By Bryan Dietzler
Anyone who is remotely knowledgeable about football realizes that the Bears are a team in a serious state of transition. Ever since the management staff allowed for the departure of Lovie Smith, this team has a had a losing record and can’t seem to climb out of the basement in the NFC North. This writer is not saying that Lovie Smith held everything together and made this team great but his departure and the team’s fall coincide.
To replace Smith, Chicago hired an unknown and inexperienced head coach from the Canadian Football League to come in and try to get the team on the right track. Marc Trestman had a good season in his first year with the Bears. His team went 8-8 but keep in mind he did it with many of Smith’s former players as well as the previous coach’s defensive philosophy. There were promises of an even better year the next season.
Trestman and his staff struggled mightily in his second with the team. Instead of improving over the previous year, the Bears went 5-11. He didn’t seem to understand that he needed to tweak things from year to year so he had the same offensive scheme and calls as he did in 2013. Trestman failed to earn the respect of his players while his coaching staff was a mess. By the end of the season, news reports from the locker room and private exchanges with the coaching staff and players resembled what you would hear in a high school lunch room.
After digressing in his second season, the Bears fired Trestman. They went out and signed John Fox, an experienced consistent head coach (not necessarily a big time winning head coach) who had coached some very good teams. He was the hottest coaching prospect after his release from Denver and the Bears were hot on his trail. They weren’t going to let him get away.
Players, coaches and fans were very excited to see what Fox could do for the Bears.
Fox brought some changes to the Bears at the outset. The biggest change the team and the town would see would be watching the Bears switch from their long standing 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense. Chicago had known nothing but the 4-3 before so this would be new. But change is good, right? The change in personnel would take some time to put into place as the Bears didn’t have the correct players to start with but the coaching and personnel staff could locate who they wanted to get and then plug them in.
One key thing to remember is that Fox wasn’t the only one starting brand new with the Bears. Just prior to his hiring, General Manager Ryan Pace was brought in to replace Phil Emery. Emery had a horrible three years as the GM in Chicago and needed to go. So now, not only was it Pace’s job to clean up what Emery did but also try to build something out of what Emery (and Trestman) had left behind.
A good example of what Pace had to do to help the team goes back to the switch to the 3-4. We know that this meant that Chicago needed new personnel that could step in and play in the new defense. Knowing that a good pass rushing outside linebacker was the key to a solid 3-4 defense, Pace went out and got what many considered to be the best pass rushing outside linebacker available in free agency, Pernell McPhee. There was a lot of hype and a lot of great things said but since he has come to Chicago, there hasn’t been a lot of production. He has been hurt a lot, yes and appears to still be struggling with a knee injury.
The impact that was supposed to felt quickly and the Bears were competitive in their first season under Fox. If you followed the team closely, you will remember the last second missed field goals and points scored by opponents to take the thrill of victory away from the Bears. Chicago could have almost made the playoffs last year had a couple of things swung their way. It was a much better than anticipated start however.
They appeared to be on the right track following Fox’s first season. The Bears looked ready and able to improve in 2016. The offseason acquisitions were very good. Danny Trevethan was a nice pickup, Akiem Hicks looked to be a good find and Jerrell Freeman would end up being spectacular. Everything looked like it was in place to earn several more wins in 2016 and possibly have a shot at making the playoffs.
But one overarching theme took hold this year and destroyed any chances of progress that the Bears may have. What was that theme?
The Bears have put a lot of players on injured reserve and have had many more crossing in and out of the lineup making their way to the injury report every week. It has been a very unusual year for injuries on this team and these injuries are the biggest factor for the team’s demise that season. And injuries are pretty much out of control, right?
It’s clear to see that some people think that the coaching staff, this year, should be given a pass because of all the injuries that this team has suffered. There is a good argument out there that because the management and coaching staff have only been with the team a couple of seasons, they haven’t had a chance to build the depth that would be necessary to get them through the injury issues that they have suffered. Perhaps that is true.
Much of the talent (for depth) that the team brought in was billed as being very solid, especially in the secondary. But when starting players went out in the secondary (Kyle Fuller for example) the backups came in, played, had growing pains and then were injured themselves. Sometimes they played poorly and gave up critical plays at critical moments. It has been a never ending “maze” where you have one player going into the maze and coming out the other side, injured. The roster turnover has been unbelievable and injured reserve is overflowing with the wounded.
Free agent acquisitions have been good up until there is an injury and then there is chaos. This year’s top free agent acquisition, linebacker Danny Trevethan, went out the lineup for the season with a knee injury. His counterpart, Jerrell Freeman has missed some time due to a PED suspension. Draft picks have fallen as well and who can’t forget the quarterback carousel that the Bears have experienced this season. It’s been alarming.
The Bears just can’t catch a break with anything this season.
Aside from injuries, there have been other issues that have plagued the Bears. One issue, and a big one, is the instilled desire to win. Earlier in the year, the Bears lacked that “killer instinct”. You can tell when a team has it. They go on a final drive to seal a victory or come up with a huge defensive play to win a game. Good teams play to win and good coaching staffs instill that in their players.
But there was something different with the way the Bears were coaching their players, at least to start the season. Instead of coaching the team to win games they coached them not to lose them. How can you tell? Conservative play calling, lack of risk taking and an obvious lack of emotion on the field makes it easy to see that the coaching staff was not inspiring the players to go out and win games.
Just as recently as the Bears’ game against the Titans, the teams’ attitude towards playing shifted. As they fell behind by several scores against the Titans, they did not just give up, lie down and play dead. With a backup quarterback starting his first game in the NFL, the team fought their way back and almost won the game.
Against the San Francisco 49ers the Bears did something similar taking charge of a game that no one was trying to even win. Once the Bears jumped in with both feet, they rolled to an easy victory. Once again, the coaching staff preached not to quit and the team just kept on going. The same could be said about their performance against the Lions last Sunday. They came close to winning the game but discipline issues sealed their fate.
It may be difficult to see what they are doing on the field but things have changed for this team over the past three weeks. Will we see this same behavior the rest of the season or will they just fold up and go away?
So, that leaves us with the main point of this article. Should the Bears retain Pace and Fox, or should they let them walk? Remember, this team has digressed and that’s not a good sign when you are trying to rebuild a franchise. Yes, they have had injury issues but there are other problems. In this, the era of “win now” the Bears are not accomplishing that goal.
This writer feels that both Fox and Pace should be back for one more season. However, if things go the way they did this year again next year, they both need to be let go. And some of the leadership at other levels in the organization may need to be replaced. President Ted Phillips has been in place for a very long time and things haven’t gotten any better for the Bears.
Perhaps new blood further up line would do more than a new coach or a general manager?
As fans of this team, what are your thoughts? Should changes be made this off season or should the coaching staff and general manager be given one more year to show improvement? Or perhaps, is management/ownership to blame? Let’s have a discussion!