As Super Bowl fades, Bears ’19 schedule still forming based on changes around NFL

As Super Bowl fades, Bears ’19 schedule still forming based on changes around NFL

As the 2018 season fades into the mist (or whatever it was that was in the eyes of Sean McVay and Jared Goff and clouding their visions), the 2019 one is already a-formin’. For the Bears, faced with their first first-place schedule since 2011, major changes already have been in process with a yet-undetermined impact on the Bears in 2019.

Two teams have new head coaches. At least three will have new opposing coordinators. Three had their postseason dreams dashed by the New England Patriots. One lost its postseason dream dashed by officiating. One ended the Bears’ postseason dream.

The Chinese say that you can never step into the same river twice. You certainly can’t play the same teams twice because they won’t, from one year to the next, be the “same.”

And neither will the Bears.

The significant uptick in schedule difficulty doesn’t automatically translate into a down one in wins. For one thing, the Bears are a combined 7-6 in the last times they faced the teams on their 2019 schedule.

For another, using the seasons’ first 10 games for purposes of comparison: The Bears record was 7-3 in 2010 against what was a third-place schedule coming off a 7-9 year before. Through the first 10 games of 2011 (at which point Jay Cutler was lost for the year with a thumb fracture), the record was 7-3, against what was a first-place schedule.

The way it happened was via Bears improvement from within. Cutler dropped his interception percentage from the second-highest of his career (3.7) to the lowest (2.2). Matt Forte went to the Pro Bowl off his career-best rushing average (4.9 ypc). The offense upped its point production by nearly 6 points per game through the games Cutler played.

(Message: Keep Mitchell Trubisky healthy.)

While the Bears re-signed right tackle Bobby Massie and have worked through scenarios at kicker, nickel corner and safety, their 2019 opponents already have been hard at work, in some case quite hard indeed:
NFC North
Detroit               No. 8 draft pick and as much as $50 million in cap space = changes.
Green Bay        Can new coach (Matt LeFleur) deal with Aaron Rodgers? The end for Clay Matthews?
Minnesota         Fired OC and one-time hot coaching prospect (interviewed by Bears) John DeFilippo.
AFC West
Denver              New head coach (Vic Fangio) and several staff hires know well Bears personnel.
Kansas City      New D-coordinator (Steve Spagnulo), and how much better can Pat Mahomes get in his year 2?
LA Chargers     Fourth Philip Rivers game vs. Bears, third different head coach. 
Oakland            Not sure where they’re playing, but new GM Mike Mayock has 3 No. 1 picks (Nos. 4, 24, 27) coming, one (24th) from Khalil Mack trade to Bears
NFC East
Dallas                Promoted Kellen Moore to OC as Jerry Jones declares Jason Garrett secure – for now – has HC.
NY Giants         Annual and ongoing Eli Manning questions for a bad (5-11) team holding the No. 6 pick. 
Philadelphia     Will teammates be liking Carson Wentz by then?
Washington      Baker Mayfield working out as Cleveland QB; with Alex Smith’s injury, do Redskins draft another OU QB (Kyler Murray?)?
New Orleans    No team likely more motivated after NFC Championship shafting.
LA Rams           Super Bowl hangover? Bears hope so after showing that

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Should the Bears sign free agent running back Devonta Freeman?

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman remains unsigned after being released earlier this offseason following a 2019 season that totaled 14 games and a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

Freeman, who earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl in 2015-16, was at one time considered one of the NFL's top dual-threat running backs. His best season came in 2015 when he ran for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding another 578 yards and three scores as a receiver. In 2016, he ran for a career-best 1,079 yards and 11 scores.

Injuries derailed what was a promising start to his career. He hasn't played a full 16 games in any of the last three years and in 2018, he missed 14 games with foot and groin injuries. 

Are Freeman's best days behind him? Maybe. Running backs tend to decline the closer they get to 30 years old, and at 28, Freeman is inching closer to the end of his career than its beginning. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have value for a team like the Bears, who lack any semblance of depth behind starter David Montgomery.

Chicago's running back depth chart is void of any real NFL talent behind Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, and let's face it, Cohen is more of a satellite weapon than he is a true running back.

