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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mel Tucker: did he ever have a chance? part one

(Just a quick note due to some issues, the second part on Tucker will be on Friday)

We all know that Bear fans want Mel's head either now or at the end of the season.  Certainly the media has fuelled this drama to the point of being ridiculous.  I've written in the past, that not all of this is on Tucker.  I have always felt, he has been more of a victim of a group of players that are either too old, too young (rookies) or sadly not very good.  Fans and media scream that the schemes are lousy, no adjustments are made and Tucker just has no imagination. My response to that criticism is no matter how good the plan, elaborate the scheme, if you don't have the players to execute it none of it matters.  Even Ditka has said as much.

Okay, let's put all that to the side.  Let's try to look at the reality of what Mel walked into taking over the DC job for the Bears.  However, even before we get into that I took a step back and looked at his background.  I have always wondered how did Mel get to the Bears?  When you look at the coaching trees of Trestman and Tucker, they never cross.  Mel was a DB coach under Crennel at Cleveland. Then off to Jacksonville to be DC under Del Rio.  What I did find was that Emery was head of scouting at KC at the same time when Crennel was there.  So connecting the dots, it would be plausible that Tucker is an Emery selection, more than a Trestman decision.

Now that we have a decent idea how Tucker got here, what has been his record as a DC?  We know he tutored under Romeo Crennel, who was a decent defensive mind in his own right.  However, his overall record at Cleveland and Jacksonville were mediocre at best.  Except for the one season Del Rio let Mel call the defensive schemes, the Jags finished fourth in defense that season.  In all fairness to Mel, none of those teams were very good.  So was it his coaching? or the fact he was trying to coach average to less than average players?

The reality is he has had success, comes from a decent coaching pedigree, probably was recommended to Emery by Crennel and then arrives at Chicago.  What Mel didn't know when he looked down the end of the tunnel, it wasn't a light, it was a train headed his way. A train wreck actually.  So Tucker steps in and takes over the #1 defense in the NFL, that alone should have been the warning shot. Here is the deal, no team in the last 10 years has ever repeated being the #1 D in the NFL.  Regardless, the 2012 Bears D was already in trouble. People have forgotten that they started the season at 7-1 and finished the second half 3-5.  Now here is the thing, during the first half of the season the D was giving up on average 15 points a game. Second half it jumped to 20 points a game. So while today, everyone falls back on the 10-6 Lovie team, it was already falling apart.

Now the roster: Urlacher retired. Briggs, Jennings, Tillman and Peppers were over 30. Idonije and Roach did not return. McClellin was coming off a so-so rookie year and the rest were average players. The only real encouraging player was Melton.  So based on the 2012, the season ending collapse, the aging defense, there was no way Tucker would have an easy go in 2013.

So we start the 2013 season.  The Bears win the first three games but are giving up 25 points a game on average. Then the injuries set in (Melton, Tillman, Briggs, Williams, Hayden and Paea) along with poor play by Peppers, Conte, Jennings, Wright and McClellin. Include the rookies of Bostic and Greene struggling it was a cataclysmic nightmare.  I don't care who the DC was in 2013, the results would have been same or close to it.

When we look at Tuckers past, was he over his head taking over the Bears defense?  From a competency point of view probably not. From a roster, player attitude and player capability point view almost any defensive coordinator would be.

Friday will be part two. Covering the 2014 off season and were Tucker is today.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jay Cutler gets flagged for being right!

On the first series for the Bears, Jay gets flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.  So here is Jay explaining what happened.

 "I’ll tell you what happened: We’re getting up to the line, and we've got a call coming in. So we’re trying to hurry it up. He’s holding the ball and he’s not letting us snap it because he says we substituted," Cutler said. "We didn't substitute. So I'm yelling at him, ‘We didn't substitute. Get out of the way,’ in so many words. He didn't know what I was talking about apparently. So he’s just holding it, holding it, holding it. Finally he gets out of the way. I think we had a false start. So I just pump it into the ground, get out of the way. It’s over. And then this dude over here threw the flag.

"So I look at him, and I'm like, ’What’s the problem here? What do you want me to do? Every other quarterback throws it into the ground.’ Then he came and apologized and said he shouldn't have held it, that we didn't substitute. I was like, ‘Yeah, I know. I told you that.’ I was like, ’What’s the penalty for?’ He just walked off. I was like, ‘All right, well, good talk.’"  

This is one of those times when the ref's should have picked up the flag and called a penalty on themselves!  When is the league going to do something about the ineptness of these men.  We were so relieved when they returned from the strike a while back, I'm not so sure any more.

