2023 NFC North Preview: Chicago Bears
By Tayyib Abu
For the first time in a long time, the NFC North feels much more competitive and open. Four-time MVP and NFC North king Aaron Rodgers is now in New York. His departure leaves a void in the division, and the contenders are eager to make their mark. Here is a preview of the Black and Blue division ahead of the 2023 season. .
The Chicago Bears bottomed out in 2022 and finished the season as the worst team in football. GM Ryan Poles tore the roster down and embraced a challenging rebuild. But come free agency, the teardown made sense. Chicago had the most salary cap room ahead of free agency, and they attacked the free agency period.
Chicago inked linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to a four-year deal worth up to $72 million. After losing Roquan Smith last year, the Bears used their cap room to fill a massive hole on a defense that finished 32nd in defensive DVOA. In 2022, Edmunds was 2nd for inside linebackers in passer rating allowed. He is a capable green-dot-wearer and will marshall Matt Eberflus’ defense.
Robert Tonyan, TJ Edwards, D’Onta Foreman, and Yannick Ngakoue were other notable additions in free agency. Ngakoue is a pure pass-rusher. Expect him to come in on obvious passing downs or as part of Chicago’s pass-rushing packages. Ngakoue led the Indianapolis Colts in sacks and pressures last season. However, Ngakoue played just 3.6% of all defensive snaps. He will add some burst to the pass rush, but he is a role player.
However, the most essential addition to this team may be wideout DJ Moore.
The Bears acquired Moore in a trade from the Carolina Panthers, and his explosive skillset will surely help Chicago’s passing offense. Last year, Chicago ranked 27th in dropback/EPA. The passing game was woeful. With Moore on the team, the passing game should become more explosive and potent. Chicago’s highlight win from last season was a Monday Night Football matchup against the New England Patriots. In that game, the Bears recorded an explosive play rate of 12.9% and comfortably won. But those explosive plays were fleeting over a 17-game season. For Justin Fields to take the next step, this offense must become more devastating.
Key Player: Justin Fields
This one was obvious. The Bears will go as far as Justin Fields can take them. Now entering year three, the pressure is on Fields. Despite his incredible athletic prowess, the Ohio State product is an erratic pocket passer. He placed 29th in passer rating, 34th in DVOA, and worryingly 23rd in clean pocket accuracy. His Next Gen Stats passing chart features a slew of yellow below-average passing segments.
The best NFL quarterbacks are elite from within the pocket. Josh Allen’s 3rd-year leap occurred due to his exceptional growth as a passer.
Fields is on the clock. It is a make-or-break year for him. Arm talent is one thing; being a consistent, efficient, and accurate quarterback is another. Fields has yet to demonstrate any of that. Training camp reports have suggested Fields looks sharp and poised. All eyes in ChiTown are on Fields this year.
Biggest Strength: Linebackers
Headlined by Edmunds, the Bears’ linebacker corps is the team’s strongest position group. TJ Edwards was an underrated part of the Philadelphia Eagles defense, while Jack Sanborn and Dylan Cole will add athleticism to the group. Having Edmunds lead this group with his experience and class elevates the position.
Biggest Weakness: Offensive Lane
Chicago’s paper-mache offensive line has finished 32nd in pressure rate allowed for two consecutive seasons. The Bears drafted Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. The 330-pound tackle was one of the better tackles available in the draft, and he will slot in at right tackle. Opposite him will be Braxton Jones. Teven Jenkins (albeit he is starting the season on IR and will miss at least 4 games), Cody Whitehair, and Nate Davis will anchor the interior. For the time being, Dan Feeney’s acquisition will mean he’ll step in for Jenkins. This unit must find continuity and stop getting overwhelmed by opposing defenses. If the offensive line continues to struggle, Chicago will endure another challenging season.
The Outlook: Better than last year
Rebuilds are complicated, and often they test fans’ patience. There is no set time for things to improve or when the team starts thinking about championships. Nonetheless, year two after a complete teardown is often the year for easy gains. If the Bears double their win tally or start winning division games at home, those are tangible improvements fans can believe in. The Bears are not a playoff contender yet, but 2023 offers them a chance to find the building blocks for future playoff pushes.
Feature Image Credit: UPI
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1