The Bears got a lot of things right in 2013 in their first season with Marc Trestman as head coach. They were second in the NFL with 445 points scored. That is not second in the NFC North or the National Football Conference, in the entire 32 team league. The Bears haven't finished that high in the league rankings since their 2006 Super Bowl season.
After surrounding returning center Roberto Garza with free agent signees Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson on the left and draft picks Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right the Bears only surrendered 30 sacks, tied for fourth fewest in the league.
The team also had two 1,000-yard receivers in 2013. Brandon Marshall had another elite season with 100 catches for 1,295-yards while Alshon Jeffery stepped up to star status with 89 catches for 1,526-yards and 7 touchdowns.
The down side of 2013 was the disintegration of the Bears' defense. They allowed 478 points, the most a Bears team has surrendered in franchise history. To start rebuilding they have a lot of work to do but there are three basic steps to begin with.
Fix the Freakin' Run Defense!
Not only did the Bears give up the most rushing yards in the NFL last season, they gave up 410-yards more than team No. 31, the Atlanta Falcons. They also gave up the most rushing yards per attempt and the most first downs via the run. Only the Washington Redskins gave up more rushing touchdowns than the Bears' 22.
The first step in the process is:
Replace Mel Tucker as Defensive Coordinator
Tucker was a defensive coordinator for five seasons before joining the Bears, one with the Cleveland Browns and four with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The only effective season any of his defenses had during that time was in 2011. That team finished No. 6 in the league in Yards Allowed and No. 1 in Points Allowed.
Take that season out of the equation and Tuckers defenses have been, on average, No. 27 in Yards Allowed and No. 24 in Points Allowed. The Bears were No. 30 in the NFL in both measures in 2013.
Tucker did not have a record of success in the NFL as a defensive coordinator when the Bears named him to the position in 2013. Also a consideration when deciding to keep Tucker is he spent 2013 using Lovie Smith's system and terminology to smooth acceptance with the veteran players instead of installing his own.
While the offense has had a full season to learn and implement Marc Trestman's offense the defensive teaching will be starting all over again, both for the veterans who stay with the team for 2014 and last season's rookies, putting them a step back in their development.
Since a new system is essentially being put in place for the 2014 season anyway, it's best that it comes from a defensive coach who has demonstrated NFL success with it.
Solve the Shea McClellin Dilemma
McClellin was Phil Emery's first draft choice as the Bears general manager in the 2012 NFL Draft. Coming out of Boise State McClellin was considered an undersized, stand-up defensive end with the speed and ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
When he got to the Bears they worked him into their 4-3 scheme as a hand-on-the-ground defensive end opposite Julius Peppers. That strategy hasn't worked well for anyone.
McClellin is still an undersized defensive end with speed who can't escape when he's locked-up by an offensive lineman. When he is free he's more likely to over-pursue the play. In both instances it makes a clear path for a running back looking to turn upfield.
The positive is that Emery, in his post-season press conference, has admitted that McClellin's roll with the team needs to be re-evaluated, even if that means he spends time at linebacker in the future.
Of course, all these issues interconnect. There are other areas on defense that need to be addressed but the decisions on these issues will have the biggest effect on whether the Bears can finally make their return to playoff football in 2014.