The Bears started the season 7-1 and then went 3-5 in the 2nd half to finish 10-6 and out of the playoffs, firing long time Head Coach Lovie Smith. What happened? Did they have a “meltdown?” Well, if you look at their schedule, it’s more obvious. In the first half of the season, they played two playoff teams, going 1-1 in those 2 games, and winning their other 6. In the second half of the season, they played 6 playoff teams, going 1-5 in those 6 games and 2-0 against non-playoff teams.
The Bears may have been the only 10 win team to miss the playoffs, missing them by virtue of a tiebreaker, but Bears fans weren’t missing much. The Bears’ struggles against playoff teams suggested they would have been one and done anyway if they had made the playoffs. Unlike the Giants and maybe even the Steelers, two other expected playoff teams that missed the playoffs, the Bears were never really much of a threat to do damage in the post-season. With new Head Coach Marc Trestman coming in, they have a lot of work to do this off-season.
This off-season has to be all about getting Jay Cutler some help. The Bears’ offensive supporting cast is miserable. Hiring offensive minded Head Coach Marc Trestman is a start, but they need some actual talent on the field, especially on the offensive line. Mike Tice is a great offensive line coach, but he refused to admit he couldn’t coach up the guys he had and, as a result, the Bears never put much emphasis on the offensive line during the off-season. It really showed, as the Bears ranked 27th in the NFL in pass block efficiency this year, which was sadly a 3 year high (30th in 2011 and 32nd in 2010).
The Bears can probably fill the hole at right guard if they decide to keep Gabe Carimi there long term. The former 1st round pick looked to be on his way to being a bust at right tackle, but he played well at right guard down the stretch this season and might be a long term starter there if they decide to keep him there. Either way, they need at least one new starter. Chilo Rachel entered the season as the starting left guard, but he was terrible and got benched mid-season, after which he left the team without giving a reason. Chris Spencer and James Brown played there the rest of the way, but they were awful.
J’Marcus Webb was Mike Tice’s favorite, but he could never really coach the athletic former 7th round pick into a legitimate starting left tackle. This year was his best as a pro. After grading out among the worst offensive tackles in the league on ProFootballFocus in 2010 and 2011, he was actually average this year, but he may still be better off at right tackle long term. Right tackle is a huge issue right now. Carimi was moved to right guard, where he was better, but he’s been terrible at right tackle throughout the two years of his career and moving him back doesn’t make any sense. Jonathan Scott was awful in place of Carimi down the stretch. They need at least one new starter at this position.
I don’t think Jay Cutler would mind an upgrade over Kellen Davis. Davis was ProFootballFocus’ worst rated pass catching tight end this season and being a solid blocker didn’t make up for that. He caught just 19 of the 44 balls targeted to him, dropping 8, and showed nothing after the catch either. Only Delanie Walker had a worse catch to drop ratio and he ranked dead last in yards per route run with 0.63. For comparison, Anthony Fasano was the next worst at 0.85.
The fact that only 5 tight ends played more snaps than him this season tells you all you need to know about why the Bears were so inefficient offensively this season. He shouldn’t even be out there as a starter. The Bears had a talented tight end Greg Olsen, but traded him because former offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn’t know what to do with tight ends. When they fired Martz and Tice took over as the offensive coordinator and started using a tight end with regularity, they were in big trouble. They desperately need an upgrade, though one won’t be hard to find.
Roberto Garza bounced back from grading out as one of the worst centers in the NFL in 2011, but he is a still mediocre center. On this offensive line, that makes him arguably their most dependable starter, but still. Besides, he may not be dependable for too much longer as he turns 34 in March. He’s also heading into a contract year.
Brian Urlacher struggled mightily through injuries this season, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 44th ranked middle linebacker this year out of 53 eligible. He was even worse against the run, as only Paris Lenon had a worse run stopping rating than him. A free agent this off-season heading into his age 35 season, there’s been increased speculation that he may not return to the Bears next season, especially after the Bears fired long time Head Coach Lovie Smith. There’s always the possibility he pulls as Ray Lewis and decides to hang them up as well. If he’s not back next season, the Bears will need an immediate replacement and they’ll need a successor either way.
Henry Melton has been an underrated player for a while and made his first Pro-Bowl this season, deservingly so. He’s also a free agent this off-season and re-signing him should be a priority of their off-season, though he could follow former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to Dallas. If he’s not retained, he’ll need to be replaced.
He’s obviously not as big named as Brian Urlacher, but Nick Roach is also a free agent from their linebacking corps this off-season. If he’s not retained, they’ll need a new 3rd linebacker.
Jay Cutler has missed at least one game in each of the last 3 seasons and unless their offensive line improves in a hurry, that could easily happen again in 2013. For that reason, the Bears need a good backup quarterback. They tried Jason Campbell this season. That didn’t work, but he’s a free agent and they can go after a replacement this off-season.
Bears fans might not like this, but don’t be surprised if that quarterback is Tim Tebow. Marc Trestman is a known Tebow believer. He worked with Tebow before the 2010 NFL Draft and Trestman’s former CFL team, the Montreal Alouttes, own Tebow’s rights in the CFL. Trestman also spoke fondly over Tebow before being hired as the Bears Head Coach, saying “when you’re an accurate passer and you have the intangibles that go along with that, you can figure it out and make it work and, whether Tim changed his motion or not, I believed he would figure it out and I don’t have any doubt that he’ll be very, very successful.”
I actually like the fit. Tebow would be a clear backup in Chicago so the media circus wouldn’t be as big. “Should the Bears bench Jay Cutler for Tim Tebow” won’t be a First Take topic every day like it was with the shaky Mark Sanchez in New York (though Skip Bayless may try to make that happen). He really needs to go somewhere where he’s believed in and the new offense Trestman is bringing is pistol/option heavy, which suits Tebow’s strengths.
And this might be the best job Tebow can get this off-season. It doesn’t look like anyone wants to make him their starter and most teams probably won’t even want to make him their backup because he requires such a specific scheme to be successful. You don’t want to have to overhaul your whole playbook just because you have to go to the backup quarterback. The Bears and maybe the Seahawks (who could trade Matt Flynn) are definite options for him when you consider that. Plus, with Cutler’s injury history, Tebow might get a game or two to show what he has, which is something he probably wouldn’t get elsewhere.