CHICAGO - The Chicago Bears went into last season with soaring expectations, their sights set on a deep playoff run and even a trip to the Super Bowl.
They went in the wrong direction.
Instead of establishing themselves as a championship contender, the Bears were a major disappointment. And now, they’re trying to bounce back after going from winning the NFC North at 12-4 in coach Matt Nagy’s first season to missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
They acquired Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles to compete with 2017 No. 2 draft pick Mitchell Trubisky for the starting quarterback job, one of several moves to shake up an offense that ranked among the NFL’s worst last season.
They also signed outside linebacker Robert Quinn to a $70 million contract to boost a top 10 defense. They’re counting on the former All-Pro to take some pressure off star pass rusher Khalil Mack.
More than anything, they’re banking on a return to their 2018 form, whether it’s because of the additions they made or improvement by their returning players.
It’s make-or-break time for Trubisky.
Too many off-target throws and questionable decisions last season led to declines in yards (3,138), completion rate (63.2%), touchdowns (17) and rating (83). The Bears then traded for Foles to compete for the starting job and declined their option for 2021 on the quarterback they drafted No. 2 overall — ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Foles is also looking to bounce back after losing his starting job to Gardner Minshew in an injury-riddled season in Jacksonville.
“Nick’s been to the very top as a Super Bowl champ/MVP, and there’s a lot of pressure moments that I think he has been in,” Nagy said. “He’s been at the bottom, too, to the point where you don’t know how much love he had for playing the game at times in his career. And he has said that. But he got it back. And I think that’s what is so cool on his end.
“Now with Mitch, same thing. Ya know? You have some highs. You have some lows, but being able to use those to make you better.”
Though still effective, the defense wasn’t quite as dominant last season. Chicago went from ranking third in yards in 2018 to eighth, and was fourth in scoring defense after leading the league.
“We want to be the Monsters of the Midway,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “We want to wreak havoc. We have to impose our physicality on people and we’re going to do that.”
With 8 1/2 sacks after four straight years in double digits, Mack had his lowest total since he had four as a rookie with Oakland in 2014. The Bears signed Quinn hoping he can attract attention in a way Leonard Floyd never did.
The defense lost a key player when nose tackle Eddie Goldman opted out of the season. But disruptive lineman Akiem Hicks is healthy after being limited to five games because of a dislocated elbow.
The problems on offense went beyond Trubisky. The Bears simply didn’t have any playmakers besides receiver Allen Robinson.
At 27, he’s coming off one of his most productive seasons. He caught a career-best 98 passes and had his second-highest totals in yards (1,147) and touchdown catches (seven). But the Bears need more contributors.
They signed five-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and drafted Cole Kmet in the second round after getting little production at that position last year. The Bears also added speedy veteran wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
The cancellation of offseason workouts because of the pandemic created a condensed race for the quarterback job. It wiped out the preseason as well.
The Bears didn’t start working out in pads until Aug. 17. With only three weeks from that point to the opener and no exhibitions, Trubisky came into camp with an advantage. After all, he had relationships with the returning players.
Then again, Foles was no stranger to the system or the staff. He played for Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City and had worked with Nagy and new offensive coordinater Bill Lazor.
Though the Bears stuck with general manager Ryan Pace and Nagy, they made big changes to the coaching staff on offense.
They hired Lazor to replace the fired Mark Helfrich. They brought in John DeFilippo as quarterbacks coach while promoting Dave Ragone to pass game coordinator and Juan Castillo to replace Harry Hiestand as offensive line coach. Brian Ginn (assistant special teams), Chris Jackson (assistant wide receivers) and Shane Toub (defensive quality control) were also promoted.