Okay, other fun stuff.  The NFL is starting to look a lot like the Arena league with all these astronomical scores we are seeing.  It has almost become common place to see one or more teams score over 50 points on the weekend.  So that got me thinking, in 2014, 40% of all games played through week 11 have had scores of 30 points or more by the winning team. In 2004, it was only 30%!  The real kicker is in 2004 there was only one game in the first 11 that any team scored 50+. These season 5 games over 50+ scored by the winning team.

We knew over the years the rules have changed for the offense, but sadly the days of glory defenses are past.  The question is, is that what the fans want? I don't know, I miss those days of 10-3 games.

Now we are getting close to focusing on play off stuff.  Bears are 10th seed to make it. Don't count on it but they have an outside chance.  Here is the deal, right now the Atlanta Falcons, lead the NFC South.  Also, if the season ended today, both SF and SEA are out. No shows!  I think the league needs to do away with who wins your deal and take the top teams based on record, seed them and go for it.  There is just no way Atlanta deserves to be there, nor the Saints.  (as of now)

Tampa Bay game next.  This will an interesting one for all the reasons were going to get stuffed down our throats by the media.  However, I got a funny feeling this one will be decided by special teams.  Why?  Both TB and the Bears rank 31st and 32nd respectively.  One of those games were a return will be huge, a fumble or blocked kick will swing the game. Kind of like the gang that couldn't shoot straight!

On that stat front:  Remember that guy I wasn't so impressed with, Aaron Donald?  Well he is doing well for the Rams. He ranks #2 in the league as a DT vs the run.  124 snaps, 15 tackles, 4 assist, 2 missed tackles and 15 stops.  Now to compare that to Will Sutton, our 3rd pick.  Sutton is ranked 11th in the league. 124 snaps, 14 tackles, 1 assist, 0 missed tackles and 10 stops.  Darn close. I would say overall, Sutton has turned out to be a nice value pick.

Another interesting stat. We have been beating down on Jared Allen lack of pass rush. When he came to the Bears the media repeated often, Allen was not going to be any help versus the run. Interestingly enough, Allen ranks 5th against run of all DE's. 21 tackles with 16 stops and zero missed tackles.

Lastly, why you need to look at PFF ratings with an jaundiced eye. Example: Devin Hester is ranked 11th in KOR with a positive rating. 24 returns, 566 yds 0 TD for 23.6 avg. Conversely, Chris Williams, ranks 126th. 24 returns, 579 yds, 1 TD 24.1 avg and has a negative rating. ?

I have been reading how great Marshall and Jeffery were making these catches against MN, but funny, they never speak about how the ball got there. Seems the anti-Cutler wave is still rolling.

To wrap it up today, I saw one of the first mock drafts. The Bears were slotted 11th, a bit low for now, but they selected, S Landon Collins out of Alabama.  That means we won't.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Jay Cutler beats Vikings ~ Quick hitters

I said a while back that this game would be more important than GB.  I had assumed we would lose to GB and the Vikings game would be that "do or die" game.  Overall, the Bears played well, not perfectly of course but they looked a lot better than we have seen them.  So the following are some quick impressions.

Defense played one of the best games of the season. Funny how no one says anything about Tucker. All I hear is crickets.  Briggs woke up. Allen got his first sack.  DB played okay. Vereen was at nickel over Mundy on some plays.

Offense.  Cutler looked more comfortable than he has in a while. The 2 INT resulted in nothing but dispelling the media obsession that when Cutler throws them the Bears lose. That statistical hiccup can be put to rest. I liked the QB sweep, if Bushrod makes the block Cutler scores.  

People were upset the Bears weren't running early.  We have to remember we don't know the call, and what Cutler is seeing at the LOS. So if MN had the right alignment to stop run, he will check out to pass. Regardless, he made the right plays.  I think it ended up being 31 runs to 43 passes, fairly even.

Special Teams: Meh, not a good day but not terrible. Gould is struggling this season.

Bears media was unhappy they won from what I have been reading. Now they have to manufacture things to bitch about.  

The wonks at ESPN have tried to stir it up about Cutler being traded. ~rme~   Interesting if you read Adam whatever his name is, it is full of would, could or should.  It is sad that ESPN has become the National Enquirer of sports. I have deleted everything ESPN related.

MN Zimmer complained about the clock at Soldier Field. Here is the deal, it is managed by a third party hired by the NFL. Not the Bears, nor the Park District.  The vendor had two techs at the game as required and they could not fix it.  Zimmer go complain to the Commish. Regardless, it was inconvenient for both. Sure if MN had won, we would be hearing crickets again!

