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State of the Team: Chicago Bears

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

Once again the Bears find themselves acclimating to a new offensive system. In the spirit of their seemingly annual playbook overhauls, maybe they should have re-signed journeyman backup Jason Campbell. New head coach Marc Trestman was last seen in the NFL as an assistant head coach with the 2004 Dolphins, but his main mark came in the three years before that when he was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in Oakland. The Raiders ran a West Coast offense back then. Trestman figures to reproduce that in Chicago, though likely through a fairly heavy dose of modern spread concepts. In that case, the Bears will have to get better play out of their front five and from every receiving target not named Brandon Marshall.

BACKFIELD

QB: Jay Cutler, Josh McCown; Lost: Jason Campbell

RB: Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Evan Rodriguez (H-Back); Lost: Kahlil Bell

Talent-wise, Cutler is as good as they come. However, he goes through bouts of sloppy mechanics and recklessness, seemingly spurred by his distrust -– both warranted and unwarranted -– in teammates and play-callers. One guy Cutler can trust is Forte, a methodical but smooth three-down back who has a way of stabilizing this offense. Forte should be a good fit in Trestman’s short-pass oriented system. (Remember in 2002 when a 30-year-old Charlie Garner had 941 receiving yards for the Raiders?) The question with Forte, as well as with Bush (a solid all-around No. 2) is whether he can avoid the minor injuries that have hindered him at times over the past two years. At H-back, when former general manager Jerry Angelo drafted Rodriguez, he said the fourth-rounder could become Chicago’s version of Aaron Hernandez. But through one year, Rodriguez seems on track to become a more dynamic version of Jim Kleinsasser. That’s not a slight, just a commentary on his style of play. He’s more of a short-area contributor, not a multidimensional downfield route runner.

RECEIVERS

WR: Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester

TE: Martellus Bennett, Kyle Adams, Steve Maneri; Lost: Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth

Statistically, the gap last year between Chicago’s leading receiver, Marshall, and their second-leading receiver, Forte, was the biggest any NFL team had last season. This has to change in 2013. Great as Marshall is, he can’t be the only guy Cutler trusts. Earl Bennett is a decent short-area route runner who would be a good No. 3, but he's stretched as a No.2, and he has to figure out how to stay on the field. Jeffery must become more polished, and Hester must be kept in a more-fitting gadget role. (Trestman has said the veteran will be used almost exclusively in the return game this year.)

At tight end, the signing of Marcellus Bennett excited Bears fans. Indeed, he’s an upgrade over the lethargic and slippery-handed Davis. Just keep in mind that there’s a reason the Cowboys and Giants both let the mercurial tight end leave scot-free.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Jermon Bushrod LG: Matt Slauson C: Roberto Garza RG: Gabe Carimi RT: J'Marcus Webb

Backups: Edwin Willams, Eben Britton, James Brown; Lost: Lance Louis, Chilo Rachal, Chris Spencer

Bushrod is the latest major investment the Bears have wishfully made in an effort to turn around their awful offensive line. The ex-Saint showed admirable improvement last season but, overall, he still must be described as an above-average athlete with below-average pass-blocking acumen. He’s very good when moving forward and very iffy when moving backwards. Which means, in all likelihood, the Bears will have to give him help in a lot of third-and-long situations. Is Bushrod really worth $22.4 million guaranteed?

Inside, Garza can suffice, but there are concerns about the guys flanking him. Outside, Webb should be better on the right than he was on the left, but a change in position does not denote a change in talent. With slow, heavy feet, he will still need help in pass protection. There's not much depth here either; Britton brings position versatility, but he was bad wherever he lined up in Jacksonville last year. That was likely the function of injuries, but those injuries have been the defining mark of his career.

