Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Chicago Bears organization, Bears fans around the world and those that have kept the faith since 1985:
Matt Nagy can't hurt you anymore. The Bears are in a good space. Truly. After years of having a team that was long on promise but short on delivery, it's refreshing to see the up-front approach by new general manager Ryan Poles, who is working on accomplishing what he set out to do. What does that mean for the 2022 season? Let's take a look.
One high from last season: Beating the Bengals in Week 2. Not only did the Bears destroy (fine, they won by a field goal) the eventual AFC champion Bengals but they were actually 3-2 before the unpleasantness happened.
One low from last season: Losing to the Buccaneers, 38-3, in Week 7. I mean, we all knew that Tom Brady was going to make the Bears pay for beating him the previous season. But yeah, it was somehow worse than Bears fans imagined.
Head coach: Matt Eberflus. 'Flus was one of those well-respected, longtime NFL assistant coaches who just seemed to deserve a chance to be a head coach at some point. Like when Jason Sudeikis went from being a guy who was a funny sidekick in a bunch of pictures to eventually carrying his own TV shows and feature films. I know a lot of people kind of groaned when the Bears hired 'Flus, lamenting that they were once again leaning on the defensive side of the ball. But somebody remind me of how offensive geniuses Marc Trestman and Matt Nagy did in Chicago? And if I'm being honest, the best NFL coach in history and the league's greatest dynasty was rooted in defense. So let's make no apologies. The one thing Bears fans have embraced is that 'Flus will forge an identity in Chicago that has been missing since the Lovie Smith era. The hope is that the quarterback position is a little better than what Lovie had to work with in the prime years of his time in Chicago.
Quarterback: Justin Fields. I always feel like Qui-Gon Jinn facing the Jedi Council when I try to explain how well Fields is going to do in Year 2. I mean, he didn't have great numbers last season. But let's look at what he was given to work with in 2021. Fields was the 11th overall selection in last year's draft, but didn't see many first-team reps in camp because of a promise made to the QB the Bears signed before picking Fields, Andy Dalton. ANDY DALTON. I mean, Peyton Manning was once benched for Brock Osweiler in Denver, but let's make sure we don't hurt Andy Dalton's feelings. Anyway, the offensive design was not built around Fields' skills, so if anything, it should be viewed as a miracle that he was as good as he was last year. Fields led the Bears to wins over the Lions and Raiders and put the team in winnable positions against the 49ers, Ravens and Steelers. The Pittsburgh game was exceptionally horrific because of a costly and controversial taunting call. But Fields flashed enough to have Chicago buzzing. And if offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has any sort of competence in play-calling, that alone should help Fields improve. His teammates have noted he seems more confident coming into this season as the unquestioned starter.
Projected 2022 MVP: David Montgomery, running back. Even as Fields makes strides, a lot comes down to the running game. Getsy, who previously served as Green Bay's quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator, had two running backs who topped 1,100 all-purpose yards last year. That's big for Montgomery and second-year back Khalil Herbert, who looked really good last season. But for the projected MVP, I'm leaning toward Montgomery, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Monty has 1,919 rushing yards since 2020, which is the seventh-most in the NFL over that span. The Bears were 3-2 when he had at least one rushing touchdown last year. They were 2-6 when he did not score.
New face to know: Lucas Patrick, center. You know, I think a lot of people overlooked this signing. Patrick played for Getsy in Green Bay and will be a stabilizing force for the Bears. I don't want to make a comparison to what Alex Mack brought to the Falcons back in 2016, because he was the best center of his generation. But at the same time, don't underestimate how important Patrick is for the Bears, and why they won't go after a free-agent center like JC Tretter.
2022 breakout star: Cole Kmet, tight end. People like to pretend that Kmet hasn't done well in the league since he was selected in the second round of the 2020 draft. But the guy was a top-20 tight end last season. At least statistically. And those stats might be fantasy points, but listen to me: He's going to break out in 2022. He might not ever develop into the next George Kittle. And that's fine. But at the same time, he could be a Robert Tonyan type of player. Tonyan did well for Getsy in Green Bay. That would be a welcome development for the Bears.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. San Francisco 49ers. The Bears should have beaten the 49ers when they played last season. Spoiler alert: The defense didn't do its job.
