From 1941 to 1943, the Chicago Bears had the best offensive team in the NFL in terms of yardage and scoring. Behind Sid Luckman’s 1,000-yard passing seasons — which appear overwhelmingly trivial today when Peyton Manning throws for more than 5,400 yards — the Bears won two championships in three seasons.
Ever since, the conundrum for many of Chicago’s seasons has been offense. Even with the great Walter Payton donning the navy blue and burnt orange from 1975 to 1987, the Bears never managed to crack the top five in either scoring or yardage. In many ways, offensive inconsistencies are woven into Chicago’s DNA as much as the ground-and-pound approach to the sport that make the Bears memorable in the first place.
Which is precisely why last season felt so peculiar. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has as much to prove as anyone on Chicago’s payroll in 2014. Last season, the Bears allowed the most points (478) and the most yards (6,313) in franchise history. They also didn’t hold a single opponent to less than 20 points and gave up a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game. First-year coach Marc Trestman’s offensive juggernaut that kept Chicago afloat, but the anchor cemented to their defense eventually sunk the Bears in an 8-8 finish. As a result, General Manager Phil Emery took defensive players on four of his first five draft picks.
The only thing more remarkable than Chicago’s offensive year and running back Matt Forte’s impressive numbers was the receiving tandem of Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall — one of the league’s best. Denver and Chicago were the only teams who featured two receivers ranked in the top 15 in receiving yards. Jeffrey (1,421 yards, 89 catches and 7 touchdowns) had his best season by far. Marshall (1,295 yards, 100 catches and 12 touchdowns) logged his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season and did it coming off of a hip injury.
Although Chicago’s receiving duo is coming off of its most productive season together, and are projected to throttle opposing cornerbacks and safeties alike, expect some regressions this season. Here’s why:
- The Bears haven’t had two consecutive seasons of top 10 offenses since nearly two decades (1986) prior to the NFL’s expansion to 32 teams in 2002.
- Quarterback Jay Cutler hasn’t made it through all 16 regular season games since 2009. His backup? Jimmy Clausen: 157 of 299 passing all-time, 3 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 74 percent completion index, 72 percent sack percentage index, 71 passer rating.
- Last season, backup Josh McCown produced 69 percent of Cutler’s production in passing yards, 73 percent in touchdowns and threw 12 fewer interceptions despite starting six fewer games. He’s now in Tampa Bay.
- Cutler only has had three total seasons in which he had an above-average completion percentage (2007, ’08, ’13). McCown was 21 percent better than the league average last season.
- Chicago has had five total 1,000-yard receivers since 2000 (Marty Booker in ’01 and ’02; Marshall in ’12 and ’13; Jeffrey in 2013).
- Forte is coming off of the best season in his career and will likely shoulder more of the offensive load this season (although I’m not sure how that’s possible given that he played 877 offensive snaps last season, tops among running backs).
- Chicago has the 15th-toughest strength of schedule in 2014 (.496 opponent win percentage), including non-division games against Carolina (sixth-fewest pass yards allowed a season ago), New Orleans (second-fewest pass yards allowed a season ago), Buffalo (fourth-fewest pass yards allowed a season ago) and San Francisco (seventh-fewest pass yards allowed a season ago).
- Since 2012, there have only been four receiving tandems to post more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage apiece (Denver in 2013 and 2014; Chicago in 2014; Atlanta in 2012).
- The team’s Offensive SRS, which estimates team’s offensive quality relative to the league average, is minus-1.57 since 2000. Last year it was 3.0, which could very well be an outlier if this season reverts in production.
- Cutler has a history of holding onto the ball too long in the pocket. Since 1920, for quarterbacks having been sacked more than 18 times in a season, Cutler ranks third in sack yards taken in a season (2010, his second year in Chicago) with 352 yards lost. Prior to last season’s numbers, which were significantly altered by him missing five games, Cutler had averaged being sacked 37 times per season since 2009, raising red flags regarding his health and ability to get the ball to receivers.
Nobody’s denying that last year wasn’t an astonishing first season for Trestman and Co. It was arguably one of the five best seasons in Bears history regarding scoring, passing and receiving.
Regardless of how remarkable the season was, though, injuries happen in every single NFL game and teams fluctuate. It’s the nature of the sport. Trestman has all of the firepower in the world heading into next season, and even though he’ll probably posit another entertaining season with it, it likely won’t be as prolific as last year.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at Rivals, Bleacher Report, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network and FanSided. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).