Can the Green Bay Packers be dethroned in the NFC North?

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Dec 15, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback

Jay Cutler

(6) passes during the second half against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field. New Orleans won 31-15. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears majorly underachieved under Marc Trestman last year, and this has caused for a huge turnaround in the coaching staff.

Trestman, as well as general manager Phil Emery, were among a number of Chicago administrators and coaches given their marching orders. 

“This is a competitive game; we know what we signed up for …” John Fox

In comes new head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. Fox brings valuable experience the Bears lacked under Trestman, and has been to the Super Bowl twice as a coach.

Joining him in Chicago is new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and new offensive coordinator Adam Gase. 

Sep 14, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver

Brandon Marshall

(15) catches a touchdown pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Levi

Fangio impressed during his time at San Francisco, but will have his hands full as he works to rebuild the Bears’ defense. Gase worked with Fox in Denver, so he already has a chemistry with the new head coach.

These were additions the Bears had to make.

The time for experimentation with an unproven coach like Trestman is over. Fox brings years of experience with him to Chicago, and will be ready to begin the rebuilding process.

Key Decisions

Fox and company have a lot of work to do this offseason, and it all begins with the future of Jay Cutler. Cutler signed a 7-year, $126.7 million contract last year, so to get him off the books would likely mean a trade with another team.

If they decide to keep him, he will be leading what can potentially be a high-powered offense. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey form one of the best wideout duos in the league, and they are joined by star running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett.

Brandon Marshall himself has been rumored with a move away from Chicago, possibly joining up with Trestman, now the offensive coordinator at the Baltimore Ravens.

Team Outlook

Assuming he stays, what they have in Chicago is a strong nucleus of players on offense. The concern is a lack of depth, and this could be something they look to address in the offseason.

When healthy and with Cutler playing well enough, this offense can put up points against anyone. We saw this in 2013, when they were the fifth best passing team and had the eighth-ranked overall offense.

The major concern is the defense. Renowned for their smash-mouth style, this has been far from what we have seen in the previous two seasons with Trestman at the helm. 

Dec 15, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the sidelines in the second half of their game against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

This is partly due to the aging stars: the likes of Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman aren’t getting any younger, and the team has lost players such as Julius Peppers and Henry Melton.

Their marquee free agent signing last year, Lamarr Houston, disappointed before tearing his ACL. Jared Allen did OK. Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller impressed and will be key in 2015.

How can they win the NFC North?

First things first: I think less is more with Cutler. The Bears must run the ball more. Marc Trestman never seemed to want to put the ball in the hands of Matt Forte, unless it was on a screen pass. This has to change; take the pressure off Cutler.

We saw this with the Dallas Cowboys this past season. DeMarco Murray became the star of that offense, and defenses had to respond accordingly. This helped Tony Romo by putting him in more manageable third-down situations, and gave more room for the likes of Dez Bryant to run into.

I think the Bears need to follow that blueprint and become a run-the-ball first team. Make defenses stack the box, and when they do, make them pay by firing the ball to Marshall, Jeffrey and Bennett.

Help is needed on this depleted defense. They need help just about everywhere. Defensive line; cornerback; safety. You name it. Ryan Pace may opt for a ‘best player available’ approach in the draft, as they attempt to rebuild the defense.

For the Bears to win the NFC North, they will not only need to bring in a number of playmakers through free agency and the draft, but they will need significant improvements from the players already on the roster.

Next: How do the Vikings shape up?