After what happened during the 2017 NFL season, many Chicago Bears fans have been talking about the Bears making a jump from a bottom-five offense to one that can break the top 10. This would be similar to what the Rams did this year with second-year quarterback Jared Goff and first-year head coach Sean McVay.
The Bears finished 30th in offensive yards per game under the archaic offense of John Fox and Dowell Loggains. As Chris Tabor just recently said in his press conference, “The dinosaurs didn’t adapt and they died.”
Well, Fox was a dinosaur of a coach who refused to adapt and now his head coaching career is as dead as Sue the dinosaur.
Even with the poor offensive scheme and lack of weapons, Mitchell Trubisky’s December stats would correlate to 3,400 yards, a 67 percent completion rate, and 212 yards per game over a 16 game season, so clearly, he was improving.
But enough about last year …
I am here to explain what the Bears can do this year in order to become a top-10 offense.
The Bears averaged 287 yards per game this season, 176 yards passing and 112 yards rushing. To have been a top-10 offense in 2017, the Bears needed to gain an additional 1,226 yards throughout the season, or roughly – 77 yards per game.
Using some of my own projected stats for players who figure to be integral parts of the offense and players the Bears might acquire in the offseason, let’s see if we can find those 77 yards.
With Fox “coordinating” Loggains’ offense last year, the Bears pass game was limited both in terms of who was calling the plays and the personnel tasked with executing the plays. The Bears also lost their top two receivers on the depth chart for the season by the end of the first game which certainly did not help.
Since Chicago has never been able to count on Kevin White, he will not be included in this write-up, but I will project the stats for RFA Cameron Meredith whom I fully expect the Bears to tender an offer.
In 2016 Meredith had 888 receiving yards as a No. 2 receiver while playing with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. I think with an improved Trubisky we can pencil Meredith in for at least 750 yards receiving, which is 43.75 yards per game, and about 100 targets.
Assuming the Bears re-sign one or the other, Kendall Wright and Dontrelle Inman were semi-reliable targets for Trubisky in 2017, but whoever they resign will have some of their targets taken away by newcomers. Either way, a good projection for Wright or Inman is around 40 catches for 500 yards on 65 targets.
One name many people have tied to the Bears because of Matt Nagy is Kansas City Chiefs receiver Albert Wilson, who had 554 receiving yards in 2017 on 63 targets. With around the same output with the Bears, he would add 34.3 more yards per game.
Tarik Cohen, who many have dubbed a poor man’s Darren Sproles, will also presumably contribute more in the passing game this year with Nagy taking over the reigns. This year Cohen received 71 targets and had 353 yards. In his best year, Sproles had 710 yards on 111 targets with the Saints. I expect Cohen to land somewhere in the middle of that so we will put him at 90 targets for 550 yards, or 34.3 yards per game.
Adam Shaheen, who I think we can all agree was criminally underused in 2017, averaged 10.6 yards per catch this year but only had 12 catches. With Nagy calling plays, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had 21 catches for 261 yards and averaged five catches per game (he did not play in the finale). So, over the course of a 16 game season, I would project Shaheen having around 64 catches for 680 yards on 90 targets **assuming he adjusts well to Nagy’s offense.**
One rookie who could fit in well is DJ Moore, who Matt Miller of Bleacher Report projected the Bears drafting in the second round in his most recent mock. Moore, or another rookie receiver could conceivably come in and have 300 receiving yards on 25 catches with 45 targets and that may be slightly conservative.
In 2017, the Bears had 12 players with five or more catches. Those “bottom players” accounted for the rest of the yards. For this exercise, I will place them at 620 yards and 65 catches with 11 targets.
This would give Trubisky a completion rate of 64 percent, 3,950 passing yards, seven yards per attempt and 246.9 yards per game.
However we must take into account the number of sacks and the yards lost because of them.
Assuming Trubisky’s pocket presence improves and his line also takes a step forward under the great Harry Hiestand, 30 sacks for a loss of 200 yards seems reasonable.
