Chicago Bears 2014 Season Review: Defensive Woes Continue

Despite the promising play of Willie Young, the Bears defense was historically bad in 2014.

Heading into the 2014 season, the Chicago Bears were primed to take a step forward in the NFC North, with some even believing they could contend for the division title if things fell the right way.

But in order for that to happen, the defense, which ranked 30th in points per game allowed (29.9) in 2013 obviously needed to improve. And the Bears’ offense, which averaged 27.8 points per game (second in the league), needed to stay the course, with the possibility of improvement in the second season under head coach and offensive guru Marc Trestman.

Much to the chagrin of the Chicago faithful, neither of those things happened. In fact, the defense actually performed worse in 2014, while the offense performed precipitously worse. Combine both of those things and you have a recipe for failure, hence Chicago’s 5-11 regular season finish.

With an almost entirely new coaching staff in place, Chicago will look to bounce back in 2015, but more changes need to be made for them to compete for a playoff spot in the NFC.

The Good

Attempting to mine positives out of such a disappointing season can be challenging. However, when we talk about the success of the Bears’ offense, we need look no further than Matt Forte.

During his seven-year NFL career, Forte has averaged 1,633 total yards from scrimmage and 8.1 total touchdowns per season. Forte led all NFL running backs in receptions in 2014 (102) and was a perfect fit for Trestman’s style of offense.

Looking at Forte through the lens of our metrics here at numberFire, it’s clear he was one of the best dual-threat backs in 2014. He finished fourth in Total Net Expected Points (NEP) among all running backs behind only Le’Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, and C.J. Anderson. That means he was the fourth-most productive all-around back in the game.

At age 29, Forte is approaching the "cliff" for the typical NFL running back. According to Spotrac, he’s owed $9.2 million in 2015, and then becomes an unrestricted free agent the following season. It’s clear, though, that Chicago needs him.

Despite an extremely inconsistent season from quarterback Jay Cutler, another bright spot for the Bears was the performance of their top three pass catchers: Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, and Martellus Bennett.

Jeffrey’s 85/1,133/10 receiving line was the best of his young career, due in large part to the increased opportunity he saw as a result of Marshall’s nagging injuries during the 2014 season.

His metrics echoed his raw production. Jeffrey finished 11th in Reception NEP (105.26), slightly ahead of Calvin Johnson (105.04). It seems like Jeffrey is now morphing into a true number-one receiver who has yet to reach his true potential.

Marshall saw his worst statistical production since his rookie season, finishing with just 61 receptions, his lowest total in seven years. Marshall also finished with just a 0.63 Reception NEP per target, coming in 26th among all wide receivers with at least 100 targets.

Marshall will be 31 come the preseason, and it’s fair to wonder if the natural progression of time and punishment to his body may be setting in permanently.

Bennett also saw a rise in production due in part to Marshall’s absence, posting career highs in catches (90), receiving yards (916), and touchdowns (6), as well as finishing sixth among all tight ends in Reception NEP (72.40).

One of the few highlights on the defensive side of the ball was Willie Young. As a seventh-round draft pick in 2010 who was middling at best during his time in Detroit, Young led the Bears in sacks (10.0) while starting just 8 games.

The team combined for just 39 sacks, so if Young can continue his level of play heading into next season, he could be a piece to build around for a struggling defense.

The Bad

When breaking down what went wrong with the 2014 Chicago Bears, you need look no further than the defense. Even though the offense took steps back from the previous season, the defense somehow sank lower than what was already considered the basement.

Our adjusted team defensive metrics really tell the entire story.

Chicago finished with the 29th worst Adjusted Defensive NEP mark (105.69) of any team, in any season since 2000. If that doesn’t show how poorly the defense played in 2014, nothing will.

The reason I waited until now to mention Jay Cutler, the king of not caring, is because the popular opinion is that he was very, very bad in 2014. The truth though, as it usually does, lies somewhere in between his detractors and his supporters (if they still exist).

From a raw statistical perspective, Cutler had one of his best seasons as a pro. He posted career-bests in completion percentage (66.0%) and passing touchdowns (28) and a second-best career finish in passing yardage (3,812). This is all well and good, but going deeper, you see that Cutler’s 2014 was actually one of the worst performances by any starting signal caller.

In terms of Passing NEP, Cutler finished the season at -1.24, meaning he actually lost more than a point for his team over the entirety of the season. For comparison, Aaron Rodgers finished at 188.41. Even Geno Smith finished at 5.25. In terms of efficiency, Cutler was horrendous. His raw stats might look good, but his turnovers proved too costly for the Bears to withstand on offense.

It would be very difficult for the Bears to move Cutler as he is owed nearly $18 million a year for the next six seasons. For better or for worse, the Bears’ fortunes looked to be tied to Cutler.

Moving Forward

The new coaching staff coming in has a big task ahead of it. As was the case heading into 2014, the team must address the woes on defense. Whether it be through the draft, free agency, trades, or a combination of all three, until the defense becomes serviceable, the team will continue to flounder.

On offense, the talent seems to be there. Though both Forte and Marshall are moving up in age, they are both Pro Bowl level talents, and Jeffrey appears to be ascending. If the offensive line can improve, and Cutler can somehow find some stability in his play, the team has potential moving into 2015.