Posted by Matt Clapp | 2/11/2014 01:09:00 AM | Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Kyle Long, Marc Trestman, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Matt Slauson
In October, we graded the Chicago Bears position-by-position during the team's bye week.
While we're now in February and it would've been much timelier to do this immediately after the Bears' season ended (sorry, we're lazy sometimes/a lot), we decided to do some position-by-position evaluating for the Bears' entire season. This is also a way to look at what areas on the roster the Bears will look to improve heading into 2014.
Anyway, here are our grades of the Bears' offense in 2013...
The Bears' quarterbacks were highly productive in their first year under the tutelage of quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman (and of course their first year in his system). Jay Cutler and Josh McCown combined to throw 32 touchdowns (19 for Cutler, 13 for McCown) compared to just 13 interceptions (12 for Cutler, 1 for McCown).
Cutler had the best quarterback rating of his career (89.2) and the second-highest completion percentage of his career (63.1 %). Cutler ranked sixth by Pro Football Focus' adjusted quarterback rating, at 91.47.
And statistically, McCown was even better than Cutler by most measures. By a lot, even. McCown had a 109.0 quarterback rating, ranking him only behind Nick Foles and Peyton Manning. PFF graded McCown out as their No. 5 quarterback (tied with Aaron Rodgers) on the season as +16.6.
Prior to 2013, McCown's best quarterback rating for a season was 74.9 (2005 with the Arizona Cardinals). He only threw more touchdowns than interceptions in one season (2004 with the Cardinals, when he threw 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). So, while Trestman, the system, and the Bears' weapons certainly helped the 34-year-old McCown, how well he performed in 2013 is still nothing short of stunning.
Running Back: B+
If I were grading this only on the starting running back, it's an easy 'A'. Matt Forte, once again, was outstanding. In fact, I personally feel that this may have been the best season of the star running back's career.
Forte set career highs in rushing yards (1,339), rushing touchdowns (9), rushing first downs (74), receptions (74), and receiving yards (594), while his 4.6 yards per carry was the second-best average of his career. He ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards, second in rushing first downs, tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns, and ninth in rushing average. His 83.7 rushing yards per game ranked fourth in the NFL. You can go on and on, across the board; he was a stud in 2013.
But, Forte's backup, Michael Bush, was a disappointment for the second straight season after signing a four-year, $14 million contract in the 2013 offseason. Bush only had 197 yards rushing and a 3.1 rushing average, with three touchdowns, while catching four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. I was a huge fan of the signing when it happened, as Bush was a very productive running back with the Oakland Raiders and a bruiser that looked like he would greatly help the Bears' short-yardage game, but it hasn't quite materialized.
To be fair, I think Bush is a rhythm guy and the lack of touches he's had in Chicago may have had a negative effect on his game when he actually saw the ball. Combined between 2012 and 2013, Bush had 177 carries. With the Raiders in 2011, he had 256 carries for 977 yards, and over his four years in Oakland, he averaged over 4 yards/carry. But with Forte on the team, you rarely want to take the guy out; you want to get him the ball as much as you can. So it's been a tough situation for Bush.
Bush will be 30 in June, and has a cap hit of $3.85 million in 2014, although $2 million of that in dead money. So, the Bears would only get $1.85 million in cap savings to cut him, but given his lack of production and the Bears having major needs across the board defensively, it seems likely that Bush will be a cap casualty. The Bears could then turn to Michael Ford (very impressive in the preseason) or another cheap option to be Forte's backup.
Wide Receiver: A
After years and years of incompetent play at the wide receiver position for the Chicago Bears, wide receiver is now the team's strength. In fact, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery formed the best wide receiving duo in the entire NFL in 2013.
Jeffery's second-year emergence got most of the talk, but Marshall may have actually had his best all-around season yet. PFF would certainly agree with that suggestion, as they gave Marshall their best grade (+37.7) at wide receiver since they began grading in 2008. That grade is significantly better than PFF's second-best wide receiver on the season, Jordy Nelson (+23.7).
