Are the Bears one of the worst in the league, or have they improved?

All the talk about how bad the Bears are supposed to be next year got me thinking. There were 6 teams with worse records than the Bears last year, so in order for the Bears to be worst, or even bottom 5, they would have to actually get worse. But did they get worse this offseason?
Let's take a clear-eyed, objective look at that question, position by position.

Coaching / play calling:
Reasons for optimism:
  • Nagy & co. were terrible. No need to rehash that. So it will be extremely challenging to do worse than them.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • There's a lot of guys who were hired in roles they have never done before, so there's bound to be a learning curve.
  • Modest improvement

2021 snaps: Fields 57%, Dalton 37%, Foles 7%
Reasons for optimism:
  • Pretty much no matter what passing stat you pick, the Bears were in the bottom 5 in the NFL last year, so it's a low bar to clear to improve on that.
  • Historically, QBs tend to improve in their second year.
  • Fields is actually getting reps this summer.
  • The coaching staff is going to run an offense that accentuates Fields's strengths instead of his weaknesses.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • Fields's style of play puts him at greater risk of injury than some QBs, and if he goes down for any length of time, it won't be pretty.
  • Fields is almost guaranteed to improve. Will he be a top 10 QB? Could happen, but I wouldn't bet on it. Top 20? That I would bet on.

2021 snaps: Montgomery: 57%, Herbert: 28%, Williams: 15%
The Bears where #11 in rushing attempts, but only #14 in yards, because they were #22 in Y/A. So they ran the ball a lot, but they weren't great at it.
Reasons for optimism:
  • Montgomery only had 3.8 Y/A in 2021 after gaining 4.3 in 2020, so he might bounce back.
  • Herbert might get a bigger role, and he might be more effective than Montgomery in the new scheme.
  • Montgomery and Herbert are both young enough that they could still be in the upswing.
  • Having a FB might open up some running lanes.
  • Maybe Trestan Ebner is good enough to contribute as a rookie.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • 2021 Montgomery was pretty similar to 2019 Montgomery, so that might just be the player he is, and 2020 was the outlier.
  • Having a FB might just clog everything up.
  • The OL might not be able to block anyone.
  • There's a lot of mights and maybes. I don't see anything really convincing either direction, so the safest assumption is we'll see about the same as last year.

2021 snaps: Mooney: 88%, Byrd: 55%, Robinson: 55%, Goodwin: 35%, Grant 12%, Newsome: 9%
Reasons for optimism:
  • Mooney is still ascending.
  • People bemoan the loss of Robinson, but Pringle had better numbers across the board. 42/568/5 > 38/410/1, on fewer snaps and fewer targets.
  • Nobody is bemoaning the loss of Byrd/Goodwin, because they didn't produce much. So it shouldn't be too hard for ESB/Jones to improve on that production.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • None, really.
  • I realize this is counter to the prevailing narrative, but relative to 2021, it's a near certainty that this group has improved. It's just that people were hoping for it to improve by a lot more. In other words, they improved from bottom of the barrel to below average. It will take more investment to get to above average, let alone good or great. But it's still improvement.

2021 snaps: Kmet: 83%, James: 24%, Graham: 23%, Holtz: 6%
Reasons for optimism:
  • Kmet is still developing.
  • Cutting Graham is addition by subtraction.
  • Adding a FB to this group gives opponents one more wrinkle to prepare for.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • Kmet still needs to develop. He has real holes in his game to address.
  • Horsted is a major loss. In my heart, anyway.
  • But seriously, the best receiving threat of the 2022 group might be Blasingame. There's not really a classic U on the roster.
  • The team is really counting on Kmet. I'm hopeful, but until I see it, I'll say this is a wash.