- Week 10 vs. Detroit Lions. The Bears swept the Lions last season, which is kind of a miracle when you consider everything that was going on. This game kicks off a stretch of winnable contests for Chicago, which visits the Falcons in Week 11 and the Jets in Week 12.
- Week 13 vs. Green Bay Packers. This game could be significant if the Bears are making a surprise playoff push. And I mean it would be a surprise push to all of the haters, not to me. The Bears have a bye the following week before playing the Eagles and Bills at home.
Will the Bears be able to ...
... block somebody? The offensive line should be improved. Poles -- a former offensive lineman himself -- spent four of his 11 draft picks on O-linemen. The Bears' likely starting tackles -- Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins -- are entering Year 2 and should be making strides. I already mentioned the addition of Patrick. The starter at the right guard spot is still to be determined. But Poles has said he wanted to build an O-line that was lighter and quicker than previous Bears front fives. I'm not saying this offensive line is going to be dominant, but it will be better than last season's.
... generate some offense? The Bears averaged 18.3 points per game last year (27th in the league) and 307.4 yards per game (24th), but some of the struggles stem from coaching. They mishandled Allen Robinson. The play-calling -- look at the Cleveland game last season -- was often abysmal. So again, if Getsy is just an average offensive coordinator, that would be a huge improvement. And Darnell Mooney is a pretty good player. He had 81 receptions for 1,055 yards last season in a less-than-favorable situation. He would be the top receiving option for the Packers. The Bears signed Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown in the offseason. They are not threats to be considered No. 1 receivers in the league, but they can fill supporting roles. And rookie Velus Jones Jr. is going to be better than many people anticipate. I know he was a surprise pick early in Round 3, but he's coming in with a specific role in mind. And the Bears will run the ball well. People need to chill on the negativity about this team.
One storyline ...
... people shouldn't overthink: Pretending the team did nothing to help Justin Fields in the offseason. You've no doubt read articles -- or hot takes on Twitter -- about how the Bears did nothing to help Fields this offseason. That's just not accurate. Implementing an offensive scheme built around the quarterback is a huge deal. Making him the QB1 from the jump is a huge deal. And again, I know people get tired of the Bears being rooted in defense. But what is better for a young quarterback than a defense that gives you short fields? Or a special teams unit that puts you in good position? These things should not be taken lightly. To act like the Bears did nothing because they didn't spend nearly $90 million on Christian Kirk is way too simplistic.
... people shouldn't overlook: How well the Bears did in the draft. I went into this year's draft hoping the Bears would be adding some offensive talent. Perhaps one of those receivers we fell in love with during draft season. But when a player the caliber of Kyler Gordon is still on the board at No. 39 overall, you draft him. I was not as familiar with the Bears' second pick -- safety Jaquan Brisker (No. 48 overall) -- but I love his tape. Most of the chatter has been about the team's offensive problems, but the secondary really struggled last year, too. With Justin Fields pulling a rabbit out of his hat, the Bears could have won a few of the close games I mentioned earlier if the defense had been better. Now the secondary could be one of the strengths of the team. And if Eddie Jackson returns to previous form, this might be the point we look back on in a few years and say the Bears really turned it around here. Well, that along with the 2021 draft, which could be very well-regarded, too. And it's a shame Ryan Pace can't see Fields and some of those picks pan out. But it's like Pace died, figuratively, so Ryan Poles could live.
For 2022 to be a success, the Bears MUST:
- Some people are picking Chicago to be possibly the worst team in the league. So maybe just winning five games should be the goal. That's the way a lot of people are acting. I have higher expectations for these Bears. For starters, you want Fields to develop. Look, the Bears are going to keep going to him over at least the next three years. You want to see him shake some bad habits (like the fumbles) and take a step forward. But given the defense and what seems to be a manageable schedule, the Bears should be very competitive. I wouldn't be shocked to see them challenge for a playoff berth this season.