Chicago Bears 2021 Team Preview

Chicago Bears 2021 Team Preview

by August 16, 2021 1 comment

The Chicago Bears want you to believe the glass is half full. They managed to stumble through the backdoor of the playoffs last season, despite a tame 8-8 finish and, predictably, were soon one and done. General manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy are both on borrowed time, so is there any genuine cause for optimism ahead of the 2021 NFL season?

Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.

Offseason Recap

There’s reason to be optimistic if you believe the Bears drafted the future of the franchise when they selected Justin Fields back in April. Pace traded up nine places to take the former Ohio State quarterback, but there are still doubts about whether Fields will start as a rookie. If he doesn’t, it’ll be Andy Dalton under center. If the ‘Red Rifle’ can’t get it done, Nick Foles is ready to ditch the clipboard and help out. Neither scenario bode well for Nagy’s offense. Nor does the failure to secure a new long-term contract for star wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Offense

Robinson remains the focal point of the passing game, but he’s still playing on a one-year deal under the franchise tag. That can go both ways, and maybe Robinson’s patience has reached breaking point, both with the front office and Chicago’s quarterback carousel. At least there’s some stability in the ground game where David Montgomery is a budding star. Former Kansas City Chiefs ball-carrier Damien Williams has shown he can produce in the clutch, so this has the makings of a two-headed backfield monster. It’ll be up to Nagy to make sure the Bears feed their primary playmakers. Yesterday, the Bears signed veteran offensive tackle Jason Peters to help an injured offensive line.

Defense

There’s no faulting the Chicago defense, a unit built on a fearsome front seven. That group is still underpinned by prolific edge-rusher Khalil Mack and monster defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, one of the game’s most consistently disruptive interior linemen against both the run and the pass. Things aren’t quite as strong in the secondary, but the Bears can at least rely on a pair of excellent safeties, Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson. New coordinator Sean Desai used to be the duo’s position coach, so there won’t be much change in the overall scheme.

Predicting the 53 Man Roster

QB (3) – Andy Dalton, Justin Fields, Nick Foles

Despite the fanfare, this looks like Dalton’s job to lose. At least in the view of Nagy, who “plans to let Fields’ development play out behind Dalton and has made it clear he expects the former Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys quarterback to be the Bears starter when they open the season,” according to Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune.

Keeping the ball in Dalton’s hands is a bold move from a coach who will enter the season under pressure. Dalton can put up yards and he’s generally more efficient than Foles, who swerves between brilliant and diabolical. The veterans have their hands on the tiller, but this season will be all about Fields’ development and how fast he can make the grade. Fortunately, he did offer an exciting glimpse of things to come during yesterday’s 20-13 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins.

RB (3) – David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert

Williams didn’t play in 2020 while his mother faced health problems, but he’s back now and will be able to afford Montgomery a rest. The latter carried the ball 87 times across the final three games of last season. Montgomery punishes defenses but he’ll soon wear down without a breather. Sixth-rounder Herbert should outplay his draft status and make the roster, if only as a factor on special teams. If three backs seem light, the Bears would be wise to leave a spot for Tarik Cohen, who is a roving weapon but missed 13 games last season with a knee injury. He’s currently on the PUP list, but Cohen will be involved in the offense once he’s healthy.

WR (7) – Allen Robinson, Marquise Goodwin, Darnell Mooney, Justin Hardy, Javon Wims, Dazz Newsome, Damiere Byrd

Robinson should still be good for 100 plus receptions, no matter who is throwing the passes. He may miss his running mate, though, after Anthony Miller joined the Houston Texans following a 76-catch season. It means the onus is on Goodwin to pick up the slack. He should get some help from Mooney, Hardy, Wims, and the rookie Newsome. The Bears need a punch in the return game, a need that will help Byrd keep his spot on the roster.

TE (3) – Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James

This is perhaps the deepest and most talented group on offense. At least it will be if Kmet continues to develop during his second season. He’s got all the physical tools but must prove he can keep his focus. Kmet’s mercurial talents are why Graham is still an invaluable member of the team. There’s a fair bit of tread on the tires, but the 34-year-old remains a threat in the red zone. Acquiring James was a smart move. He’s well-traveled, having spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions, but James also offers something different in this rotation. Namely, the ability to be a force as a blocker.

