The Chicago Bears had an awful season last year, finishing with a final record of 5-11 and last place in the NFC North. The final record was bad enough for the Bears' administration to fire head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery and hire new head coach John Fox and new general manager Ryan Pace. Furthermore, it could be argued that the terrible final record had quite a lot to do with the Bears' decision to trade controversial star receiver Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets.
This season, the Bears are hoping for better, and they're going to get a good idea of how their team is going to look after this Saturday, when they face off against the Bengals in the preseason Week 3 "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. So what does the 2015 incarnation of the Chicago Bears look like?
1) Jay Cutler is playing better but is still constantly criticized.
Bengals fans should understand the Bears' quarterback situation fairly well. During his time in Chicago, Jay Cutler has battled inconsistent play and has been criticized by many for being ineffective and unable to motivate those around him to step up and perform.
By most accounts, Cutler has been performing well in camp and has played well so far in the preseason (75 percent completion rating, 145 yards, no interceptions). However, that isn't quieting the flow of criticism. Recently, Cutler's leadership and attitude has been called out by Bears' TE Martellus Bennett and Cutler's former teammate in both Denver and Chicago, Brandon Marshall. Any NFL player, especially a quarterback, should expect to have to deal with regular criticism from all angles, but when it's coming from you're own teammates it could get hard to ignore. Let's see how Cutler handles this.
2) Cutler is running out of people to throw to.
Speaking of the Bears' passing game, it's not looking good lately. Continuing with the Dalton comparison, Cutler's passing options are starting to look a lot like Dalton's options throughout much of the 2014 season. On Saturday, against the Bengals, the Bears are expected to be without Alshon Jeffery (calf), Eddie Royal (hip) and Marquess Wilson (hamstring). Throw in the fact that 2015 seventh round pick, Kevin White, has already been out and could potentially miss the entire year because of a necessary surgery on his shin - Cutler might have to learn to ignore TE Martellus Bennett's criticisms, because he might be the only body left to throw the ball to.
3) The Bears have been stealing games so far in the preseason.
Don't read too much into the preseason record. If you'll recall, back in 2008, the Detroit Lions won all four of their games in the preseason and went on to lose all 16 games in the regular season. The previous year, the Super Bowl runner-up New England Patriots lost their first two preseason games before beginning a winning streak that was only broken in the most important game of the season (Super Bowl XLII). Given the Bears' 5-11 record last year, and their problems with important injuries so far this season, it wouldn't be too surprising to see them continue this trend.
That said, let's take a moment to realize that the Bears have been winning, albeit not necessarily in the way they'd like. In week one of the preseason, the Bears bested the Dolphins for a convincing 27-10 win. The Bears got off to a slow start, with Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins stealing the show in the first quarter, but Jimmy Clausen and the Bears backups came alive in the second half to rally for a beatdown that probably left the Dolphins wondering if they should invest more money to ensure the health of Tannehill.
Essentially the same thing happened for the Bears against the Colts. A poor showing by the starters was followed by an excellent performance by Clausen and the backups, leading to a double-digit win. You have to wonder if new coach John Fox is starting to think that the backups care more about winning than the starters.
4) John Fox is taking this game seriously.
If John Fox actually has taken note of how much better the Bears' backups have been playing than the starters, he could be making some changes to the roster after Saturday's dress rehearsal. Some players on the Bears might remember the Seahawks 34-6 thrashing of them in week three of the preseason last year, foreshadowing a season to forget in Chicago.
This year, things are new in Chicago. Some of the same players are returning, but for the most part the team is rebuilding along with the new coaching staff. As a result, Fox has been taking a serious approach to this game, even though it won't count on the record. Essentially, he just wants to see how much his team really cares, and what he is and isn't going to have to work with. That's important for a new coaching staff. You've got to imagine the Bengals care about this preseason "dress rehearsal" too, but there's less for the Bengals' coaching staff to see.
5) The Bears will provide an excellent test for the Bengals' run defense.
Matt Forte has been a top five running back in the NFL for years, and could arguably be considered the most consistent of anyone recently in the "elite" group. Last year, Forte amassed 1,038 yards, six touchdowns, and 3.4 yards per touch when rushing. He also put up 808 yards, four touchdowns, and 7.9 yards per touch when receiving. Combine all of that with only two fumbles on the season and you've got a player that opposing teams simply don't know how to handle; and he's certainly going to be a handful for the Bengals for as long as he's allowed to play.