Chicago Bears 2015 Year in Review: Defensive Woes Continue

The Bears had some bright spots on offense, but the inability to defend was too much to overcome. Will they be better next season?

Entering the 2015 NFL season, the Chicago Bears were long shots to contend in the NFC North.

If you want to attach odds to it, you could have found them 12-to-1 to win the division back in May 2015, and in some places, you could find them 17-to-1 prior to kickoff.

Our algorithms gave them an 8.4% chance to win the division and a 13.1% chance to make the playoffs entering the season, projecting them as a 6.6-9.4 team. They wound up 6-10 and 29th in our year-end power rankings.

While they lived up to (low) expectations, did anything stand out about the squad? Or was it all bad news bears?

What Went Right?


They had a top-13 rushing offense, based on our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates how a team or player performs relative to expectation-level.

Think of it this way, a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-8 will increase a team's chance of scoring. A 10-yarder on 3rd-and-13? Not so much. Over a full 16 games, these things add up, and NEP captures how successful a player or team has been more accurately than simple yards per attempt stats or touchdowns.

And it wasn't all Matt Forte's doing.

In fact, Forte ranked a solid 14th in Rushing NEP (0.04) among the 44 rushers with at least 100 attempts -- Forte had 218. Jeremy Langford's 1.93 ranked two spots above him at 12th in the group.

On a per-carry basis, the two were also similarly ranked. Langford's 0.01 mark ranked 11th, and Forte's 0.00 remained 14th.

Favoring Forte, 46.33% of his carries led to NEP gains for the Bears, third-highest in the 44-back subset (though a distant third from Rashad Jennings' 50.77% and David Johnson's 50.40%.

Langford's Rushing Success Rate (43.24%) wasn't far behind, ranking 11th.

Honestly, that wraps up the positives for the Bears' 2015 campaign -- though there were some glimmers of good that we'll get to later.

What Went Wrong?

For starters, their defense was really bad, which we all knew. But when compared to the past three seasons (96 instances in all), they were -- again -- awful across the board.

Chicago BearsAdj. D NEP/PRankAdj. D Pass NEP/PRankAdj. D Rush NEP/PRank

The Bears' 2015 defense was one of the absolute worst units over the past three seasons, particularly because of their inability to defend against the pass -- though their rush defense didn't help matters.

Among just 2015 counterparts, their overall defense and pass defense ranked 31st, and their rush defense finished 30th. 

Of course, it wasn't just the defense that struggled.

The offense finished 22nd in Adjusted NEP per play as well as in Adjusted Passing NEP per play.

Alshon Jeffery's injuries limited him to 94 targets this season -- after 145 and 149 targets in the past two years -- and 54 catches. His Reception NEP of 74.44 ranked just 31st among all receivers, which had a lot to do with volume.

Among the 54 receivers with at least 75 targets, Jeffery's Reception NEP per catch (1.38) ranked 12th, and his per-target Reception NEP (0.79) ranked 14th. He was good, but his overall impact was limited because of his inability to stay on the field.

Jay Cutler ranked an okay 15th in Passing NEP (66.96) among the 37 passers with at least 200 drop backs, and he was 14th on a per-play basis (0.13). He was even 11th in Passing Success Rate (48.24%).

Those are fine marks -- worthy of being in the section above rather than this one -- but when adjusting for schedule strength, the team still possessed just the 22nd-best passing offense in the NFL.

What's Next?

The Bears own the 11th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and have the 8th-most salary cap space in the league.

And the 2016 Bears won't look like the 2015 version.

They've lost Forte to the New York Jets. At tight end, they traded Martellus Bennett to the New England Patriots and re-signed Zach Miller, who was efficient (third in Reception NEP per target among 37 tight ends with at least 40 targets) over a small sample this year (46 targets).

They did sign linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman to expedite their transition to the 4-3 defense, some of the best moves in the NFL's offseason to date.

With Jeffery, who was franchise tagged this offseason, Langford, and Miller, they have some usable pieces in the Cutler-led offense -- though their massive interest in Denver Broncos' running back C.J. Anderson may mean they aren't sold on Langford as a true lead back.

Still, the defensive signings could shore up one of the league's worst defenses, and any modest offensive production in addition to a solid defense could have the Bears playing much better in 2016 than they have in recent seasons.