This drops the team passing totals to 3,750 yards (234.4 yards per game) which would rank 13th in the NFL. In this scenario, the Bears’ average yards in the passing game would increase by almost 60.
Before you go and talk about how crazy and unattainable these numbers are, keep in mind that with Nagy calling the plays the last five regular season games, the Chiefs averaged 412.4 total yards per game. That would have been number one in the NFL by almost 20 yards this year.
The Bears were like Jekyll and Hyde this year as they had four games with over 200 yards rushing but five games with 55 yards or less rushing.
This was due in part to the lack of respect other teams had for the Bears passing attack but also Loggains’ refusal play to his players’ strengths. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bears best game of the year offensively, the Bears had 250 yards passing and 232 yards rushing. That is what can happen with this offensive personnel when the play caller attacks a defense with a proportionate run-to-pass ratio.
The Bears ran the ball 422 times in 2017 (26 times per game). We are speculating the Bears will have a better offense in 2018, and therefore, they will have more running attempts.
In 2016, Jordan Howard had 1,246 yards in 13 games as the starter (95.8 yards per game) and 1,313 yards in 15 games overall. Last year Howard had 1,122 yards in his 16 games, for an average of 70.1 yards per game.
Giving Howard 280 rushes for a total of 1,330 yards in 2018 would put him close to his per game averages in his 29 games as a starter. This would be right around 4.7 yards per carry, which is a very good number in the NFL and 83 yards per game.
Cohen rushed for 370 yards in 2017 and I would expect him to hover at about the same mark again next season. For the sake of argument, we will place him at 85 rushes for 370 yards, (4.4 yards a carry) and 23.1 rushing yards per game.
Last year for Nagy and Andy Reid in Kansas City, Alex Smith rushed for 355 yards on 60 attempts. Using numbers close to that for Trubisky seems accurate due to his similar athleticism and considering there will be some designed quarterback runs, 360 yards on 60 attempts seems about right.
Adding the various other rushers on the team, which will probably only be around 75 yards on 25 rushes, makes the team total 2,135 yards on 450 rushes (28 carries per game) and 4.7 yards per carry. These numbers fall close in line to the numbers Nagy’s team put up in his five games as a play caller in the regular season, which would have made the Bears third in rushing yards this year.
By adding the 3,750 net passing yards to the 2,135 rushing yards, the total becomes 5,885 total yards on 1,014 total plays (5.8 yards per play). This creates 1,286 more yards throughout the season and 80.4 more yards on a per game basis.
In 2017, that total would have ranked sixth in total yards, in 2016 it would have ranked ninth, and in 2015 it would have ranked 11th overall.
If everything listed above were to happen, the Bears’ offense would improve by 28 percent! Just by comparison, the Rams’ offense made a 37 percent jump in total yards from 2016 to 2017. Most would agree that Trubisky looked more competent, and simply better overall, as a rookie than Goff as well.
If Pace can add two solid receivers through free agency and the draft, Meredith plays at a similar level that he was at in 2016, and Adam Shaheen and Tarik Cohen elevate their game in a new offense, there is no reason the Bears should be in the bottom half in offensive yards again in 2018.
The numbers listed above might seem unreasonable at first glance, but a longer look reveals these stats are not outlandish by any means. While I am not saying it should be expected, it is more than possible.
Do not forget this fact: yards do not mean a thing if the Bears are not scoring and preferably scoring touchdowns. If the Bears do end up in the top 10 in total offense, I like their chances of being right there in scoring as well in their new-look modern offense.
It’d be interesting to revisit this after official projections come out and compare. Nagy had a lot of talent in KC, we aren’t exactly sure what we have in CHI yet, but we’ll see how he uses what we have.
Chris Bocker says
Talent-wise I don’t think the Bears are that far off from Kansas City. Look at how the Rams and Eagles turned around their receiving corps in just one offseason which is where the Bears are most devoid of talent. All it takes is one good draft and Ryan Pace hitting on a few free agents and I think the talent gap will close quicker than we think.
