Week No. 17 in the NFL is coming to a close. As several teams are getting ready for the playoffs, the Chicago Bears at 3-13 are not. The Bears, which is the charter franchise of the NFL, are contemplating what to do after another lost season. For the Bears, it is the sixth consecutive season without a playoff appearance. And it ended with a 38-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
With that said, there were a few things that was learned from this season. Some of those things were good, while others were bad. For the bad, a reversal of fortune will be necessary next season. As far as the good is concerned, continuation and growth is imperative. There is too much time between now and the next NFL training, so to witness anything different could take a while.
The Dreaded Injury Bug
The roster is in shambles with 19 players on injured reserve, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Half of the Chicago Bears initial starters are listed on injured reserve, while others have missed a considerable amount of time. That list includes five of the Bears’ top seven players on offense; quarterback Jay Cutler, right guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, and wide receivers Kevin White and Eddie Royal. Each of them wound up on IR.
No Jay Cutler, enter Brian Hoyer. Hoyer gets hurt and placed on injured reserve with a broken arm. Cutler returns only to tear his labrum in his throwing shoulder and eventually joins Hoyer. Finding continuity is difficult when the quarterback gets hurt. The Bears in this case have played three passers in at least four games. That is not a recipe for a winning season.
That was the Chicago Bears’ season in a nutshell.
Youth Is Being Served
Amidst the injuries were several young players who were forced into action. Some of them have shown flashes and can be solid players, like cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc. Others, at least in the case of running back Jordan Howard, have shown some star qualities.
In LeBlanc’s case, he received heavy criticism for giving up a big 60-yard catch to Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Safety help should have been there to help LeBlanc, who was an undrafted rookie. Even veteran cornerbacks would have given up that big pass play without safety help.
Bears NT Eddie Goldman the latest addition to injured reserve https://t.co/OhRiCw3DzC— Bryan Perez (@BryanPerez_DB) December 24, 2016
One thing to keep in mind is what happened to LeBlanc on the Jordy Nelson play will serve as a learning experience. LeBlanc will be better from that play.
Jordan Howard Is A Special Running Back
Jordan Howard came on strong after the initial starting running back Jeremy Langford got hurt and missed time with a hamstring injury (courtesy of the Chicago Tribune). Going into the final game of the season Howard only needed to rush for 22 yards to reach the 1,200 mark and 61 yards in order to break Matt Forte’s rookie record.
The Bears’ rookie has six touchdowns and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. This is all after only being the featured running back for 11 games.
The question that begs to be asked is why was he sitting on the Chicago Bears’ sideline until an injury occurred?
It is possible that this Bears’ season would not have been a lost one had the coaching staff inserted Howard as the starter from the beginning.
This offseason if Jordan Howard can work on his hands and become a better pass-catcher, he will be a star.
The Defense Can Become Elite With A Little Consistency
Quietly, the Chicago Bears have built a strong defense. While it has not shown up in the past few weeks, injuries have hurt this unit tremendously. And even with the injuries the Bears’ defense had ranked in or near the top 10 in a few categories that matter, such as total yards allowed and passing yards.
That is not bad for a Bears’ team that was without it’s best pass rusher, Pernell McPhee for more than half of the season. The secondary had trouble staying healthy and creating turnovers. Also, a season-ending injury to Danny Trevathan and a four-game suspension to Jerrell Freeman thrusted young linebackers into the lineup.
If the injury bug turns out to be kind to the Chicago Bears next season, coupled with consistent play, this Bears’ defensive unit can elevate to elite status.
A Change Has Happened At The Playmaker’s Role
Is Alshon Jeffery going to return for another season with the Bears?
His four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy raised a few flags. Other wide receivers were forced to step up in his absence. One of those receivers is second-year wideout Cameron Meredith.
Meredith ends his season leading the Bears in receptions. He also is tied in the NFL with the most games where he had nine catches or more. His third season could turn out to be even better with improved quarterback play. Has Cameron Meredith replaced Alshon Jeffery as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver?
Jeffery will be a free agent for the second consecutive year. Last offseason the Bears’ placed the franchise tag on him. Doing so guaranteed Jeffery a salary over $14 million. If the Bears tag him again, he will earn an even larger payday.
With so many needs, it would not be surprising if the Chicago Bears let Jeffery walk as a free agent. Especially since Cameron Meredith has proven to be a solid option. No one will confuse the former college quarterback for an All-Pro NFL star, but anything is possible. Meredith has made Jeffery expendable it seems.
What happens next for Jeffery and the Chicago Bears remains to be seen. But like Jay Cutler, who appears to be on his way out, Jeffery might follow him, if the Bears’ coaching staff views Cameron Meredith as a viable replacement.
The Chicago Bears end the season with an abysmal 3-13 record, but there were some positives in an otherwise lost year.
[Featured Image by David Banks/Getty Images]