The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Bears Looking To Improve In 2014

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Sep 5, 2014 4:30PM

Last year, the Chicago Bears were literally one play away from the playoffs. In the season finale against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears held a one-point lead until Aaron Rodgers fired a 48-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb past the Bears secondary in the final minute to give the Packers the victory and the NFC North title. In head coach Marc Trestman's first year, the Bears finished 8-8—a two-game backslide from Lovie Smith's final season.

The Bears' offense made huge strides under Trestman, while the vaunted Bears' defense was a disaster. Even with quarterback Jay Cutler missing almost half the season, the Bears averaged more points per game than any team but the record-setting Denver Broncos. The defense, however, allowed more points than any team except division rival Minnesota, as a new coaching staff combined with countless injuries revealed several weaknesses.

While the focus on rebuilding the offensive line paid dividends in 2013, Bears management hope a similar focus on the defensive line this offseason will pay dividends in 2014.

General manager Phil Emery made the D-line his highest priority, and addressed the issue in free agency by signing defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, and Willie Young. Along with late season signing Jeremiah Ratliff, who re-upped in the off season, the Bears have retooled much of their line. Safeties Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray were brought in to shore up the secondary. Additionally, Emery used four of the team's first five draft picks on defense, including first round pick, cornerback Kyle Fuller; defensive linemen Ego Ferguson in the second and Will Sutton in the third; and fourth rounder, safety Brock Vereen.

In the middle of the defense, D.J. Williams returns from injury to reclaim the starting middle linebacker job alongside Pro Bowler and team leader Lance Briggs. Dropping back to strong side linebacker, after an ineffective stint on the line, is Shea McClellin, who is looking to justify his first round selection in 2012. Tim Jennings and Charles "Peanut" Tillman return to anchor the Bears secondary, while safety remains the most glaring weakness on the defense. Ryan Mundy locked up the strong safety job, while Vareen appears to have won the free safety position for now. Chris Conte was cleared to return to the field, so he remains in the mix even after last year's poor campaign.

Offensively, the Bears made few changes. That's no surprise given their success last year. The much improved O-line returns intact, and Jay Cutler remains under center after inking a large new contract. Backing up Cutler will be Jimmy Clausen, who beat out Jordan Palmer for the job in preseason. Josh McCown earned a chance to start in Tampa after last year's performance when Cutler was injured. The Bears have perhaps the best starting wideout tandem in football with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. Last season, they combined for over 2,700 yards and 19 TDs. But there are some depth concerns in the Bears receiving corps, after second year player Marquess Wilson broke his clavicle during the preseason. On the short term IR until the middle of the year, the Bears picked up veteran Santonio Holmes. Matt Forte returns as the Bears' featured running back, but after a number of high priced backup backs failed to perform the team is going cheap this year. Rookie Ka'Deem Carey and third year player Shaun Draughn will carry the load when Forte need a breather.

Special teams is another area of concern for the Bears, who chose to part ways with Devin Hester. Senorise Perry and Micheal Spurlock will have big shoes to fill returning kicks and punts. Punter Adam Podlesh was booted in the off season, with rookie Pat O'Donnell winning the job. And the Bears added linebacker Jordan Senn to help in coverage. The ever stead Robbie Gould remains as kicker.

Schedule / Prediction
Week 1: Buffalo - W
Week 2: @ San Francisco - L
Week 3: @ New York Jets - W
Week 4: Green Bay - W
Week 5: @ Carolina - W
Week 6: @ Atlanta - W
Week 7: Miami - W
Week 8: @ New England - L
Week 10: @ Green Bay - L
Week 11: Minnesota - W
Week 12: Tampa Bay - L
Week 13: @ Detroit - W
Week 14: Dallas - W
Week 15: New Orleans - W
Week 16: Detroit - L
Week 17: @ Minnesota - W

The Bears offense, with added experience in Trestman's system and Jay Cutler healthy, should flourish again in 2014. The defense has improved up front while questions remain in the secondary. Special teams remains in flux as well. Have the Bears improved enough to compete for the NFC North crown and perhaps a Super Bowl appearance? Overall, they are a better team than a year ago, but they also have a difficult schedule this season, visiting San Francisco and New England along with their annual showdowns against Green Bay. We're predicting an 11-5 campaign, and a return to the playoffs. But can they move past the 49ers and Seahawks in January? We're not so sure.