The Chicago Bears enter the 2022 season with a lot of new faces and uncertainty after finishing 6-11 a year ago. They moved on from head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, and brought in Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles to fill those positions. They also traded All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Chargers and lost several other starters on both sides of the ball.
Eberflus, who was most recently the defensive coordinator of the Colts, will transition the defense from a 3-4 back to a 4-3, which will be more familiar to Bears’ fans of the Lovie Smith era. In 2021, the Bears allowed 23.9 points per game, which ranked in the bottom third of the league. They didn’t give up a lot of yards (4th-fewest passing yards per game) but struggled with forcing turnovers. Rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker will look to make an impact in the secondary and are expected to play a lot of snaps. For a team that had only 7 interceptions a year ago, the Bears will need to rely on a young secondary to make impact plays.
Up front, the Bears finished last season ranked 25th in pressure percentage, but finished second in sack percentage. They did not generate much pressure, but when they did, they were able to convert it into sacks. DE Robert Quinn returns after a dominating 2021 season, where he finished with 18.5 sacks, behind only T.J. Watt. Newcomers Justin Jones and Al-Quadin Muhammad are expected to make an impact on the defensive line as well.
Nicholas Morrow, whom the Bears signed from the Raiders, will be the team’s middle linebacker. All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith will be moving to play weak-side linebacker. Eberflus wants to use him similarly to how he utilized Shaquille Leonard while coaching the Colts.
On offense, new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will bring over his concepts from the Green Bay Packers and hope to get second-year quarterback Justin Fields to take a big step forward in his development. Look for a lot of zone-based runs with David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert.
Also, look for plays designed to get Fields on the move and use his athleticism. His IQR of 73.8 on throws from inside of the pocket was towards the bottom of the league. However, in only 19 attempts last season, Fields had an IQR of 151.6 on designed rollouts outside of the pocket. This led all of the NFL among QBs with 10 or more attempts.
Fields finished last season 31st in passing yards, but ranked 3rd in average depth per throw with 9.5. He also did not have that much time to throw and was sacked on 10.3% of his pass attempts, which was the highest sack percentage in the league. Some of that can be explained by an inconsistent offensive line and holding the ball for longer than most.
Darnell Mooney, who is coming off a season where he accumulated 81 receptions and 1,055 yards, will be the team’s most productive returning receiver. They added Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown who will both need to step up in their expanded roles. TE Cole Kmet will need to be a big target for Fields in the red zone.
After the offensive line finished last season 27th in the league in Points Earned with 156.3, it is likely that it will have four new starters, with Cody Whitehair, LG, being the only returning starter. Free-agent signings Lucas Patrick and Riley Reiff are expected to start at C and RT. Second-year player Teven Jenkins and free-agent signing Michael Schofield III are both options to start at RG. Rookie Braxton Jones has been getting the majority of first-team snaps at LT and will likely stay there to start the season.
The Bears will be competing in a tough NFC North in 2022. All eyes will be on Justin Fields, as the Bears’ new regime will get a clearer picture if he can be the franchise quarterback.
Jacob Halleen of Sports Info Solutions contributed to this report.