Bears report card: How we graded Chicago in the 2022 season

The Chicago Bears finished the 2022 season with the worst record in the league at 3-14, including losing their final 10 games.

While it was an ugly season, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about where this team is headed, including having the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, $118 million in salary cap space and the emergence of Justin Fields.

With Chicago wrapping the 2022 season, we’re taking a look back at how this team fared on offense, defense, special teams and with the coaching staff.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what we saw during the 2022 season and how we graded the Bears over 17 games.

Offense: C

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Let’s be honest, Justin Fields gets most of the credit for this grade. Fields had an impressive second season despite less-than-ideal circumstances with a talent-deficient supporting cast. Still, he put on a show every week, where he made NFL history on an almost-weekly basis. Fields led the Bears’ top-ranked rushing attack, totaling 1,143 yards on the year. He fell just shy of Lamar Jackson’s single-season record (missing two games). Fields eclipsed 70 rushing yards in eight games, including 100 rushing yards three times.

Speaking of Chicago’s top-ranked rushing attack, David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert were part of an impressive backfield. Montgomery had 801 yards on 201 carries (4.0 YPC) and five touchdowns. Herbert totaled 731 yards on 129 carries (5.7 YPC) and four scores.

On the flip side, Chicago had the worst passing game in the league for the entire season, averaging 130.5 passing yards per game. That was due to a combination of things: lack of weapons, pass protection struggles and Fields himself. After Darnell Mooney was lost for the season with an ankle injury in Week 12, Fields was left with Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis and N’Keal Harry as his top receivers. Then there’s Chase Claypool, who joined the team at the trade deadline. Claypool struggled to carve out a role for himself in the final seven games, and it’ll be a focal point this offseason.

One of the bright spots was the emergence of tight end Cole Kmet, who had his best season with Chicago. After zero touchdowns last season, Kmet led the Bears with seven touchdowns. He also led the team in receiving yards (544) and receptions (50).

Defense: D

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It was a downright brutal season for the defense. So let’s start with the positives. There were some standout performances on defense, starting with safety Eddie Jackson, who had a nice bounce back season to the tune of four interceptions. Unfortunately, Jackson suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 12.

There were also some standout performances by rookies Jaquan Brisker and Jack Sanborn, who were both named to PFF’s All-Rookie Team. Brisker was a force opposite Jackson, where he always seemed to be around the ball. He had the fourth-most sacks for rookies (and also led the Bears) with four. Sanborn was easily the most pleasant surprise of the bunch. The undrafted rookie got his opportunity after Roquan Smith was traded to the Ravens, and Sanborn never looked back. He was one of the most consistent players on defense for Chicago in his limited action, totaling 24 defensive stops and sixth-most tackles on the team, despite just logging six starts.

Now, to the bad. The defensive line was the biggest weakness of the group, and it impacted all facets of the defense. The Bears had the worst pass rush in the NFL, totaling just 20 sacks in 17 games. They struggled getting after the quarterback, which wasn’t fair for Chicago’s secondary. Opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw the ball, and they were able to carve the Bears up. Then there’s the run defense, which was among the worst in the league all season. They allowed 157.3 rushing yards per game, which ranked second-worst in the NFL.

Sure, the defense had to deal with a weak defensive line and injuries to their best players. But it was a brutal performance by this group down the stretch and showed why defense must be a priority this offseason.

Special Teams: B

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Special teams was the most consistent unit this season, although it wasn’t without its struggles. Kicker Cairo Santos, who’s been consistent since joining the Bears in 2020, connected on 21-of-23 field goals (91.3 percent). But he did struggle with extra points, missing five on the season. But he was still a reliable kicker for Chicago, who struggled before Santos after Robbie Gould’s departure.

Two rookies were big factors on special teams this season in punter Trenton Gill and kick returner Velus Jones Jr. Gill averaged 40.3 yards per punt, which is the third best in franchise history. He pinned 20 punts inside the 20-yard line. Jones got off to a rough start on punt returns — muffing two that cost the Bears games. But he really came into his own down the stretch, becoming an explosive player on kick returns. He had four returns of 40-plus yards in the final seven games.

Coaching: B+

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It’d be easy to look at the Bears’ 3-14 record and 10-game losing streak and say that Matt Eberflus and his staff weren’t up to par. But we knew going into this season that things were going to be rough, considering GM Ryan Poles completely tore the roster down to begin his rebuild.

If anything, this coaching staff deserves credit for getting the most out of this roster, especially as injuries (and trades) to their best players continued to mount. There were guys from the practice squad that became full-time starters on defense. But when you look at how Eberflus was able to keep his team together — despite the mounting losses and losing streak — it speaks to the culture that’s in place. With the exception of the Lions game in Week 17, the effort was evident in every game, including in the seven losses by one score.

While Luke Getsy got off to a rough start as first-time NFL play caller, he deserves a lot of credit for Fields’ turnaround after Week 7. Getsy adapted the offense to fit Fields’ strengths, which included more designed QB runs to get Fields feeling comfortable and confident. That’s not to say Getsy wasn’t without his faults (he definitely needs to work on situational play calling).

The Bears had one of the worst defenses in the league, which isn’t a good look for Alan Williams. But it’s important to remember exactly what he was working with. The roster was already weak before Poles traded Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, and the defense lost its best playmakers (Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson and Jack Sanborn). But Williams was too conservative at times, and it showed.

Richard Hightower did a solid job with special teams, including rookie Velus Jones. While Jones didn’t have the best start — including struggling with muffed punts — he started to really come into his own on kickoff returns.

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Story originally appeared on Bears Wire