The main reason Marshall graded out so much than everyone else? Blocking. PFF gave Marshall a +17.0 blocking grade, the best blocking grade they've ever (again, going back to 2008) handed out, and far ahead of the second-best blocking grade at the wide receiver position in 2013 (Drew Davis, +6.2). Bears first-year offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer, put a big emphasis on the receivers blocking downfield and it turned Marshall into an absolute beast in that department.
And yeah, Marshall wasn't too shabby in the pass-catching department either. Marshall had 100 receptions (the fifth time he's reached 100+ catches in his career), 1,2695 yards receiving (the seventh straight year he's gone over 1,000 yards receiving), had a career-high 12 touchdown receptions, and led the NFL with 70 first-down receptions.
But like we said, Jeffery got most of the fan and media attention, and understandably so given that he was making circus catches weekly. After posting a 24/367/3 line in his rookie season (in which he only played 10 games, due to injury), Jeffery absolutely blew up in his sophomore campaign. The 6'3", 216-pounder had 89 receptions, 1,421 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns, 62 receiving first downs, and averaged 16.0 yards per reception. He also had 20 catches of 20 yards or more, good for sixth (tied) in the NFL.
PFF graded Jeffery as the eight-best receiver on the season at +18.7, and he was also great as a blocker, like Marshall. And a department nobody saw Jeffery contributing in, in which he ended up being a big factor? The rushing game. Jeffery had 16 carries for 105 yards and six first downs. The success Jeffery displayed on end arounds and fly sweeps allowed Trestman to simply put Jeffery in motion on many of those plays, while not actually giving Jeffery the ball, and it opened up many runs for Matt Forte.
So Marshall and Jeffery were far and away the stars in the receiving department for the Bears, but veteran Earl Bennett played a key role as well. Although fifth in targets on the Bears' offense, Bennett still had 32 receptions and four touchdowns. However, like Bush, Bennett's role in the offense may not be large enough to warrant bringing him back in 2014 given the amount of money he is set to make (a $2.45 million cap hit). And the organization seems very high on wide receiver Marquess Wilson, a rookie in 2013.
Tight End/Fullback: B
After watching the train wreck that was Kellen Davis as the team's starting tight end in 2012, Phil Emery signed free agent tight end Martellus Bennett, and Bennett went on to be a huge part of the Bears' 2013 offense. Bennett provided Cutler with a great target in the middle of the field (an area the Bears greatly struggled in 2012) and red zone, and Bennett also turned several seemingly minimal gains into first downs.
Bennett finished the season with 65 receptions, five touchdowns, and 40 first downs. The reception total and first downs are particularly impressive numbers when you consider that Marshall and Jeffery were in this same offense. Bennett's blocking was up and down on the season, but much of that had to do with a bothersome shoulder, and he figures to perform better in this area in 2014.
After Bennett, the Bears didn't get much production out of the tight end production though, and that's okay, because they were mainly just looking for blocking from Dante Rosario and Steve Maneri (although Maneri was released in-season). Rosario ended up being a very solid blocker after coming over from the Dallas Cowboys in September for a seventh-round pick.
At fullback, Tony Fiammetta did exactly what the Bears were looking for out of the position: Again, blocking. The 27-year-old even earned himself a contract extension with his performance, assuring that he'll be the team's starting fullback again in 2014.
Offensive Tackle: C
Jermon Bushrod was (unsurprisingly) a major upgrade over J'Marcus Webb at left tackle and gave the Bears stability at the most important place on the offensive line, serving as Cutler and McCown's blindside protector. PFF has Bushrod responsible for only four sacks allowed on the season, and he really only had one clearly bad game. That came against the St. Louis Rams, and Robert Quinn, a guy that dominated vs most every offensive tackle he went up against on the season, so we'll let that game slide for Bushrod.
Jordan Mills, however, had some struggles, and that's to be expected from a rookie fifth-round pick. Mills graded out as PFF's third-worst offensive tackle, and they had him down for 62 hurries allowed, the most they've ever recorded. However, Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. at Windy City Gridiron had a very nice write-up on how the hurries statistics are a bit misleading given what the Bears do schematically.
