Bears

Will Joel Iyiegbuniwe be a surprise starter for the Bears in 2020?

Will Joel Iyiegbuniwe be a surprise starter for the Bears in 2020?

July and August are fun months for football fans. It's the time of year when we predict season records and evaluate which teams have the best starting lineups. But all of those predicted wins and the depth chart breakdowns rarely come to fruition because of one harsh reality in the NFL: injuries.

The teams that are the best prepared to deal with injuries, those with good depth, are the ones that often stay in the playoff mix the longest. For the Bears, their depth at inside linebacker was a critical factor in their ability to stay afloat in 2019. Nick Kwiatkoski's impressive play off the bench (for both Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan) resulted in a big payday from the Raiders in free agency. But now that he's gone, does Chicago have anyone to replace him?

The answer could lie in Joel Iyiegbuniwe, the former 2018 fourth-round pick. It'd be a huge leap of faith by the Bears, considering Iyiegbuniwe has played just 27 snaps on defense over the last two seasons (including a whopping three in 2019, per Pro Football Focus). We simply don't know who he is as a pro despite his strong college tape as a rangy linebacker who packs a punch. 

Consider this fact: The Bears haven't added an inside linebacker in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft. It's just Iyiegbuniwe and Josh Woods. Maybe Barkevious Mingo? His fit is on the edge, but he could probably log a few snaps inside at this point in his career too.

The Bears' depth will be tested this season, especially with the unpredictability of COVID-19. Backups will be more important than they probably ever have been, which is why a player like Iyiegbuniwe has to rise to the occasion and give the Bears another talented and ascending option at linebacker.

Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

First, the good news: The Bears can win Super Bowl LV.

Why not? It’s August.

If Matt Nagy can find the right quarterback and Ryan Pace’s play to overhaul the tight end room pays off, this offense could be a ton of fun to watch. And if the addition of Robert Quinn gives the Bears the sort of fearsome pass rush we expect it will, this defense should be among the best in the NFL – and more than good enough to win a Super Bowl.

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There’s absolutely no part of me that’s going to tell you the Bears cannot win a Super Bowl before we’ve seen them practice, let alone play a game, in 2020.

“We want to win a Super Bowl,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “Every day we come into the facility, all our meetings and things like that, I think that our coaches are doing a really good job for everybody to keep that in mind and that's the main thing.”

Okay, but you’re probably waiting for the bad news. I just didn’t want to start with it. Because while it's not impossible for the Bears to make a Super Bowl run, there's a big reason why it feels unlikely. 

The Bears’ formula for winning in 2020, seemingly, is pairing a good enough offense with an elite defense. It’s what got them to the playoffs in 2018 as NFC North champions. It’s what could get them back to the playoffs again this season.

But an “eh, it’s fine” offense coupled with an awesome defense is not a formula that wins you a Super Bowl in 2021. As the last 10 Super Bowls tell us, it pays to have a great offense – and doesn’t matter if you have a great defense.

The last 20 Super Bowl participants, on average, had the sixth-best offense in a given year as ranked by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The average ranking of their defenses was about 12th.

It’s been even more pronounced over the last four years. On average, a Super Bowl team in that span ranked fourth in offense and 16th in defense.

Only two teams in the last decade reached a Super Bowl with an offense outside the top 10 in DVOA (Denver in 2015, Baltimore in 2012 – notably, both teams still won). Eleven of the last 20 teams to make a Super Bowl had a defense outside the DVOA top 10, including last year’s Kansas City Chiefs.

MORE: Why you shouldn't worry about Allen Robinson getting a contract extension

So the Bears, as currently constructed, do not appear built to win a Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done – we’re not all that far removed from the 2015 Broncos hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with the No. 25 offense and No. 1 defense – but recent history suggests it’s unlikely.

That is, unless Nagy can find the success his former peers (Doug Pederson, Andy Reid) had with his offensive scheme. Make no mistake: Offense leads Super Bowl runs, with defense a supporting character. Not the other way around. And it feels like the Bears have it the other way around. 

 

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2020 Bears may finally be unlocking Cordarrelle Patterson, running back

2020 Bears may finally be unlocking Cordarrelle Patterson, running back

When Cordarrelle Patterson signed a two-year deal with the Bears, people were pumped. He had just won a Super Bowl with New England, having morphed into a playable running back somewhere along the way. Already one of the NFL's most unique players, his fit in Matt Nagy's offense was easy to see. His first season in Chicago didn't quite live up to the hype, though he remained one of the NFL's best kick returners. Still, he wasn't featured much in the run game; after running the ball 42 times for 228 yards in New England, Patterson only had 17 rushes with the Bears.

Headed into 2020, it sounds like that may change: 


Patterson's been in meetings with the running backs, not with the wide receivers. And when they signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal before last season, they really had visions of using him creatively. In fact, when he went to sign the contract, he walked in and saw on the board – Nagy had written on the board plays, and creative ways to use Patterson. They didn't get around to it last year. Expect them to get around to it these year. Again, he is in with the running backs to learn everything about the position – the protections, and everything, so when he's lined up back there, you don't necessarily know if he's going to get the football. And Dave Ragone, the passing game coordinator, has been a guy that's been working with Patterson. 

Well that's exciting! Although shouldn't Patterson maybe still be in some meetings with the wide receivers? Like just a few? Don't think we missed the Eddie Jackson comment from Garafolo up front, either. It's all happening.