OL (9) – Jason Peters, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher, James Daniels, Lachavious Simmons, Elijah Wilkinson, Larry Borom, Alex Bars

Peters would be a lock for the Hall of Fame if he’d stayed healthier during his lengthy career. Even so, it’s a testament to his athleticism the 39-year-old has drawn interest from a team in need of help at the pivotal left tackle spot. Peters’ presence should mean rookie Jenkins plays himself into a role as the starting right tackle. It’s what Pace traded up to get in the second round of the draft. The rest of the line is generally solid, particularly with the durable Whitehair and nimble Daniels locking down both guard spots.

DL (6) – Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Khyiris Tonga, Bilal Nichols, Mario Edwards, Angelo Blackson

Hicks is the jewel in the crown up front on defense, but there’s plenty of size and tenacity at the other spots. The most intriguing member of the rotation is seventh-round draft choice Tonga, who displayed sneaky good athleticism and invaluable versatility during his days at BYU.

Tonga’s emergence would be bad news for Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 season amid the Covid-19 pandemic and already finds his place under threat from Nichols. Blackson will battle Mike Pennel, another journeyman added during free agency, for a roster spot. Expect scheme-ready Blackson to win this scrap.

EDGE (4) – Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Jeremiah Attaochu, Trevis Gipson

It’s still all about Mack, unless that is, Quinn can rediscover his early-career form. The former 4-3 edge-rusher seemed like an uneasy fit for the Bears’ system at times in 2020 and managed just two sacks. Frankly, Chicago’s overall tally of 35 quarterback takedowns was woeful with big-name bookends like these rushing the passer. Depth is solid thanks to Attaochu. He’s done the rounds, playing on four different teams since 2014. Yet, Attaochu can still bring some heat off the edge.

LB (4) – Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Christian Jones, Alec Ogletree

Smith is becoming a star thanks to his quickness, range, and aggressive mindset. Trevathan is the veteran counterpoint next to him, giving the Bears the ideal mix at the heart of their defense. Ogletree and Jones are experienced in the NFL wars. Both are fairly active in both phases of defense and will help coaches keep the workhorses of this scheme fresh.

CB (6) – Desmond Trufant, Kindle Vildor, Jaylon Johnson, Duke Shelley, Artie Burns, Thomas Graham

Johnson was effective a year ago, but this position looks weaker after Kyle Fuller was released. Trufant has never been the most durable, but he’s more than capable when healthy. Vildor is a leading candidate to man the slot, a job that used to belong to Buster Skrine. Sixth-round pick Graham has the length to play press but needs to prove himself all over again after opting out of his final season at Oregon.

SAF (5) – Eddie Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Deon Bush, Jordan Lucas, DeAndre Houston-Carson

Jackson and Gipson are a superb double act. They read the game well, understand route combinations, and hit for keeps. Bush and Lucas are another pair of hitters waiting to hear their numbers called. Houston-Carson is useful and versatile enough to operate at both spots if necessary.

ST (3) – Cairo Santos, Pat O’Donnell, Patrick Scales

Santos sticks at kicker after making good on all 27 of his field goals in 2020. His reliability is matched by punter O’Donnell, although he only put 28 of his 64 kicks inside the 20 last season. That number needs to improve for a defense-led team likely to play a field position game.

One Player to Add

Moving for Peters made sense, but a proven cover man would also be useful. Skrine and Fuller will be missed, so Desai might welcome another experienced cornerback. There are corners who fit the bill still on the market, including Dre Kirkpatrick and even Josh Norman. The latter has the keen zone eyes that would help the Bears improve a modest tally of just 10 interceptions from last season.

2021 Outlook & Odds

The raw materials to earn another entry to the playoffs are still on the roster. Yet behind core guys like Mack, Hicks, Jackson, Robinson, and Montgomery, there are questions. Lots and lots of questions. The biggest being who will finish the season as the starting quarterback? Who will take Miller’s place as the wideout able to draw coverage away from Robinson? Will the offensive line and its mix of veterans and unproven players gel?

Can Quinn and the rest take the heat off of Mack and make life tougher for opposing quarterbacks? That’s a lot of imponderables for a team with playoff aspirations. It still makes sense to take the over on 7.5 wins, but that doesn’t mean the Bears will be playing postseason football again.

Season Prediction: 9-8 and Miss the Playoffs


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