CHICAGO — For months now I’ve been talking about the possibility of the 2018 Chicago Bears being the next incarnation of the 2017 Los Angeles Rams. People keep looking at me like I’m nuts, but the similarities are really quite obvious.
Jeff Fisher was a former defensive coordinator, who by 2016 had stayed far too long with the Rams. A sharp if not special defensive mind who never quite arrived as a head coach, his offense was being guided by offensive coordinator Rob Boras and passing game coordinator Mike Groh — two coaches unqualified for the jobs and clearly not up to the task – although Groh had shown promise and may eventually get another try.
The Rams had an exciting young defense but no clue on offense and were going nowhere.
While John Fox had not yet overstayed his welcome entering 2017, his usefulness had maxed out, and his offense with Dowell Loggains in charge was the Rams' mess on steroids.
Hiring head coach Sean McVay was a big gamble for the Rams, but his youthful exuberance and obvious offensive chops blew through them like “Mr. Clean,” and the additions of Matt LaFleur to coordinate his offense and bring innovative new ideas while McVay called the plays and the grizzled old defensive genius Wade Phillips was a recipe for success.
Bears GM Ryan Pace’s new dream team of Matt Nagy, Mark Helfrich and Vic Fangio is a near identical recipe. At 39, Nagy is eight years older than McVay but similarly experienced having not taken up coaching until 10 years ago. Whether he’s as good as McVay remains to be seen, but the concept is the same.
Helfrich is well ahead of where LaFleur was arriving in Los Angeles, and Fangio has an edge over Phillips because he’s already spent three years bringing the Bears ‘D’ to where it is today.
Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, was awful in his seven rookie starts mainly because of the offensive incompetence of Fisher and Boras.
As you know, Mitch Trubisky was the No. 2 pick in 2017, and was actually better than Goff in his 12 rookie starts but still badly slowed by whatever it was Fox and Loggains were trying to do.
The Rams’ 2016 receivers were among the least threatening in the league, so this past offseason they traded for Sammy Watkins, signed Robert Woods as a free agent and drafted Cooper Kupp — still not the most imposing group in the league but more than enough to unleash Goff in McVay’s new schemes.
The Bears may be starting with more if Kevin White and Cameron Meredith are healthy and Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright are retained, leaving no reason they can’t match the Rams' success there.
L.A. had Todd Gurley and an awful offensive line, so the Rams added free agent left tackle Andrew Whitworth, coached up the rest and with the addition of a passing game the offense took off.
The Bears have Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and the makings of a very good offensive line if Kyle Long can get and stay healthy; its only real weakness is at left tackle, too.
There is only one Aaron Donald, however, and Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers are great pieces as well, so the Rams have an edge there. But smart NFL evaluators will tell you Akiem Hicks was the second- or third-most disruptive interior lineman in the NFC after Donald, and Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris offer the promise of an excellent front to possibly match the Rams.
Statistically, the Bears' defense was actually better than or the equal of the Rams in every category but interceptions this season, and if they retain Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Christian Jones and have healthy returns from Danny Trevathan, Leonard Floyd and Willie Young, the Bears are another pass rusher away from being dangerous.
Listen, I might be dumb, but I’m not stupid. Clearly the huge question marks are Nagy and Trubisky. But we’re talking possibilities and potential here — not promises or guarantees — and heading into this offseason the comparisons between the two clubs one year removed from each other are striking and could move the Bears forward a lot quicker than most expect.