Friday, November 28, 2014

Bears celebrate their own version of Black Friday!

Today is black Friday, and for the Bears it can't get any darker than it is right now.  I said yesterday, this is a beaten team.  It is not only beaten but it is evident there is an underlying malaise that has taken root.  When, where and how it started is truly moot at this moment.  The key to ending it is to eradicate it, and to do that is a wide spread purge.

To do this effectively it is a painful process, and one that can effect several seasons going forward. The good news is that the Bears have some really good young players, and with good coaching the team could find itself winning again.  All cleansing start at the top.  Not just the General Manager but higher up.  The Bears family is clueless how to run a franchise.  We know they won't sell, so we are stuck with a fossilized management style.

So the next best thing is to let Ted Phillips go and find someone with a football background to run the organization.  I am not even sure who, but Parcells and/or Jimmy Johnson would be interesting to talk to.  Next fire all the coaches, let Pasqualoni be the interim.  Herring can take over as DC.  For HC going forward, my short list would be Rex Ryan, Jim Harbaugh and a couple of others I am not thinking about.

On the players side, I would let Garza, Briggs, Jennings, Williams, Tillman and Allen know they will not be returning.  I am sure it hammers the cap but well too bad.   I would offer Tillman a DB coaching job.

Lastly, I would communicate to the fans and media, there is no more "win now", that the Bears are in a rebuilding phase.  On the draft, I would look to draft a QB, LB  and OL first three rounds.

So that is my plan, what is yours?  

Update:  There is an unconfirmed rumor that the Bears coaches advised the offensive line before the game they would not be running the ball, because the can't!  If it is true, that is a clear sign this team is beaten even before the kick off.

Update:  Lance Briggs placed on season ending IR.  Lance is now 34, has played in only 17 of the last 32 games (including the final four of this season).  This will more than likely end his 12 year career with the Bears.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Chicago Bears ~ dead men walking

This is a beaten team.

I have been trying to understand what happened today.  The first quarter was the best 15 minutes of football all season.  All three aspects of the team worked.  Then the first crack was the offense, Garza's two holding calls stalled out two drives. The second one was most damaging since it eliminated Bennett's 26 yard reception.  Next it was the defense's turn to fall off the cliff, the pass rush that was on fire took the second quarter off and that allowed Stafford to find his rhythm, and that was it.  They packed it in, Vereen indicated the team was deflated and couldn't get it back.

If I had to pick one bright spot it was special teams, they came out and played football.  O'Donnell punted well, coverage was solid and no penalties.  Mariani showed good judgement on his returns. Sadly, that is where it ends.  I could give a golf clap to the defensive line for holding DET running game under 100's rushing, but what's the point?

To extend that point further, there is no more need to discuss play calling, defensive schemes or anything else, this team has cashed their last ticket.  Most know me to be optimistic and will look at the bigger picture, but friends there is no more picture.  It's a black out.    

There are four more games left, and would be safe saying, the Bears will finish either 5-11 or 6-10. As a fan, I will walk the long green mile with the team, but only now to see how some of the younger players develop.  For me these last four games are showcase games for the rookies, nothing more.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bears and Lovie: An era that has finally ended.

When Lovie Smith walked off Soldier Field last Sunday, it closed an era of Bears Football. Interestingly, Lovie left the field the same way he entered it, losing.  What makes it a bit eerie is the scores were similar, Bears over TB 21-13, DET beating the Bears 20-16.

With the loss, the media and fans can now put to rest the resurgent love for the Smith years.  While Trestman has struggled, like all nine previous Bears coaches since Halas, there was a growing sense that the Bears never should have let Lovie go.  It seemed almost daily we were reminded that Lovie's 2012 team was 10-6, that he took the Bears to the Super Bowl and of course he was a defensive genius.  It is easy to wax poetic for yesteryear when things are going bad currently, we do it in all aspects of our lives.  However, when we look back over the Lovie years and put things in their rightful order, it was never as good as it seemed.

Over this season, I have noticed some urban myths being spun regarding Lovie's tenure as coach of the Bears, so after doing some research, I like to dispel some of them before they take root as reality.

1.  Lovie ranks third with the most wins as a Bear coach.  That is true, but remember, Lovie was a coach for the Bears for nine years, third longest tenure behind Ditka and Halas.  Three more years that Wannstedt.  So by virtue of longevity he should be third highest in wins.  It also should be noted, during Lovie's stay with the Bears, he was 18-40 against teams over .500. (In fairness, Trestman has struggled too against winning teams).  He finished with five winning seasons in nine years.

