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“Off the Matt” 2016 Bears Preview

The Thanksgiving Week 12 win against the Green Bay Packers was the high point for the Bears.  That victory moved them to 5-6 and victorious in three of their previous four games.  At that point in the season there was talk of making a charge at the playoffs.  For Bears fans I hate to remind you how the season finished up, but losing five of their final six and finishing 6-10 wasn’t what anyone had in mind.

vvThe Week 13 overtime loss against the 49ers was the tipping point.  Blaine Gabbert popping a 45-yard touchdown run to tie it inside of two minutes, combined the with the usually automatic Robbie Gould missing a 36-yard field as time expired led to a hangover.  Although this wasn’t the “I drank six beers with dinner” type of hangover.  No, this was the “I drank a fifth of Vladimir Vodka” (or whatever bottom shelf brand tickles your fancy) type of hangover.  There was no puke and rally for the Bears, their season was done.

There is good news.  Regardless of how cheap the liquor is, or how bad of a loss it is, hangovers eventually go away.  With a retooled defense and explosive pieces on offense, the Bears will look to flip their 15′ record.

 

Offense

If you ever need a reminder that the NFL is a business, look no further than how Matt Forte was sent packing by the Bears.  He gave them eight consecutive years of 1200+ total yards, but now at the ripe age of 30 he couldn’t even so much as draw an offer to remain in Chicago.

jlIt will be different not seeing #22 be the workhorse, but there is young, fresh talent in the form of Jeremy Langford and Jordan Howard to carry the load.  In two of the games that Forte missed last year, Langford posted yardage totals of 142 and 182 to go along with three touchdowns in those games.  It won’t fall on only the shoulders of Langford to replace Forte.  Anyone who has followed John Fox’s coaching career knows that he is a fan of a committee approach at the running back position.  Jordan Howard, the Bears 5th round pick will also contribute to the Bears ground game.  Howard fits the mold of a between the tackles pounding back which is currently missing from the Bears backfield.  The speed of Langford and the power of Howard could end up being a nice 1-2 punch.

Speaking of 1-2 combinations, the duo of Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White could be a lethal force on kwajopposing secondaries.  Jeffery racked up 1421 in 2013 and followed that up with another 1000+ yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014.  Last year, he was hobbled with injury, but was impressive in the nine games that he played averaging 90 yards per game.  For anyone who needs a quick refresher on the type of talent that Kevin White has check out his combine footage.  His 4.35 speed makes him a serious weapon, but that caliber of speed will also open things up for the rest of the offense.  Teams that show a single-high safety on defense will be asking for trouble with the potential that Jeffery and White present downfield.  With the offense likely facing a light box more often than not, the running game should find success.

Remember the old saying, a good running game is a quarterback’s best friend.  A balanced offense that doesn’t call for Cutler to fire the ball 40+ times a game sounds like a winning formula.  Interceptions have always been an issue for Cutler.  Hopefully last season was a sign of things to come.  His 11 interceptions thrown were the fewest he has ever had in a season in which he played 15+ games.  This offense has big play potential, but Cutler will need to demonstrate patience and not try to force things.  If he lives by the creed of “taking what the defense gives him” this should be an efficient, productive offense.

Defense

Want to talk about a complete overhaul?  If a Bears fan fell into a coma at the completion of their final game in the 2014-2015 season, and woke up for Week 1 of the 2016-2017 season, they wouldn’t recognize the starting defensive unit for the Bears.  They have made upgrades in each of the last two seasons, with this offseason being extra special landing two studly inside linebackers who will help in both the run game and in coverage.

Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan finished as the fourth and 10th best linebackers according to the metrics at PFF.  Freeman was especially stout against the run.  His 97.9 rating was the best of any linebacker in the league.  Trevathan’s versatility is his calling card.  He was one of only seven linebackers to finish with a rating above 80 in both run defense and pass coverage.  In addition to those skills, he brings a winning attitude and Super Bowl ring to a young and hungry defense.

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If you aren’t convinced that the Bears are serious about improving their defense, take a look at their 2016 draft.  Six of their nine selections came from the defensive side of the ball, including trading up in Round 1 to get edge rusher Leonard Floyd.

Improving on their 29th ranked third-down defense will be one of the top priorities.  The addition of Floyd and defensive end Jonathan Bullard, who was picked in Round 3, should help with the pass rush.  An improved pass rush should alleviate some pressure on the secondary which figures to be the weakest part of an up and coming defense.

