Forget about the too little-too late 21-13 victory against a bad Minnesota Vikings team. Aaron Rodgers already shut the door on another Bears’ season adding an exclamation point on the fact that something is terribly wrong with Chicago’s professional football team. It just wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I take you back to 2012. With Phil Emery in charge, the Chicago Bears would no longer settle for safe draft picks and over-priced, over-the-hill free agents. The roster would gush with talent at all levels causing competition at each position, every year. And Emery’s hiring of Marc Trestman as head coach meant a wealth of new possibilities. Welcome to the modern age of high-octane football, Bears’ fans. Even if the defense and special teams regressed to the NFL mean, the offense would more than make up for it with early leads, extended drives and big plays. Everything would be different; a new golden age of football in Chicago. And it has been different. Just not the kind of change we all expected.
The results of the 2013 Bears’ season felt fair for year one of a football coaching regime change. A roster in flux, an offensive-minded head coach and a regressing defense. The season closed at 8-8 but the churn felt good — progress often requires a couple backward, steadying steps before the ascent.
But, in year two, our Bears are stumbling down the mountain instead of nearing the peak. The offense is bottom third in points per game and total points1. The defense isn’t producing enough turnovers — just average across the NFL — and is top-five in points allowed by the opposing team2. And you’ve seen the special teams unit struggle all season, most visible by the underwhelming results of kick returners Chris Williams and Senorise Perry. Forget about the playoffs. Time to win some games and earn some respect. But notching a few wins won’t fix what’s broken in Chicago. That starts at the top and must permeate throughout.
Phil Emery deserves more time to build a better roster. I’m not ready to close his chapter in Chicago just yet. He brought deeper analytics and more scouting to an organization that had fallen behind. Emery is thoughtful and detail-oriented with a hands-on scouting background. His draft successes — Kyle Long, Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Fuller — and failures — Shea McClellin, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriquez — mostly even out. The truth is many of Emery’s other picks need more time to shake out before we deem him a winner or loser. In free agency, Phil Emery has written some big checks to some big names — Jay Cutler, Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen — and handed out more reasonable contracts to the likes of Willie Young, Martellus Bennet and Jeremiah Ratliff. If Cutler continues to falter, his failures will ultimately be linked to the general manager and they’ll share a cab out-of-town. But, while many fans disagree, the conclusion to that story has yet to be written. Don’t give up on Phil Emery just yet.
The Chicago Bears’ coaching staff is another story. The regression has been sudden and visible. It’s a national story. Marc Trestman refuses to make staff changes just yet, a decision that is well within his purvey as head coach. What’s disconcerting to fans is he sounds loyal to a fault3.
Right now I stand by these guys and the job they’re doing. I really believe in them. I see that every day in their work ethic and the football intellect that these guys have and the way they relate to the players on a daily basis, and I stand by that.
Believe it or not Mel Tucker doesn’t need to be fired just yet. He may not be the right guy to lead the defense — something that can be handled in the offseason — but his midseason ousting would be pure scapegoating. There is a much bigger problem that only Trestman himself can resolve. The Bears need a head coach, not an offensive head coach. Marc Trestman is a superb playcaller and that’s much of the reason he was brought to Chicago. But, to establish ownership of the entire locker room, he needs to step away from that job for awhile. Pick up your fallen defense, Marc. Work with Tucker to implement scheme changes and evaluate the depth chart so the best eleven guys start on game day. And, if you haven’t noticed, your starting quarterback needs some serious TLC that QB coach Matt Cavanaugh just can’t deliver. This group of players needs a firmer hand and a stronger voice. And the only way that happens is with some offensive playcalling delegation. Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer isn’t a newbie. Coach him up, guide him and let him call plays on Sundays. And then give your attention to the entire team all week, every week. Trestman needs another year to prove he can make adjustments and stabilize a shaken team. There is no avoiding the truth that his defense needs a new coordinator to succeed. Sorry Mel.
There is a check-and-balance system in professional sports that has broken down on the Bears. Each level of the organization has its own mission statement — the GM builds for long-term success, the coach is tasked with the season ahead and the players must be about the next game. The triad of goals makes the whole thing work. But it feels more-and-more like the players have lost their ability to focus on the next game. It sure looked that way against the Patriots and Packers and even, at times, against the Vikings. So what’s going on?
There is so much media crossover in Chicago — Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Kyle Long on ESPN Radio 1000, the Lance Briggs Show on CSN Chicago, Robbie Gould, Charles Tillman and Jermon Bushrod on 670 The Score and Brandon Marshall (him again?) on Showtime’s Inside The NFL. It’s a distraction and, come next season, the players need to reassess their priorities. That’s not the only problem, it’s just an example that shows the lack of on-field focus. When your team loses as badly as the Bears did to the Patriots (51-23) and Packers (55-14), it’s about more than roster talent. There is a lack of attention — despite what Trestman says — in practice and during games. Just ask Lance Briggs. And as much as you want to put that on the coaches, the players need to respect the game, and themselves, enough to put in the work.
The Bears are in a downward spiral. The coach has seemingly lost the locker room and the players’ sub par effort translates to big losses on game day, sometimes against lesser opponents. Stronger coaching and a more focused football team can bring some respectability to the season. But it almost feels too late.
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com ~ @SecCitySports