2.  Other than Ditka, he took the Bears to the Super Bowl.  True.  It is a great accomplishment by coaches and players, not easy to do.  However, when you look at the schedule of that 13-3 team. They only played two winning teams that whole season.  The Jets who they beat, then losing to the Pats. Their divisional rivals who they played twice each, were 11-31 in 2004. I am not taking anything away from that team, like Trestman said, winning in the NFL is hard, but when you have a "soft" schedule it does make it easier.

While we are talking about beating weaker teams, and the media and fans have been somewhat beating up on the Bears over how close the games were these last two weeks.  Here are some of the scores of the 13-3 2004 team:

MN   6-10   19-16
ARZ 5-11    24-23
TB    4-12    34-31
DET  3-13   26-21

3.  Lovie is a great defensive coach:  This is somewhat subjective.  When he arrived in 2004, Urlacher, Tillman, Harris, Izzy, Alex Brown, Azumah and others were already on the team.  The smart move was bringing in Ron Rivera.  Over that time, Lovie had three DC's, Rivera, Babich and Marinelli.  Here is the interesting thing and what made the defense so good was the coaching continuity. Rivera started out as DC, then Babich and finally Marinelli, but Babich was there the whole time as LB coach or DC, creating this underlying continuity.

One last point, in 2009, Lovie took away play calling from Babich. The Bears finished 21st in D, the lowest over his nine years.  When I cite this, I am constantly reminded Urlacher was hurt that season, so if one injury can take a 7th rated defense to 21st, what chance does Tucker have? I think you get my point.

4. Lovie was and is a players coach. I will not dispute this, in fact, that loyalty runs so deep on the Bears that I believe it has hindered Trestman.  You just have to look how Jennings, Briggs, Tillman and others speak about him.  He has earned that respect, but it also makes you wonder how have the veterans taken to the new coaches.  I have repeatedly said here, that Tillman commented at seasons end last year, that there were players not buying Trestman program.  

5. How can you fire a 10-6 coach?  The truth is the last eight games they went 3-5, age was taking its toll on the D, the offense was a shambles under Tice.  Again as a reminder, look at the schedule in 2012.  The Bears were 7-1 at the half way mark, six of those victories were against losing teams.  The next five losses were all against winning teams. Of the three wins, only MN was a winning team. Hence, it wasn't all what it seemed to be, it was a team sliding into the rebuilding years.

6. Offense.  Nothing needs to be said here.

Lovie was not the worst coach in Bears history, nor was he the best. Somewhere above the middle.  I think he will be a good bridge coach for TB, sorting it out, getting parts in place and then bring in someone that can really push them to the next level.  Just remember, when things look bad now, don't delude yourself to think it was better under Lovie, it wasn't.

Update:  Brian De La Puente had been place on IR with an ankle injury.  The Bears have brought up DT Dunn from the PS.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bears offense in a state of regression?

Wanted to add this CornWash making the play

How I so dislike that term ... regression.  The term has been abused and misused by the media. The reality is, the offense hasn't regressed at all.  Now I am sure that brought some blinks, cry of foul and the "he doesn't know what he is talking about" responses.  So before everyone jumps off a cliff, hear me out.  Has the Bears offense played as well as last season? Can't compare.  It might be better if I bullet point it out.

1.   The obvious reason for the O struggles is much like our D of last season: Injuries.  Last year, the O went almost injury free. This season we have seen, Garza, Slauson, Bushrod, Mills, Marshall, Wilson, Jeffery miss some games. Bennett has been playing with sore ribs. That is eight starters.  A good offensive team needs consistency and continuity and when that is missing things go wrong.

2. Schedule is different.  We played different teams this season than last (outside our division), so you can't compare. You are seeing different defenses, players and situations.

3. Impact of referees: Don't like to complain here, but last years breaks for us are now going against us. I know it evens out, but penalties good or bad can kill an offense, self induced or not.

4. Players not playing as well as last year.  It happens.  For what ever reason, mental or physical. Personal or team. Sometimes players have an off season.  I still contend, one reason the Bears O has struggled, is Marshall and Alshon aren't 100% like last season.

So you can blame Trestman, Cutler or anyone you want.  The truth is to compare to last season is pure folly.  Each season is different and brings on a new set of problems and issues.  To say the Bears offense has regressed, compared to what? This is not the same circumstances at all.  It is subjective at best, and that is always a dangerous playground to base decisions.

