The reigning NFC North champions went 12-4 before bowing out on Wild Card Weekend
There is plenty of anticipation surrounding the 2019 Chicago Bears. Missed playoff field goal aside, the Bears took the NFL by storm in 2018. And with this year representing the team's 100th anniversary, both the franchise and the fan base are looking for more. Even after winning the NFC North with a 12-4 record last season, the Bears are in a position to do more in 2019. For one, Chicago was not only active in free agency, but the front office also put together a solid draft class, especially considering how few picks the Bears had to work with.
The team is in the midst of OTAs right now, with the formal minicamp soon to follow, and training camp will be here before we know it. So as the Bears continue their offseason program, here are five reasons why they can be even better in 2019.
Mitchell Trubisky is another year wiser
The results were immediately evident after Trubisky switched from the stagnant offense under John Fox, to the more modern offense of Matt Nagy. Trubisky completed 66 percent of his passes last year (up from 59 percent in 2017) for 3,223 yards (up from 2,193), 24 touchdowns (up from 7), while averaging 7.4 yards per pass (up from 6.6), and finished with a passer rating of 95.4 (77.5 in '17). His interceptions also went up (from 7 to 12) but he attempted 104 more passes compared to last year and that's something he can improve on as he continues to hone his decision-making. Trubisky threw for 200 or more yards in 10 of his 14 starts last year with at least one touchdown pass in 11 games. He even chipped in 431 rushing yards and three TDs on the ground.
Heading into year two of Nagy's playbook, Trubisky has already been given more freedom to call plays, make decisions, and his work in the film room has shown on the practice field during offseason sessions. If Trubisky can master Nagy's offense in this crucial second year then his potential is unlimited.
A full season of Kahlil Mack
Don't get me wrong, Mack's trade to the Bears last Labor Day weekend was a game-changer. The main reason why the Bears defense was so impactful was because of Mack's presence and playmaking ability. He finished tied for 12th in the league in sacks with 12.5 and tied for third with six forced fumbles even though he missed two games and was limited in two others because of an ankle injury. In those four games, the Bears went just 2-2, giving up a total of 88 points and managing just three sacks in that stretch.
Even with the missed time, Mack was still named first-team All-Pro and wound up second to Aaron Donald in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year. The numbers alone show how vital Mack is to Chicago's success on defense, but his impact goes beyond the box score.
The additions of cornerback Buster Skrine and safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix
As good as the Bears defense was last year, it wasn't perfect. Whether it was injuries or inconsistency, the Bears had occasional lapses in pass coverage. In the regular season, Chicago gave up 3,515 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, although they also led the league with 27 interceptions. With safety Adrian Amos (Green Bay) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (Denver) departing in free agency, the Bears had some holes that needed to be filled. General manager Ryan Pace signed Skrine and Clinton-Dix in hopes of filling these spots.
Both players are excellent in coverage, make plays in the open field, force turnovers, and they can blitz the quarterback when called upon. Skrine and Clinton-Dix have combined to record 903 tackles, 23 interceptions, 107 passes defended, seven forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and nine sacks in their careers. Considering both are signed to reasonable contracts (Clinton-Dix's cap hit is $3.25 million for one year), it's certainly worth the risk on Pace's part to see how these two veterans fit with the rest of Chicago's defensive core.
Familiarity on defense
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be missed but the Bears found a reputable replacement in Chuck Pagano. Like Fangio, Pagano coordinates a 3-4 defense and understands the importance of depth for this alignment. The former Indianapolis Colts head coach will have a boatload of talent to work with such as Mack, Skrine, Clinton-Dix, as well as Pro Bowlers Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson, and there's also 2018 first-round pick Roquan Smith, among others. The terminology in Pagano's defense will be different but the concepts are the same for the most part. If everyone stays healthy and buys into Pagano's system, the Bears won't miss a beat on defense in 2019.
Getting the kicking game right
Of course, I had to address the elephant in the room. The Bears would have advanced in the playoffs if not for the now-infamous "double doink." Cody Parkey was far from perfect last year, but the miss against the Eagles (and his subsequent ill-timed media tour) was the straw that broke the camel's back. Chicago has gone to great lengths to find the team's next placekicker, inviting eight (yes, eight) to take part in last month's rookie minicamp. While fans may be hoping for a reunion with Robbie Gould (currently with San Francisco) that scenario is highly unlikely.
At the moment the collection of kickers on the 90-man roster have yet to convert a field goal attempt in an NFL regular-season game. Eddy Pineiro, acquired from Oakland in early May for a conditional 2021 draft pick, was making a strong impression during the preseason as an undrafted free agent before suffering an injury and spending the entire 2018 campaign on injured reserve. Elliot Fry made all 14 of his attempts for the AAF's Orlando Apollos but the NFL is a bigger challenge. Then there's Chris Blewitt, who's never kicked beyond the college level. Perhaps the Bears may find a diamond in the rough in this group, but whoever gets the job he needs to be reliable enough to help and not hinder a team with championship aspirations.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of @ChicagoBears)