Schedule

In 2015 the Bears had the hardest schedule in the league.  This year being matched up with the NFC East and AFC South adds up to the third easiest schedule on paper.  There are some tricky spots in the schedule.  On of which will be two trips to Texas in the first three weeks of the year when they match up with the Texans in Week 1 and the Cowboys in Week 3.

The most important two week stretch on the schedule will occur in Week 7 and Week 8.  Both games are in primetime and against division opponents.  In Week 7, they travel to Green Bay on a short week to play in a Thursday night game.  While the short week will make that game even tougher than it already is, it does afford them a 10 day break before the Vikings come to town for Monday Night Football.  That two week stretch will go a long way in determining the final standings in the north.  Having four of their final six games at home will be a nice boost if they are hunting for a playoff spot.

Fantasy

“Will reach for”: Kevin White (ADP: 82)

This section is usually reserved for “undervalued.”  However, I am having a hard time referring to a player that has never played a snap in the league as undervalued in Round 7.  Taking him in the seventh would be fair, but with his upside I would be willing to reach for him.  Playing on the opposite side of Alshon Jeffery should provide White with plenty of favorable matchups.

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Cutler was working with a beat up offensive unit last season, but he is just one season removed from having four pass catchers have 720+ yards receiving.  He has been known to lock onto guys, but that stat shows that he can spread the ball around when needed.

Overvalued: Jeremy Langford (ADP: 56)

Of the 44 running backs to carry the ball a minimum of 100 times, Langford was fourth worst with 3.6 yards per carry.  I respect that when a running back is only playing once every three series it can be tough to find a rhythm.  However, in the three games in which Forte was down with injury, Langford’s yard per carry production failed to make a significant jump.

@ Chargers: 18/72 – 4.0 ypc

@ Rams: 20/73 – 3.7 ypc

vs. Broncos: 13/25 – 1.9 ypc

badnewsWhile Langford excels in straight line speed, his elusiveness was poor in his rookie season.  He forced only seven missed tackles, which was the fewest among running backs with 88+ carries.  I am not trying to turn this into a roast of Jeremy Langford, but I feel obligated to mention that of that group of 44 running backs who had 100+ carries he finished dead last in yards after contact with 1.8.  Simply put, he was not a very efficient runner.

I’m sure the Bears were aware of these advanced metrics, which makes why they didn’t make an offer to Forte even more puzzling.  They did address the running back position in the draft by selecting Jordan Howard.  Langford will have the first crack to be the lead back in this offense, but if he struggles keep an eye on Howard who fits the profile as a tough, between the tackles runner who could end up being the Bears primary ball carrier.  In other words, if you want to take a gamble on Langford, make sure to lock up Howard later in the draft.

In recent years, the defense has been surrounded with question marks.  This year the script is flipped.  I expect the Bears to have a playoff caliber defense, and the question will be can the offense can do their part.

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(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Football Weekly: Join Lou LandersZak Sauer, and Corey D Roberts live Saturday June 25th, 2016 from 1-2:30pm EST for episode #24 of Major League Fantasy Football Weekly. We will run our show on Saturday until August 27th, and then move back to Tuesday nights from 8-10pm EST on September 13th. This is a live broadcast and we do take callers at 323-870-4395. We will discuss the AFC West  from a NFL and fantasy football perspective.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Corey D Roberts and Kyle Amore live on Thursday June 30th, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #20 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This is part 2 of our MLB Draft coverage that will wrap up with the N.L. side of the draft.

Our guests are Coach Andy Macuga and Bryan Luhrs. Andy is the Head Baseball Coach at Borrego Springs H.S. in southern California as well as a seasoned veteran in MLFS leagues. Bryan is the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports, and a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

A/S/L...like the old school AOL instant messenger days... 31/M/PA Elementary Physical Education by day, chasing around my 1 and 2 year old boys by night. I started playing fantasy football when I was 9 years old (94'). My older brother let me be a co-owner on his team. We had one of those giant C-Band satellite dishes and had heard that there was a way to get every football game through a new package called "Sunday Ticket." My first memory was watching Terry Allen run around for the Vikings and I have been hooked ever since. I don't know what the world record is for most consecutive Sundays watching a minimum of seven hours of football, but I have to be on my way to achieving it.

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