Thank you for the article Chris.
One would definitely think the Bears can see a marked improvement on the offensive side of the ball just with the new coaching staff. Add in a couple of WRs in FA and perhaps one upgrade along the OL and there’s no doubt the Bears could be dangerous.
Re-sign: Cameron Meredith (WR), Kendall Wright (WR)
FA: Chase Daniel (QB), Andrew Norwell (OG) (or Zach Fulton (G/C)),
Anthony Sherman (FB), Trey Burton (TE), Allen Robinson (WR), John Brown (WR)
Getting Andrew Norwell would be huge as he’s only 26 and is at least at the same level as Josh Sitton who is still very good but seems to be breaking down just a little bit. Cutting Sitton would cover around 2/3s of Norwell’s contract as well. As much as I like Sitton, he and Long together represent too much of an injury risk together these days and Long isn’t going anywhere for now. Fulton would be another option but I am not sure I’d cut Sitton for him. I’d probably rather have Fulton as a very good back up. I do like the fact Fulton can cover both G and C as then the Bears have the option of moving Whitehair to LG for the long term though Kush can operate at C as well I believe.
If Pace deems Robinson too much of a risk I’d probably consider Brice Butler (WR) to play on the outside instead. He’s more potential than proven but Pace seems to like going after players with potential and upside. However Robinson would be a fantastic ‘get’ in FA and gives the Bears some real quality at the WR position.
I’ve gone for John Brown over Albert Wilson as Brown provides real speed that even Wilson who is no slouch doesn’t possess and the Bears could do with a deep threat. I also think Meredith and Wright are more than capable of working the slot. That is not to say I wouldn’t be happy with Wilson. I would be.
Where it gets even more interesting for the Bears is in the draft. Personally I’d like the Bears to upgrade the defence with someone like Tremaine Edmunds (ILB) or Marcus Davenport (OLB) on a trade back but there are some options for the Bears in FA as well. However the below could be interesting.
 Mike McGlinchey (OT),  Christian Kirk (WR),  D J Chark (WR)
Personally I feel like the Bears may be able to trade back in the 1st and get an extra 2nd or 3rd and still get McGlinchey but it’s impossible to predict these things so I’ll discount that for now.
+ Chase Daniel
RB: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
+Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell
FB: Anthony Sherman
WR: Allen Robinson, Cameron Meredith, Christian Kirk, John Brown
+ D J Chark, Kevin White
TE: Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton
+ Ben Braunecker
OL: Charles Leno Jr. (LT), Andrew Norwell (LG), Cody Whitehair (C),
Kyle Long (RG), Mike McGlinchey (RT)
+ Eric Kush, Jordan Morgan, Bobby Massie
I believe with the above that Nagy and Trubisky would have everything they needed to be able to succeed offensively in 2018.
Chris Bocker says
Alex have you considered writing for a Bears blog because you made some great points! I really like your suggested approach to free agency and it looks similar to mine to be honest. I have been getting the sense that Pace is going to try his best to morph the Bears into a top five offensive line and will invest a lot at the position this offseason. As wide receivers go, I know Pace will likely sign two guys but I am not sure he will go after the wide receivers you specifically mentioned just because of their injury risk. I think Allen Robinson will come back strong but he might also get franchise tagged. John Brown has a sickle cell trait issue that has bothered him lately. Pertaining to the draft, Pace does have a history of trading back in the second round so you might be right there. Nonetheless a draft consisting of Christian Kirk and D.J. Chark would be a phenomenal haul. They are both vertical threats who add much needed speed to the Bears WR room and I believe both would be fits in the Nagy/Helfrich scheme. Keep an eye out for D.J. Moore and Cedrick Wilson who would also fit the west-coast scheme quite well.
John grzelak says
I enjoy reading your articles! I’m a huge Bears fan and scan for articles daily. You appear to know what your talking about. Keep up the great work! John
Chris Bocker says
Thanks John I appreciate that!