Ref's for the most part stayed out of the game. Except on the first series when Cutler read them riot act, but of course, the media doesn't see it as being a leader but costing his team a penalty. A phony penalty at that!

One thing I have done this season is to watch the games with no sound at all. It is amazing how little you get upset even watching GB and NE. Suggest you all try it, plus you don't buy the noise of the media.

Around the league, Eli Manning 5 INT's ... so he will be traded, benched or cut soon.  GB blew out the 5th best D in the Eagles. Maybe our D isn't so bad.  NO has lost two in a row at home, hey this is the team that was predicted to go to the SB.  Falcons are first in their divison at 4-6, same as Bears. If the season ended today, both SF and SEA miss the playoffs.

Next up TB.  Sure the media in Chicago will roll out the red carpet for Lovie.          

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

For the Bears, is it all that bad?

Right now the Bear are 3-6, just think, six weeks ago or so we were 2-1. The idea of the playoffs were splashed everywhere.  Now that dream has been crushed, two humiliating defeats in a row, a team for the moment exhibits no confidence, a lack of leadership and to  a degree in total disarray. Even with all that has gone wrong, you can find bright spots.  Today, I want to highlight a few of them, for these players who are still battling, they are the Bears future.

1.  Jon Bostic, 2nd round Florida.  We all know about 2013, how Jon was thrown into the fray, not really expected to be a featured LB.  The results were horrendous, finishing 121st out of 125 LB's. The only positive about last season was Bostic did grade positive on coverage, ranking 20th.  This season, has been much better, even with a sore back Bostic now ranks 68th.  He still struggles but is gradually figuring it out. I think Herring has had tremendous influence on him.  Herring was asked once, what was Bostic biggest challenge, he said Jon is too fast for the game, that he needed to slow down. He was overreacting, moving to quickly to make the play,  and wasn't letting the play develop. Will Bostic be a star? Hard to say, but if he keeps improving, he should be a long time fixture at LB.

2. Ego Ferguson, 2nd round LSU.  Many were surprised by Ego being drafted in the second round. Was considered raw, would take several seasons to develop.  So far, he has played in 172 snaps. Ranks 43rd out of 116 DT/NT.  In his limited action, he has 2 sacks, 3 batted passes, and 10 stops. Many still believe he is raw when it comes to technique and Ego has said Coach P and Coach Kim have really helped him make strides in his technique, especially in how to use his hands effectively. With Ratliff likely good for one more season, Paea contract uncertainty, it is good to see Ego develop nicely and can see him being a 1 or 2 Gap DT for years to come.

3. Kyle Fuller, 1st round Virginia Tech.  Overall has played like a first round selection.  Has shown toughness and won't be intimidated by opposing vets (and teammates).  Like all rookie corners has his up and downs but leads the team with 3 INT, ranks #11 with a NFL QB rating of 69.8 compared to Jennings 117 (ranked 64th).  The only concern with Fuller is injuries. At Virginia Tech, he only played a full season once as a four starter. Senior year only three games.  This might be an issue throughout his career.

4. Michael Ola, Undrafted, Hampton.  A guy who has done it the hard way. Started his career in the Arena League with Jacksonville, then two years in the CFL with Montreal. Signed a futures contract with the Dolphins in 2014 but was cut and picked up by the Bears.  As a guard he has done well, ranked currently 13th (Long is 10th) and his strong suite has been pass blocking.  Many thought he was a wasted depth signing but has shown he can handle the NFL game.

Others that have shown flashes:  Will Sutton. Brock Vereen, Pat O'Donnell and Christian Jones.

Will mention three more but their sample size is way to small, Charles Leno, Louis-Jean and Ka'Deem Carey.

As we sort through the devastation it is good to see we have 11 young players that have handled this adversity well. While we might have resigned ourselves to a lost season and a higher draft pick, the Bears do have quality being developed.

Update: On a follow up on Lance Briggs, it is now being reported on Nelson's 73 yard TD,  that Briggs called the wrong check, the check he called was from an old Lovie scheme not one of Tuckers. The check didn't even exist, any wonder the look lost and confused?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bears offense ... is it offensive?

I want to first off thank all of you for your comments to yesterday's post. I will answer them soon, but I have so much in my head right now,  I feel compelled to get it out by Sunday.  Okay, today I am changing up things and going back over the GB game for a moment. I have been reading a lot about the game plan, lousy calls, Cutler not using audibles.  There have been some rumors saying that Cutler did call them on the first couple of series and Trestman took it away. Now I am hearing that running plays were called and Cutler checked them off to pass. So I went back to the play log and looked at it. Here is how it  played out and my comments.

