2_Chicago Bears2

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was a shock. Far from being the typical tough Bears defense their fans have become used to, the Bears became one of the league’s worst teams at stopping the run, rushing the quarterback, and making tackles in the open field. A combination of age, injuries, and ineffectiveness left the Bears vulnerable to just about every team they faced. The problems started at the defensive tackle position, where injuries to Henry Melton and Stephen Paea forced Chicago to both play unproven reserves and force defensive ends out of position on the inside. When linebackers D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs were injured along with cornerback Charles Tillman, things just fell apart. Rookie linebacker Jon Bostic was asked to do far too much as running backs consistently leaked into the secondary and the line failed to get a consistent pass rush going. The Bears addressed their sudden defensive woes aggressively in the offseason, particularly along the defensive line. They signed high-profile free agents Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen to big contracts to start at the two defensive end spots, then used two of their top three draft picks on defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Those players will replace departed free agents Julius Peppers and Melton. The team will also get Williams, Briggs, and Tillman back, although concerns about age still linger for those players and the 32-year-old Allen. With new talent bolstering the defensive line and better injury luck, the Bears should avoid having the disastrous defense that undermined their sudden offensive improvement last season. At the same time, age is still a concern and the new players will have to figure out how to play together quickly. Expect an improved Chicago defense in 2014, but don’t expect a defense that inspires memories of Butkus, Singletary, or Urlacher either. Defensive Player to Watch A lot of attention has been paid to Chicago’s signing of elite pass-rushing defensive end Jared Allen, and rightly so. Allen is perennially one of the league leaders in sacks. However, the more important free-agent signing at defensive end might be Houston. Houston has quietly been one of the top players on Oakland in recent years. While he doesn’t produce huge sacks totals, he’s established himself as a player who can rush the quarterback, stop the run, and command attention from opposing offensive lines. On a defense that struggled in all phases of the game last year, the Bears sorely needed a well-rounded lineman who could do a little bit of everything. With Lamarr Houston, they’ve acquired a player they’re counting on to do just that. Bears Special Teams After an eight-year stint as one of the top return men of all time, the dynamic Devin Hester has departed in free agency to Atlanta. In his place, Michael Ford is set to return kickoffs while Eric Weems will handle punt returns. Ford ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns in 2012 and signed with Chicago as an undrafted free agent last year. Weems returned punts for the Falcons from 2009 to 2011, averaging 10.6 yards per return and scoring one touchdown in that time. Punter Adam Podlesh is also gone in free agency. The Bears replaced him by drafting 6-4, 220-pound Pat O’Donnell in the sixth round. O’Donnell earned some attention by performing well in combine drills and looks more like a safety than a punter. The one key special teams member returning for Chicago is kicker Robbie Gould, who has been one of the most consistent kickers in the league for nearly a decade. Prediction The Bears will be a better team in 2014 with significant improvement on defense outweighing an expected regression on offense. However, the defense as a whole is still a concern. Expect the Bears to win eight to nine games and end up needing some help to make it as a wild card playoff team in the NFC. SCOREBOARD 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 PLAYOFF FINISH --- --- --- CF --- REGULAR SEASON W-L 8-8 10-6 8-8 11-5 7-9 POINTS PER GAME 27.8 23.4 22.1 20.9 20.4 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME 29.9 17.3 21.3 17.9 23.4 YARDS PER GAME 382 311 314 289 310 YARDS ALLOWED PER GAME 395 316 350 314 338 TURNOVERS 23 24 29 31 34 TAKEAWAYS 28 44 31 35 28 Key Additions: DE Jared Allen, DE Lamarr Houston, S Ryan Mundy, DE Willie Young Key Subtractions: KR Devin Hester, QB Josh McCown, DT Henry Melton, DE Julius Peppers Rookies: CB Kyle Fuller, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Will Sutton, RB Ka’Deem Carey, S Brock Vereen, QB David Fales, P Pat O’Donnell, OT Charles Leno Jr. Brandon Marshall DAVID BANKS/GETTY IMAGES SPORT


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