The Bears’ 2017 season has come to a disheartening end. After their disappointing 5-11 season, the Bears fired head coach John Fox. After 3 years as the head coach of the Bears, Fox had a gut-wrenching record of just 14-34. This move was not a surprising one, considering the writing had been on the wall for months. In reality, however, no one genuinely expected the Bears to be contenders in the NFC North. In fact, they were hardly relevant. The Bears failed to win a game in their division, further proving their futility. The fact of the matter is that the Bears were never concerned with winning in 2017.
The largest storyline of the Bears’ season was the development of their 2nd overall draft pick: Mitchell Trubisky.
The Bears started the season with Mike Glennon under center. The lanky signal-caller looked completely incapable of running an NFL offense and was relieved of his duties. Mitchell Trubisky was given the reins in Week 5 against the Vikings. Trubisky turned in an uninspiring performance, with 128 passing yards, a touchdown, and an interception that sealed the Vikings’ win. Over the final 12 games of the season, Trubisky completed 59.4% of his passes for 2,193 yards. The young quarterback added 7 passing touchdowns, and 2 on the ground. His 77.5 Passer Rating leaves much to be desired. Trubisky ranked just 28th in passing yards. Despite these pedestrian numbers, there is cause for optimism when it comes to Trubisky. The anemic supporting cast, coupled with the incapability of the coaching staff spelled trouble for Trubisky. A deeper look explains why Trubisky performed rather well, all things considered.
The Bears’ coaching staff was not designed to tailor a young quarterback. John Fox has long been known as a defensive-minded coach. Additionally, he has little experience in terms of cultivating young quarterbacks. Dowell Loggains, the offensive coordinator, struggled to use Trubisky effectively. The Bears’ offense was predictable and defensible all year long. Their maddening commitment to a run-run-pass scheme led to countless 3-and-outs. Trubisky was throwing passes on 3rd and long seemingly every drive, which became easy to defend for NFL defenses. Additionally, Loggains hesitance to open the playbook for Trubisky is well documented. Only after the young QB asked to be given more opportunity to pass did he start to improve. Loggains was also more tailored toward Jay Cutler after the departure of Adam Gase. After the long overdue separation from Jay Cutler, Loggains became the wrong man for the job. His poor play-calling stalled the overall development of Mitchell Trubisky. Expect a more capable OC to be calling the shots under the new head coach.
It seems redundant to write about just how bad the Bears’ receiving corps was in 2017. Armed with arguably the worst group of receivers in the NFL, Trubisky was left with little hope from the beginning. The addition of Dontrelle Inman was a positive move, but he only added 334 yards and a touchdown over 8 games. The lack of a playmaker among the Bears’ receivers spelled disaster in the passing game. A complete overhaul of the position is coming in 2018, which will undoubtedly help Trubisky improve as a passer.
The Bears entered the season with a formidable offensive line. Cody Whitehair was coming off a fantastic rookie season, on which he hoped to improve in his sophomore campaign. Paired with Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, the Bears looked to have a valuable asset on their hands. Despite the expectations, injuries derailed the offensive line’s productivity. Injuries to both Sitton and Long required Whitehair to move between the three interior positions. By the end of the season, Whitehair had regressed considerably. The use of Whitehair at multiple positions stunted his improvement as well. As a unit, the offensive line ranked 18th in the NFL, allowing 39 sacks over the season. The inconsistency of the offensive line often meant pressure on Trubisky, forcing him into rushing throws, or scrambling for small gains. Protecting Trubisky is a major concern moving forward. A big-time addition on the offensive line would provide stability for guys like Whitehair and Long, who have each moved positions over the last two years (Looking at you Quenton Nelson). With more protection, his decision-making will improve. If and when the offensive line improves, expect it to elevate Trubisky’s game.
Hold on, you might be thinking that running the football was one of the things the Bears did well. Well, they do. Sort of. Jordan Howard has provided consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons in his first two seasons in Chicago. Tarik Cohen looks like the sparkplug the offense was hoping he would be. The offense relies heavily on the run game to win games, and rightfully so. Howard has proven that he can handle a heavy workload, and Cohen continuously breaks off big-time plays. Despite their undeniable talent, their run game is flawed. The Bears led the NFL in rushes for loss this season, with a staggering 68 rushes for negative yards. On a team that relies so much on the ability to run the ball, these negative plays have stalled the Bears offense. The Bears were throwing on 2nd and 13 seemingly every drive. An improved offensive line will surely help this statistic, but for now, it remains an issue. The fact that Trubisky was often throwing on 2nd and long, and 3rd and long spelled disaster for his passing statistics. If the Bears can improve the efficiency of their run game, Trubisky will have far more manageable first downs to gain. This could mean big-time improvements in Year 2 for Trubisky.
Overall, I saw a lot of things to like about Mitch Trubisky in his first year as a Bear. For example, his turnovers were not a pressing issue like they are with so many young quarterbacks (See DeShone Kiser). He proved very capable of creating plays out of nothing, and he showed the ability to command the huddle.
Going forward, I see big things coming for Mitchel Trubisky. Let’s just hope Ryan Pace puts a capable staff around him.