The sad conclusion: despite continued changes, the Bears are liable to still have a lot of the same blocking issues and play-calling restrictions that have hindered them in recent years.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

Last season illustrated how the Bears are almost utterly dependent on creating turnovers. This defense was explosive early on when live balls were bouncing around, but it often wasn’t able to line up and simply stop teams down the stretch. Many think of the Bears as a classic Tampa-2 team. Indeed, after firing Tampa-2 aficionado Lovie Smith, they hired long-time Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Tucker, as many know, is another traditional Tampa-2 guy. That said, don’t be surprised if Chicago changes things up a bit in 2013. That’s what they did fairly often and successfully in 2012, using more single-high coverages and even playing some man-to-man with blitzes on certain third downs.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, Shea McClellin, Turk McBride; Lost: Israel Idonije

DT: Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Nate Collins, Andre Fluellen; Lost: Amobi Okoye, Matt Toeaina

The Bears did a great job commanding one-on-one matchups for Peppers last year by moving him all over the defensive front. They were particularly fond of playing him inside in nickel sub-packages. That lent more freedom to how they used first-round pick McClellin (a poor man’s Clay Matthews at this point). It’s a new staff now, but expect the same approach. Even if the Bears were to keep everyone in their traditional spots, this will still be a tough line to handle. In addition to firepower on the edges, Melton is a tremendous one-gap shooter, both with strength and quickness, inside. Paea can be a beast when it comes to shedding blocks. Behind him, Collins shows very intriguing upside with uncommon movement skills for a man with his lanky build.

LINEBACKERS

OLB: Lance Briggs, James Anderson, J.T. Thomas, Jerry Franklin; Lost: Geno Hayes, Nick Roach

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ILB: D.J. Williams, Blake Costanzo; Lost: Brian Urlacher

Age and injuries took a toll on Urlacher, but not enough to make him a liability. Still, the Bears chose to cut bait a year too soon rather than a year too late. That decision was validated by the signing of Williams, a ferocious athlete who can run down the middle in coverage, which is a vital trait in this scheme. But can Williams offer awareness that’s even close to the preternatural zone instincts of Urlacher? Many don’t realize how much those instincts did to hold this unit together. On the outside, Briggs is a bit long in the tooth but doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. He has a great understanding of his responsibilities in the flats. Anderson was a good pickup given his similarities to the speedy Roach.

SECONDARY

CB: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden, Zack Bowman; Lost: D.J. Moore

S: Major Wright, Chris Conte, Tom Zbikowski, Craig Steltz, Brandon Hardin

Tillman somehow keeps getting better with age. He’s an ideal corner for this scheme. So is Jennings, whose under-appreciated tackling is nearly as impressive as his play-making prowess. Nickel corner was a major concern ... until Hayden was re-signed. His return means Jennings won’t have to play inside, and Bowman, who hasn’t been able to hold on to a significant job over the years, will only have to play bit snaps. At safety, Wright and Conte are both on the cusp of being classified as green. Their improvements in all phases have allowed this defense to become more diverse. The addition of Zbikowski lends versatility to the secondary. In fact, don’t be surprised if the Bears come up with some new dime blitz packages to take advantage of his downhill prowess.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Robbie Gould; P: Adam Podlesh

Gould is above-average on kickoffs with the typical inconsistency on field goals. Podlesh is about as average as it gets.

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Comments

87 comments, Last at 01 May 2013, 6:08pm

2 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Please elaborate how the 6th most accurate kicker in NFL history has "typical inconsistency" on field goals? I find that statement really interesting because if he really does have inconsistency i'd be curious to find out how he's rate so high in accuracy? That almost doesn't make sense.

25 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

"Shoddy field"

Career 82.7% at home, 88.8% on the road.

"windy"

82.6% in windy conditions.

"frigid conditions"

Only one field goal attempted (missed) from beyond 40 yards in 20-degree-or-below weather, and a 45% success rate of FGs from beyond 40 yards in 40-degree-or-below weather; no FGs beyond 50 yards were attempted at all.