Overall, Mills' play didn't really hurt the Bears, but he didn't do anything to make you say, "This guy is definitely our right tackle of the future", either. Still, you would expect Mills to only improve going forward.
Eben Britton lined up in all sorts of spots on the Bears' offensive line, and even at tight end (but for blocking purposes only). He replaced Mills in week 17 when Mills left with an injury, and played extremely well. I have to think the Bears would like to bring Britton back given his versatility, and to add some competition for the right tackle position in camp.
The Bears' interior offensive line was extremely improved in 2013, and the headlining addition to the group was most definitely Kyle Long.
After being a highly questioned first-round selection out of Oregon last April, Long garnered much positive attention with a very impressive showing in the preseason. He had his ups and downs over the season, something you'd expect out of a rookie. But overall, Long gave plenty of reason to believe that Phil Emery made the right choice in selecting him with the No. 20 overall pick, and his upside is exceptional at guard. Long may even be considered as an option at right tackle going forward if the organization doesn't feel Mills is the right choice at the position, or if they simply want to get the most out of Long's tremendous ability.
Long was named to the Pro Bowl as the replacement for the San Francisco 49ers' Mike Lupati, after Lupati suffered a broken leg against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship.
However, the truth of the matter is that Long wasn't even the best guard on the Bears this season. The best guard on the Bears' offensive line this season, and the most consistent player on the offensive line in general, was left guard Matt Slauson. In fact, Slauson ended up being one of the best free-agent bargains in the entire NFL for the 2013 season.
After spending the previous four seasons with the New York Jets, Slauson signed a one-year, $815,000 deal with the Bears in the 2013 offseason. Slauson played so well for the Bears (he graded out as PFF's no. 6 guard overall), that the team made sure to lock him up for the next four seasons with a contract totaling $12.8 million.
At center, Roberto Garza surprised with a decent 2013 season at center after a pretty awful one in 2012. Garza graded out as PFF's no. 12 center, and he also has immeasurable leadership qualities as the anchor of the offensive line. Keep in mind that he also had two rookies playing to his right on the offensive line in 2013.
Garza's a free agent and there's no doubt the Bears need to begin looking for his successor, but the organization may bring the 35-year-old (in March) back for one more season as the starting center. He's unlikely to command much money on the open market, and with so many needs on the defensive side of the ball, the Bears may not want to spend for a more expensive center in free-agency or use an early-round pick at the position. Re-signing Garza to a one-year deal and drafting a center in rounds 3-6 to groom behind Garza seems like a very possible scenario.
Offense Overall: A-
A team driven by defense in Lovie Smith's nine years as the head coach immediately became a team driven by offense in Marc Trestman's first year on the job. And that's not just because the Bears' defense was arguably the league's worst in 2013; the offense was damn good by most any measure.
One of the league's worst offenses year after year became one of the league's most explosive. The passing attack was behind only teams like the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints, and figures to only improve with more familiarity in Trestman's system.
While Josh McCown was statistically better than Jay Cutler in the system, Cutler was very good himself and showed many promising signs that would lead you to believe the best is yet to come from him in this offense. Many of the bad habits Cutler showed in the past with his mechanics and decision-making were much less evident in 2013, thanks largely to Trestman's coaching and scheming.
With that coaching (particularly Aaron Kromer in this department) and scheming -- in particular the focus on getting rid of the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly -- also came an offensive line that only allowed 30 sacks (tied for fourth-best in the NFL), after allowing 44 sacks in 2012, 49 sacks in 2011, and 56 sacks in 2010.
And overall, the talent level on offense was certainly much higher than any Bears team in recent history. With Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall already high-level producers, Alshon Jeffery became a star at wide receiver, and Martellus Bennett provided a weapon at tight end the team hadn't had over the last few years.
The Bears' offense became one of the NFL's top-ten units in 2013, and (health-provided) there should only be growth from the offense in 2014.
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