The Chicago Bears are 2-8 for the first time since the Dick Jauron era in 2003. As it currently stands, they sit fourth overall in the draft order, as they lose the tie-breaker to the Jacksonville Jaguars due to a tough strength of schedule.
In a lost season, draft order is now a long-term focus for most Bears fans, and rightfully so. With just six games left in what has been a disastrous and injury filled season, there is still much to learn moving into the off-season and next year.
Yes, the team is out of the playoff picture but important development from younger players is still at the top of the watch list as the Bears head back home this week to face a dangerous Tennessee Titans team.
Coming into the season, many believed a 6-10 Bears team last year would take significant steps forward under a coaching staff that, on paper, appeared to be one of the better groups in the NFC. Just 11 weeks later, the collective job of the coaching staff has been one of the biggest issues for the team all season.
Last week was no different, as once again the Bears crumbled in the second half, looking unprepared, uninspired and unable to adjust.
While most of the focus should be on offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who continues to look incompetent, the entire coaching staff deserves blame. That includes head coach John Fox, who is solely responsible for elevating Loggains to his current position. Fox has also struggled as a game manager, motivator and organizer. If things continue down their current path, Fox's seat could be red hot entering the upcoming off-season.
The injury bug continues to ravish this team, which makes any evaluation of players and coaching staff that much harder.
The offense has struggled most of the year, and they've had the majority of their weapons during that stretch. With the recent suspension of Alshon Jeffery, coupled with season-ending injuries to Zach Miller, Kevin White and Kyle Long, unproven players have a chance to stake claim to permanent roles in 2017.
Cameron Meredith is one of those players, and possibly the most important. With Jeffery playing on a franchise tag and Kevin White having played just four games in his NFL career, the Bears could be looking at a future with no proven receiving targets.
This will be a group to watch the rest of the season. If Meredith and the rest of the receivers fail to step up, it could ultimately back GM Ryan Pace into a corner when he sits down at the negotiating table with Jeffery this coming March.
Jay Cutler is officially listed as day-to-day with a shoulder injury, although multiple reports have indicated he's likely done for the season. For the time being, Matt Barkley will be in charge of Chicago's offense, with recently signed David Fales as the backup.
Can the Bears win with Barkley, who will be starting the first game of his four-year career? With so many injuries to his offensive teammates, it's going to be tough sledding for Barkley, who struggled in his only appearance this season, filling in for Brian Hoyer against the Packers in Week 7, completing just 6 of 15 passes for 81 yards and 2 interceptions.
Ideally, the Bears will be able to lean on Jordan Howard and the rushing attack to take pressure off Barkley, yet the Titans boast the NFL's 7th-ranked rushing defense and will surely stack the box to keep Howard in check. That's going to force Barkley to make a number of plays, throwing to the club's second- and third-string receivers. Good luck kid.
Chicago's secondary has struggled this year, with the safety position getting worse by the week. Sunday's contest against the Giants, which featured an embarrassing blown coverage on the back end, elevated the team's concerns at safety.
Adrian Amos has remained “just a guy”, lacking any sort of playmaking capability. Harold Jones-Quartey has been wildly inconsistent and was benched last week in favor of rookie Deon Bush, who has been inactive for the majority of the year.
The Bears would love for Bush and Amos to grow together over the next six weeks but if they don't, Pace will again be searching for competent safeties next off-season.
The Bears injuries are almost laughable at this point. In week 11, the team lost G Josh Sitton, TE Zach Miller, OLB Leonard Floyd and CB Cre’Von LeBlanc to injuries.
For veterans like Sitton and Miller, a shortened season isn’t all bad but for young players like Floyd and LeBlanc, that’s key development that is missed, even if it’s not season-ending.
With Miller’s broken foot, the Bears now have 14 players on injured reserve, accounting for close to $34 million in cap space for 2016.
In a lost season, the mounting injuries will thrust a number of young players into prominent roles the next six weeks, which will be key in evaluating their future potential.
A Few Thoughts
- Who steps up at tight end with Zach Miller gone for the year? Ben Braunecker has a good chance to make his statement for a roster spot next year.
- Another week and another loss, yet somehow the Bears still sit 4th overall in the draft order. They are currently tied with the Jaguars but once again, their strength of schedule is highest in the league, which does not bode well if tied with other teams in the record department.
- The Bears have taken a lead into halftime five times this season, yet have only won two of those games.