One last point, the media and fans love to point fingers, someone has to be the blame. Sorry not in team sports. I also am tired of hearing this blather about leadership etc.  There was no hew and cry about it last season, and it is the same players basically, it is merely a figment of the media's imagination and the fan base needs to stop drinking the kool - aid.

There is no regression, just a different set of problems to deal with.  Remember what Ditka and Cutler have said,  (same  point just different words) "you think you know (media and fans) but you really don't know" and that is the truth.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bears beat the Bucs ~ defense be jellin?

Whew!  Am I glad that game is over.  Actually happy to see the last two games done and with wins! Some would ask, what is the big deal? both teams aren't that good, so what?  I disagree with that assessment, I think Trestman hit it on the head when he said winning in the NFL is hard, it is not easy.  You have to look at each game as a separate entity almost.  When we faced MN they were coming to Soldier Field off a bye week with two game winning streak and a mobile QB.  The Bucs, just finished beating the Redskins soundly and the emotional build up for Lovie and Josh's return gave them momentum.

Both these teams had nothing to lose, and the Buc's winning would have been a colossal PR problem for the Bears.  The bottom line is we won both games and now are at 5-6, heading into DET this Thursday.  Even with these two wins, the media and fans can't stop the grinding on the "woulda, shoulda and coulda", it is not important. What is important is the change in this team after being torn up by NE and GB (oh and they barely beat those losers from MM).

Sure the offense is still struggling, it was maddening to watch the first half.  However, they came out in the second half and got the job done.  I am sure the ass chewing they got from Trestman (as mentioned subtly by Cutler) helped.  But here is the bigger thing, it was how the defense kept them in the game.  Good teams find a way to win, when one aspect of the game is not working, the other one plays well enough to keep it close.  The defense has done that the last two weeks.  Have they been perfect? No, the back seven is still a scary place to be, but overall they have executed better, made clutch plays, and starting to get turnovers.

It is time to commend Tucker and his coaches, for taking a group of players that overall are just average or a shade better and getting some positive results from them over the last two weeks.  So for the rest of the article that will be the focus. Defense.

Line:  There is little doubt this group has played well over all. Yes, the pass rush has been inconsistent but the focus was on stopping the run.  That has been accomplished.  What is encouraging is seeing how the rookies and depth players are emerging. Bass and Washington especially over the last two weeks.  Paea and Ratliff are doing everything we expected of them. Sutton and Ferguson have shown us the future. Young has been solid, and it looks like Allen has found his stride.  Emery did an excellent job here, along with hiring Coaches P, Hurtt and Kim.

Linebackers:  This group still struggles, while I think Herring has helped Bostic.  However, Briggs and Williams really hinder this group from reaching its potential.  The other challenge is where do the younger players play.  Is Bostic a SAM or WILL, what about McClellin? Jones is coming on and some say he is a better SAM.  We can't forget Sharpton either.  Greene I think is done, he got benched off the ST this week. I'd like to see more of Lattimore.  This group needs to be sorted out.

Defensive Backs:  Still a weak link, but at times looks better, then on 3rd and long its like they are afraid. As I mentioned in a different post, 12 different DB's have played so far this season.  That does make it hard on the coaches to find consistency in execution.  So to run it down:

Jennings: average at best but played a better second half against Bucs. Was that for Lovie, or is he getting on board?

Fuller:  The key to our future, but we must accept he is injury prone. Was in college and suspect the same here.  Be happy to get 10-11 games a year out of him.

Conte:  Finds that big play.  If he stays injury free for the remainder of the season, I think the Bears re-sign him.

Mundy:  Doing okay at SS.  Has some good games and then looks out of place.  Above average at best but not long term answer.

Vereen:  Getting more play at nickel and slot CB. I would like to see how he develops here.

Hurst, McManis and Loius Jean:  Overall, some good plays and obviously some not so good.  For me I think Louis-Jean steps up and will be that third Corner.

So with Tillman all but done, McCray a back up at best. I think the Bears will look to the draft or FA for a Corner and maybe safety.

Looking forward.  From here on out its going to get tough. Facing Stafford, Romo, Brees will be an acid test.  Regardless, the defense is doing what  good defense does, they keep their struggling offense in the game until they get rolling. Make turnovers into short fields and keep the score down.