2021 snaps: Daniels: 100%, Whitehair: 100%, Mustipher: 100%, Peters: 76%, Borom: 56%, Ifedi: 37%, Jenkins: 14%, Wilkinson: 11%, Bars: 8%
Reasons for optimism:
  • Patrick has experience in the offense and will be making line calls, helping the rest of the OL adjust to the scheme.
  • Whitehair had a down year and will hopefully return to form.
  • Borom and Jenkins should improve with a year under their belts.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • If Whitehair doesn't bounce back, he was not a good player last year.
  • Patrick was only a starter due to injury, and by some reports, he played better at G than C.
  • Borom was a pleasant surprise, but he had some rough outings toward the end of the season.
  • Jenkins hardly played, has injury questions, and he was running with the 2s in minicamp.
  • Day 3 rookies fail much, much more often than they succeed.
  • This unit was bad last year, but they look to be worse this year, unless a veteran is added or a couple of the rookies turn out to be worthy of starting.

In order to compare apples to apples, I'm going to look at the nickel unit, because a 3-4 defense subs out the NT and typically rushes the OLBs, while a 4-3 defense subs out the Sam LB.
So both end up with 4-2-5 personnel.

2021 snaps:
Quinn: 71%, Nichols: 64%, Blackson: 55%, Gipson: 46%, Goldman: 32%, Mack: 30%, Hicks: 29%, Tonga: 20%, Edwards: 20%, Irvin: 16%, Hunt: 14%, Attaochu: 12%, Kamara: 10%
Reasons for optimism:
  • Quinn had a great season, and maybe he won't revert to the mean.
  • Gipson broke out last year and could improve even more.
  • Muhammed also broke out last year, but mostly because he played over 800 snaps. For comparison, Quinn played 755.
  • I'm excited about a couple of rookies, but we'll see what happens when the pads go on.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • Losing Mack will obviously hurt, although he didn't contribute all that much in 2021.
  • There's almost no way that Quinn produces like that two seasons in a row, and he might not even play for the Bears in 2022.
  • Jones is just a guy.
  • This unit got worse. If Quinn is closer to 2021 than 2020, not a lot worse.

2021 snaps: Smith: 95%, Ogletree: 66%, Jones: 11%, Trevathan: 7%
Reasons for optimism:
  • Morrow is a big improvement over Ogletree, especially in coverage.
Reasons for pessimism:
  • None
  • We are not talking enough about how much of a luxury it's going to be to have both Smith and Morrow blanketing RBs and TEs. This is one of the top off ball LB duos in the league.

2021 snaps: Johnson: 88%, Vildor: 78%, Jackson: 74%, Gipson: 62%, DHC: 40%, Shelley: 39%, Bush: 36%, Burns: 24%, Crawford: 13%, Christian: 12%, Graham: 11%, Tabor: 11%
Reasons for optimism:
  • Remember all those plays where Vildor, Shelley, Gipson, Christian, etc. got burned to a crisp? Pass coverage is all about the weakest link, and those weak links are now gone or backups.
  • If Johnson is healthy and stays out of the doghouse, this could build on a very solid rookie campaign.
  • Gordon and Brisker were highly rated, and reports so far are glowing.
  • Young was one of the top nickels before getting injured. If he can return to that form, that's big.
  • Graham didn't get many opportunities last year, but he looked good when he was out there.
  • Cruikshank has had pretty good results in a big nickel role.
  • The refs have to give Jackson a break and not call all his TDs back this year, right? Right??
Reasons for pessimism:
  • Inexperience can lead to communication problems.
  • This unit was one of the weakest on the team (and that's saying something).
  • Now, if the rookies play up to expectations and either Young or Graham steps up in the nickel, there's no weak link.
  • So this could be not only one of the best units on the team, but one of the best secondaries in the league.

  • Improved units, from most improved to least: DB, QB, LB, Coaching, WR
  • About the same: RB, TE
  • Got worse: OL, DL
  • Yes, it all starts in the trenches, where the biggest concerns are. But given the massive improvement in the secondary, along with the other areas that improved, if Fields takes even a small step forward, this team will have a better record than last year.
  • Top 10 draft pick? Maybe. Top 15? Very likely. Top 5? No way.

This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.