The home and windy numbers are pretty good, but the point is, most of the field goals are not being attempted at Soldier Field in January.

27 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Nice numbers, but no context. Maybe I'm wrong, but 82.6% seems damn good in windy conditions. What is the NFL average?

82.7% at Soldier field. How do others perform at Soldier field (it's not their home field, but still)?

Nearly 90% on the road? That seems excellent. Minny and Detroit have domes, but that's only 2 games a year.

30 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Robbie Gould's value by FO metrics (based on length of kicks, adjusted for weather):

2008 +4.2 (10)
2009 +4.8 (7)
2010 +0.6 (16)
2011 +7.5 (3)
2012 -4.4 (24)

So he looked more consistent than the usual kicker... for a while. Look at the last three years, and it looks like typical kicker inconsistency.

44 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

As I said, the home and windy numbers are good. The wind one, though, needs a lot more context that no one can provide. What kind of wind speed is needed to qualify? Is that number the average wind speed throughout the entire game or just the start of the game? Did it change direction in the middle of the game? A consistent 15mph gust in one direction is quite different from a wildly varying wind that maxed out at 7mph.

His numbers definitely say above-average to me; I was just providing some context that most of his kicks were not being made in the worst of Chicago weather. And as I mentioned below, his numbers depend heavily on the distance of kicks he is being asked to make. I would think a defensive team like Chicago is much more likely to punt and rely on field position than risk missing field goals, and his relative lack of long kicks seems to support that theory.

5 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

I believe what he meant, was that Robbie Gould, like most kickers are not consistent...If you look at field goal percentage year and year out it will flunctuate...The best kickers such as Gould lows are either not as low as other or when they are on they are really on...

19 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

It certainly can make sense; not all field goals are created equal. Gould has great accuracy in long field goals, but he doesn't kick many of them, while being decidedly mediocre at medium-long field goals. The average field goal kicker in the last 12 years made 73% of field goals in the 40-49 yard range, and Gould is only at 71%. And despite his 76% accuracy at 50+ yard field goals (compared to the league average of 57%), they only account for 7% of his attempts, compared to the league average of 11%. In fact, after his fourth year, he had a 85.9% success rate despite not having made a single kick from beyond 50 yards.

6 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Ah, I've been waiting for this one. A few quibbles:

Honestly, until I see improvement (which I'm optimistically hoping for this year), Cutler might be more of a black than a green. I'm the first one to point out that he's suffered through an awful O-line, a (complete until last year) lack of wide receivers to throw to, and bad playcalling; that said, he makes plenty of his own mistakes too.

I've been thinking of Jeffrey as the #2 and Bennett as the #3, but apparently I'm mistaken. If so, the assessments make sense there - they need a better #2 than Bennett. I think Hester has been pretty bad at receiver, even if you assume he's the 3rd or 4th guy, and I wholeheartedly support the idea that he should be strictly a return guy.

On the line, I think Webb is worse than Carimi, and I'd give Carimi the slightest benefit of the doubt in terms of potential for improvement. Webb is just awful and I hate that he could still be starting games for the Bears this season. Webb's a definite red and Carimi's either red or yellow to me.

On the defense, I don't have a lot to say other than I'm surprised to see Melton graded as blue. I like him and think he's a solid player, I've just never thought of him as a star.

I'm really surprised to read the assessment that Gould is great on kickoffs but inconsistent on field goals; my perception has been the opposite. The Bears' website mentions that his career field goal percentage places him at 5th all-time, which seems pretty good to me. Last season he was 21 for 25 (two of those were blocked, though) which put him in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the NFL, but percentage wise that was a slightly worse than average season.

46 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Melton may be a light blue, but I'd still call him a blue. I'm not as sure about Briggs these days, though he rates at least a green. Zbikowski is just a guy, but he's probably adequate as a backup. Carimi should probably be an orange (yellow). I'd also call Gould green, and I agree with you that he's not inconsistent on FGs. I'd also consider Forte a high green (cyan?). Even if you're a Bears fan and I'm a Packers fan, I think we pretty much agree on the Bears' assessment.