So what's stopping the Bears from pursuing Freeman? Money.

Freeman is holding out for a reasonable payday that, apparently, involves demands beyond what the Seahawks offered in May (one-year, $4 million). The Bears, who still have in-house business to take care of, including an extension for wide receiver Allen Robinson, aren't going to offer Freeman a contract in that range. And they shouldn't. Montgomery is the unquestioned starter and that won't change even if a player like Freeman is added. As a result, he'll get a contract consistent with what's paid to a backup with starter's upside.

Remember: Freeman signed a five-year, $41.2 million extension with the Falcons in 2017, and like most players who believe they still have a lot left in the tank, he doesn't appear willing to lower his value by such an extreme amount.

Still, the market will determine Freeman's next deal. And if he's still hanging around and unsigned as training camp approaches, the Bears could find themselves in a favorable position to land an extremely talented running back at a mega-discount.

Chicago's offense will hinge on how productive the running game is in 2020. It would make sense to improve its chances of success by adding more talent. Freeman could be that guy, at the right price.

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

What would 1985 Chicago Bears look like if they played in 2020?

“We’re gonna do the shuffle then ring your bell,” sang Gary Fencik back in 1985. 

The updated lyrics in 2020 would be: “We’re gonna do the shuffle then get a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.” 

Football today is a largely different game compared to when the Bears won their only Super Bowl in franchise history. You’ll see that when Super Bowl XX is aired on NBC this Sunday at 2 p.m. CT. But as I went back and watched some highlights ahead of catching the full game on Sunday, I wondered: What from the ’85 Bears would still work in the NFL today?

MORE: 10 crazy stats about the 1985 Bears

Talent, of course, transcends eras. Walter Payton would still be a great running back in 2020. Richard Dent would still be one of those pass rushers offenses have to gameplan around. Mike Singletary’s versatility, toughness and instincts would make him one of the league’s top linebackers. But that’s not what I was wondering. 

The Bears’ first offensive play of Super Bowl XX — on which Payton lost a fumble — came with two wide receivers, one tight end, one running back and one fullback on the field, otherwise known as 21 personnel. There was nothing odd about it back then. 

Only 8 percent of the NFL’s plays in 2019 used 21 personnel. 

The San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings were the only two teams to use 21 personnel on more than 20 percent of their plays, and both teams made the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo, remember, threw eight passes while the 49ers throttled the Green Bay Packers on their way to the Super Bowl back in January. 

Payton and Matt Suhey would’ve been just fine in today’s NFL running from under center quite a bit. But consider this: Jim McMahon’s passer rating in 1985 was 82.6, good for seventh-best in the league. Mitch Trubisky’s passer rating in 2019 was 83.0, ranking him 28th. 

How about Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense? 

I dug up this video we did a few years ago with Rex Ryan explaining his dad’s defense — which, while it turned out to be great at stopping the run, was actually designed to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Check it out:

The Bears’ defense in 1985 is, arguably, the best in NFL history. The Bears held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry and 12.4 points per game, the lowest averages in the league. Dent led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks and, maybe the most mind-blowing stat of all: The Bears’ defense allowed 16 passing touchdowns and had 34 interceptions. 

But putting eight guys in the box doesn’t seem like a sound strategy in today’s pass-happy, 11 personnel-heavy league — a league that often forces defensive coordinators’ base packages to be in nickel. To wit: San Francisco’s Tevin Coleman faced the highest percentage of “loaded” boxes in 2019, with 40.2 percent of his 137 rushing attempts coming with eight or more defenders near the line of scrimmage. 

The Bears’ defense only had to defend multiple backs (i.e. a running back and a fullback) on 120 plays in 2019. 

So the 46 defense might not work in 2020. Then again, who would doubt Ryan’s ability to coordinate a good defense against today’s modern NFL landscape?

This is all building to my overarching feeling thinking about the 1985 Bears: They'd be fine in today's NFL. Greatness can transcend era. It might take a few tweaks and they wouldn't look the same as you'll see on NBC Sports Network on Sunday afternoon. 

But who am I to say one of the greatest teams of all time wouldn't be great in any era? 

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