Is it enough to keep Tucker's job? The next five weeks are his season.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mel Tucker: did he ever have a chance? Part two

At the end of the 2013 season, Phil Emery took responsibly for not creating enough depth on the defensive line, and committed in fixing that area.  It was also felt, that due to the weak safety play, that would be a focal point in the draft.

I am not going to go into a lot of depth on the off season.  We did see Emery make good on his promise to strengthen the defensive line.  The Bears added, Allen, Houston, Young, re-signed Ratliff. Drafted Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.  The linebacker corps stayed pretty much the same, other than McClellin being moved there. On the back end, they drafted Kyle Fuller and Brock Vereen  Re-signed Charles Tillman and added Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy.

The other key change was the firing of the defensive line and linebacker coaches. They were replaced by two seasoned coaches in Reggie Herring and Paul Pasqualoni.  On the surface it would appear all or some of the pieces were coming together.

So we enter the season, and the first three games the defense played reasonably well.  After the opening game loss to BUF, they won two in a row.  The run defense improved each game, but there was a disturbing trend. The pass rush was inconsistent and there was a gradual increase in passing yards.  We also saw the loss of Tillman.  Then over the next six games the Bears went 1-5 and the defense got lit up, especially the pass defense.  The only game the defense looked good was against Atlanta, a strong offensive team.

I think for all of us the two blow out losses to NE and GB were devastating and obviously put Tucker back on the hot seat.  Since then NE and GB have rolled it up big against other teams as well, taking some of the sting out of those losses. However, we can't hide the fact that while there has been modest improvement the glaring holes in the pass defense make us vulnerable every week.

When you look over that stretch of 1-5, and while everyone screams for Tucker to be fired, you have to look at the situation rationally.  The defensive line against the rush held up pretty well. They rank 11th against the run, and other than losing Houston for the season they have been mostly injury free. The pass rush has been hot and cold and I think we all agree, Jared Allen has been a big part of that. It is also a credit to Coach P in working a good rotation, integrating the rookies.

The difficulty has been the spotty play at linebacker and the continued weakness at CB and S.  To put this into perspective let's take the linebackers first. Briggs(7), Williams(7), Bostic(7) and McClellin (6) were the starters (the number in parenthesis are the # of games played).  As you can see, injuries have taken away any kind of continuity here. It forced them to sign Daryl Sharpton, who now is injured and elevate Christian Jones into a more active role. Greene has played occasionally but honestly has not improved like Bostic has done.  We all know a strong linebacker corps is the linchpin to a good defense, the Bears still do not have this settled.

Sure it's easy to blame the injuries, but it goes deeper here. Briggs admits now he is done, and even confessed about blowing coverage call(s).  Williams has never gotten back to his earlier play, Bostic has improved but a sore back hampers him.  The one that we needed to show he was ready, McClellin, has been sporadic and breaking his hand slows any improvement down.  Jones is promising but raw, and Sharpton? Who knows, one good game, a poor game and out.   In effect, not really different than last season.

Now we turn to the real sore spot, defensive backfield.  Emery went cheap here, well unless you add in the overpayment to Jennings, then it got real expensive fast.  Emery did make two excellent draft picks here in Fuller and Vereen.  So far this season, there have been 12 different defensive backs used in various combinations.  We saw Tillman go down early, Fuller break his hand, Conte with concussion and shoulder issues.  Add in the poor play by Jennings, Frey and a host of others is it any wonder the Bears are getting torched?  When you have this many guys moving through you have to expect, poor communication, inconsistency and woeful play.  The interesting thing is the defensive back coach, Jon Hoke is a Lovie holdover. He knows Conte, Jennings, Tillman, Hurst and McManis. The reality is this, your star corner is not living up to his paycheck, the most senior DB is gone. Rookies and second tier players are the norm.  Is it any wonder when the Bears face the likes of Brady and Rodgers it's Katy bar the door?

Most will say I am a Tucker apologist, I don't care really one way or the other. The reality is it doesn't matter who the DC is, not matter the scheme, the innovation, if you don't have the horses to do it, it won't happen.  There is not one Bear defensive player that has not said,  they have told us what to do when to do it, we just don't it consistently. In the end, I believe Tucker was handed a time bomb and a nightmare ready to happen.  The Bears defensive squad was already falling apart, add in change, injuries, bad play by stars and you are doomed.

Is Tucker done? Unless the Bears defense plays like they did against MN the rest of the year, probably.  The good news is that whomever the DC will be, he will get a better defense than Tucker got, Mel never had a chance.