51 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Jeffrey will be no2, with Marshall rehabbing his hip Jeffrey has been the no1 in mini camp. Bennett is going to be the primary slot guy. I am pretty sure that Marshall is going to regularly line up all over the place though.

For my mind Webb is a lot better than the average observer thinks he is. He was as raw as a drafted player can be and should not have seen the field his rookie year. That was three years ago, he was league average last year at LT, yes he can struggle with elite edge rushers but there is a reason that they are elite, everyone struggles with them. He will be a fine RT. It isn't as though the bar for RT play in the NFL is set particularly high.

Melton should be blue, DTs shouldn't be able to get into the backfield but he can.

87 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Jacob W. Prather

If Earl Bennett is the number 2 receiver then he did a terrible job. Jeffery had the fourth most receptions on the team all while missing 6 games. He was behind Marshall, Forte, and Bennett. Bennett only missed 4 games and still only had 5 more receptions than Jeffery and had less receiving yards and TD's. In all honest I think the Bears should release Bennett and Weems. Keep Mark Harrison, and Marquess Wilson. Joe Anderson can replace Weems. It would give the Bears more cap room, open up competition for the third receiver on the team, and gets the Bears younger, faster, and more athletic at WR.

7 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Brian Urlacher was on the Bears last year. Brian Cushing was not.

It is amazing how the awful cornerbacks for the Colts Tampa-2 in the mid-to-late-2000s have become the mainstays of the great Bears defense of the early '10's. Underappreciated tackling? From a Polian draftee????

8 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Some questions for Andy (or any other expert),

1) Does WC really fit Cutler? His play is much more "let the play develop, then laser it into to any tight space that hopefully appears" guy than "I know where I'm going with, get it out fast" guy. This could be because his receivers were rarely open when and where they were supposed to be, but I've never seen an analysis of Cutler's constant double pumping. Is he woefully indecisive or are his receivers never open? If it's him, how can he be expected to run the WC well? If it's his receivers, well then it's going to be another banner year for BMarsh.

2) Carimi's biggest weakness seems to be pass blocking fast edge rushers. So, even at 6'7", if he moves to guard, can he become an asset (very good run blocker, good pass blocker in tight spaces, not out wide)? I'm just looking for some optimism on the line. Bushrod may only be a slight upgrade, but he's an upgrade. Webb to RT upgrades RT. Carimi/Slauson (or 1st rounder) upgrades G. A bunch of minor upgrades could add up to a large improvement potentially. That and play calling.

3) Shea says he put on 5-7 pounds (was expecting more, but whatever). Should anyone expect 5-7 pounds to markedly improve his suspect run defense so that we might expect a lot more production from last year's first round pick?

4) You really think Peppers is still a star? He had a foot problem I know, but it's not like he was terrorizing anyone last year. If he was eating up two blockers every play, then fine, but I didn't see that.

18 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

His release is lightning fast and his ability to throw from multiple points will help. Quick (or correct) diagnosis? The jury's still out on that one.

The west coast offense is set up around the quarterback's mechanics which could go either of two ways. Either Cutler will be forced to operate with more focus on his technique and a more disciplined Cutler will thrive, or his mechanics will be as haphazard as usual and the offense will continue to be inconsistent.

38 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Cutler is good about slinging the ball when he can see his receiver. Heard criticism of Cutler is a "See-it, Throw-it" QB. He doesn't do too good on timing and anticipation throws, where he throws before the receiver is out of his break, so he might struggle a bit in the new system. Of course, not sure if part of that was he didn't trust any receiver except Marshall, his O-line was bad, and Forte got injured.

Funny thing, the other "See-it, Throw-it" QB was Donovan McNabb.

