of changes will lead to meaningful January football. That, or an epiphany can manifest in a complete (and worthwhile) teardown.
At 16-16 over the last two seasons, no one recently epitomizes the No Man’s Land of .500 football better than the Bears. Stuck in a holding pattern where no heavyweight takes them seriously, and where every minnow is cannon fodder, the Bears have reached their own fork in the road as an organization. They’re not good enough, they’re not bad enough, and they seemingly have no clarity on what the near or far future holds.
In one of the more important, diverting off-seasons in recent memory, general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have their work cut out for them. Perhaps unlike ever before. A (somewhat tumultuous) free agency period now behind Chicago, it’s time to consider whether the current roster has actually improved since 2020’s end, or if this a continually depreciating asset somehow still getting 3-4 primetime games a season—third-largest television market be damned.
Over the next several days, the Windy City Gridiron staff will muse on the State of the Bears. Today, depending on whom you speak to, it’s the walking black sheep of an offense.
As of right now, is the Bears’ offense better, worse, or about the same as last year?
Erik Duerrwaechter: Same
As it stands now the Bears have made modest investments for offensive improvement. They aimed for the moon and fought to move Heaven and Earth in their pursuits for Trent Williams, Kenny Golladay, and Russell Wilson. They missed out on all those players. Instead they’ve landed Andy Dalton, who truly can’t be worse than either Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky, and Damien Williams as another option in the backfield. James Daniels and Tarik Cohen are both set to return from respective injuries as well. Still, in a “win or else” situation, Ryan Pace hasn’t done much to improve his team’s weaknesses on offense. I’m definitely not sold on Dalton being the penultimate move at quarterback, either.
The draft awaits.
Will Robinson: Marginal upgrade
Moving from Bobby Massie to Germain Ifedi: Push
Getting James Daniels back: Upgrade
Getting Tarik Cohen back: Upgrade
Moving from Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles to Dalton: Marginal Upgrade
Ken Mitchell: Better
I know that nobody is really excited about Andy Dalton, but he is a clear upgrade in quarterbacking over last year. He’s a league-average pro who can run the entirety of a pro offense (something the Bears haven’t had since Jay Cutler). The best quarterback the Bears have had this century is Cutler, and it’s not close. Dalton is a bit better than Cutler.
Cutler, 62 completion percentage - 4.6 touchdown percentage - 3.3 interception percentage, 85.3 passer rating
Dalton, 62.2 completion percentage - 4.6 TD touchdown percentage - 2.6 interception percentage, 87.5 passer rating
Dalton’s basically Cutlers with less interceptions. The biggest question is offensive line, but I fully expect a tackle in the draft to come in and eventually replace whichever journeyman ends up winning the right tackle job (assuming the drafted rookie doesn’t win it outright). The offense will be better.
Robert Zeglinski: About the same
Unless the Bears add a blue chip, legitimate starter at offense, this is the same offense. (It’s been six years. I’m not holding my breath.) Almost identical, in fact.
Until the Bears can block anyone with a semblance of defensive competence, all the fettering concerning play-calling and play diversity will mean nothing, because the latter won’t even feasibly exist. Get genuine difference makers up front, especially for book-ends, or have the difference made up for you. But sure, Andy Dalton is better than one of the outright worst quarterbacks in football, as if that’s a high bar to clear.
Josh Sunderbruch: A little better
Stability on the offensive line line itself should be an improvement, but they don’t have gains at WR or TE; QB is probably a push, so I’ll call this a tiny bit better.
Lester Wiltfong Jr.: Better
This team went 16-16 the last two years with some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL during that time. While I’m not a fan of giving Andy Dalton $10 million, he’s an upgrade and will be able to run a professional offense. They still need to add a tackle to their offensive line, but if that happens, and there aren’t a bunch of injuries and COVID issues along the front five again, they’ll be better up front. This offense should be better.
Jack R. Salo: Better
Carryover on the offensive line is important, despite the main re-signing being a very replaceable player in Germain Ifedi. I’m of the opinion that the best pass blockers are the ones who don’t get talked about much, because you’ll notice the bad twice as often as the good. At quarterback, it’s a clear upgrade in Dalton over Trubisky and Foles. Not the kind of upgrade Bears fans deserve, but the kind of caliber player we should be used to by now. The 2020 Bears offense was bottom-third of the league in yards-per-game, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game, and points scored.
Something has to give.
Sam Householder: Same
Andy Dalton is an upgrade in the same way that a brand name is an upgrade over store brand; maybe you don’t taste the difference but you know deep down it’s better. I don’t know that the offensive line is any better, but it’s not worse than where it was at the end of last season, either. The Bears had a bad stretch but then managed to right the ship a bit. Overall, with the addition of Damien Williams, I think you’re seeing (hopefully) a commitment to the Bill Lazor “December offense” we saw late in 2020 when the Bears lit up bad defenses. That’s not to say this will be a 30 points-per-game average unit. Far from it. But they should be able to be more efficient and hopefully not as “all or nothing” as we saw in 2020.
Overall, the statistics will likely bear out the same.
Robert Schmitz: Technically better
Technically they’ve improved, but I’m not sure it’s enough to matter yet. The trouble with evaluating this is that James Daniels and Tarik Cohen, two of the Bears offense’s better players, didn’t play for most of the year, so I’m going to leave them out of this equation. The offensive line stayed roughly the same, RB3 got better, and the quarterback situation went from high-level-backup to low-level-starter. Given that receiver and tight end didn’t change enough to matter, they’re definitely better. But if their performances against good defenses last year told us anything, that’s not saying much.
Ken Mitchell: Better(ish)
I know that nobody is really excited about Andy Dalton but he is a clear upgrade in quarterbacking over last year. He’s a league-average pro who can run the entirety of a pro offense (something we haven’t had since Jay Cutler). The best quarterback the Bears have had this century is Jay, and it’s not close. Andy Dalton is a bit better than Jay Cutler. Career: Jay, 62% completions, 4.6 TD% - 3.3 INT%, 85.3 rating. Andy, 62.2%, 4.6 TD%, 2.6% INT, 87.5 rating. Andy’s basically Jay with less INT’s. The biggest question is offensive line, but I fully expect a tackle in the draft to come in and eventually replace whichever journeyman ends up winning the right tackle job (assuming the drafted rookie doesn’t win it outright). Offense will be better.
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