21 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

I didn't like Carmini on draft day because he's stiff. He plays too high. That's hurting him on the outside, but I can also see it making it very difficult for him to get leverage against DTs. The old cliche of "low man wins" is a cliche for a reason. Moving him to guard, I suspect, will expose the same weaknesses in a different way. It's something coaching could fix, but that hasn't happened.

10 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

Can we discuss how the QB rated 27th in DYAR and DVOA last season is listed as "good"?

Cutler is adequate at best. Stop blaming the line. Fundamentally, he's not a very smart guy. He can throw the ball pretty well, but he's a terrible decision-maker.

14 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

I can definitely see where you are coming from and have felt this way myself, but ultimately disagree. Cutler's certainly a very smart guy. Every coordinator has said so, impressed with his digestion of their playbooks. In the heat of the game, yes he can make some head-scratching decisions. I can't recall more than a time or two he has just throw it away. And dangerous throws are pretty common, too. I already mentioned all his double-pumping in a previous post. I'm just not willing to write him off yet. His o-line, WR and coordinators can not be dismissed as part of the problem. Hester and Knox were both a) rarely in the right place and b) never protected their QB when passes weren't perfect. They definitely cost Cutler plenty of yardage and interceptions. Watch instead him work Marshall, Bennett and even Jeffrey. They are where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. And Cutler gets it to them smoothly. And if not, they help him by first catching the damn ball and also at least minimizing the damage (incomplete instead on INT) when the throw isn't perfect. I'm giving Cutler one more year of benefit of the doubt. And, I'll just throw this out there, Cutler is one tough SOB and his teammates respond to that. His production has been adequate at best for a couple years, so I give you that, but again that's not on him alone. 10 other needs to do their jobs as well. Talent/skill/toughness-wise, he's definitely well above average, so I think green is perfectly fair.

24 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

I can see both sides of this having watched a lot of NFC North for the book this year. There are some sides of Cutler that are undervalued, and some that are overvalued. The tl;dr version is that he's not a very good anticipation passer, and if you aren't an anticipation passer, you're not going to be able to throw guys open very often.

That's part of the reason why when I did Four Downs NFCN, I listed receiver and tight end ahead of offensive line. Cutler can't cover up a disaster on the line, but he's fairly good at buying time. Expecting him to make a lot of use of Earl Bennett and Kellen Davis in man coverage was not optimal.

28 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

I can totally see where the dislike for cutler is. He makes sloppy mistakes and spotty decisions. You know who else did that once the team's talent got worse? Rivers did. And brees did in 2010 when all his rbs got injured. At least the latter two have wide receivers though. One of these days - we have to do a study on qbs that get scarred from terrible offensive lines. As bad as the chargers o line is, the bears o line is even worse. Couple that with the fact that besides brandon marshall - I don't think any of these receivers are any good. We've learned cutler isn't good enough to carry this team's offense, but honestly, there are like 2 qbs in the nfl that can at this point.

42 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

I was actually referring to his 2010 season. I thought his 2012 season was fine. The team was worse so his numbers suffered. Overall, he was as effective as ever this year.

THe point about brees and rivers and cutler is that numbers have to be put in the proper context. No offense, but both RickD and Nat both seem to love dvoa and dyar for receivers and qbs even tho both tell us nothing about which way causation is running. Again, run a regression on qb dvoa/dyar with passing dvoa and dyar and you end up with an R2 of near .98.

47 Re: State of the Team: Chicago Bears

"Again, run a regression on qb dvoa/dyar with passing dvoa and dyar and you end up with an R2 of near .98."

I got a R^2 of 0.9676 for the DVOA comparison, pretty close to your number, but interestingly, Brees' data point was by far the biggest outlier. The linear fit says that a QB with his DVOA should've headed a passing offense with a 32.8% DVOA, instead of the actual 24.7%. I have no idea what that even means, because I don't know how QB DVOA and passing DVOA differ, but there you go.