1st Quarter:

First sequence, score 0-0 

Bears start on their own 6 after the KO.

1/10:  Forte up the middle for 4 yards.
2/6:    Cutler hits Jeffery short right for 9 yards. First down.
1/10:  Cutler to Morgan on a slant for 11 yeard: First down.

We are now on our own 30, not sure if Cutler checked off running plays or not but its working.

1/10:  Cutler to Jeffery incomplete
2/10:  Forte right tackle -1
3/11:  Cutler completes short pass to Jeffery for six yards. Penalty Bushrod false start.

Now what should have been a 4/5 turns out to be a 3/16.

3/16: Cutler to Jefferey for 10 yards.
4/6:   Punting situation.

Summary:  7 plays, Forte carried twice for 3 yards net. Cutler 4/5 36 yards. Two first downs.  Of these seven plays, two were passing plays due to down and yardage. So in effect Forte got two touches out of five snaps (40% participation.)

Second sequence, score GB 7-0

Bears start on own 20

1/10: Cutler incomplete deep middle pass to Morgan
2/10: Cutler incomplete to Bennett INT

There were several issues with the interception. Peppers tipped the ball, meaning Ola did not do a good job of keeping Peppers arms tangled up.  Next Bennett stood there and watched, he made no effort to come back to the ball and fight for it.  He has done this before.  This INT was not Cutler's error.

Third sequence, score GB 14-0

Bears start on own 15

1/10:  Forte left guard no gain
2/10:  Cutler hits Marshall short left for 7 yards.
3/3:    Cutler to Marshall short left for 12 yards.
1/10:  Cutler incomplete deep left to Jeffery. Def Int
1/10:  Forte left guard 3 yards
2/7:    Cutler incomplete to Forte
3/7:    Delay of game penalty
3/12:  Cutler sacked. Mills unnecessary roughness penalty

Summary:  8 plays. Forte two carries. 3 yards. Cutler 2/4 19 yards. One penalty, one sack. In this sequence the only play where I could argue running Forte was on 2/7, instead of trying to pass to Forte.

Second Quarter:

Fourth sequence: score GB 21-0

Bears start on own 19

1/10:  Cutler incomplete deep right to Jeffery.
2/10:  Cutler complete to Jeffery one yard.
3/9:    Cutler  incomplete short right to Marshall.

Summary: 3 plays.  Cutler 1/3 1 yard, no touches by Forte. Other than the third and nine it would be plausible for Forte to get one carry in there.  Two things to note:  The game plan now becomes tenuous as the score indicates. 1st and 10 deep pass was an effort to get back into game, so while Forte should have gotten a touch on 2/10 it is likely they would be expecting it.  Add in a dash of panic mode and you have a three and out. First of the half.

Fifth sequence: Score GB 28-0

Bears start on own 26

1/10:  Forte 13 yards left end
1/10:  Jeffery left end 8 yards, penalty on GB
1/10:  Cutler completes to Jeffery 8 yards.
2/2:    Forte 5 yards left end.
1/10:  Forte for 4 yards right end.
2/6:    Cutler completes short pass to Forte 15 yards.  Takes us to the Red Zone
1/6:    Cutler incomplete to Jeffery.
2/6:    Forte up middle for 2 yards.
3/4:    Cutler incomplete to Bennett
4/4:    Cutler incomplete to Jeffery

Summary:  10 plays. Forte 4 touches for 24 yards. Jeffery one touch for 8 yards. Cutler, 2/5 22 yards.  They ran the ball 50% of the time. 3/4 in red zone should have been a run play, even if we only got two yards it would have put GB in a run or pass guessing game.

Sixth sequence: score GB 35-0

Bears start on own 23

1/10:  Cutler incomplete to Marshall
2/10:  Forte 5 yards.
3/5:    Cutler to Bennett short middle 37 yards.
1/10:  Williams right end reverse -8 yards
2/18:  Cutler incomplete to Forte
3/18:  Cutler complete Bennett for 8 yards
4/10:  Cutler sacked.

Summary: 7 plays, Forte one carry 5 yards. Williams one carry -8 yards. Cutler 2/4 45 yards. One sack.

Overview:  Six sequences with only one 3 and out.   37 plays.  Forte 9 carries, 35 yards. Jeffery one carry 8 yards, Williams one carry -8 yards. 11 total running plays for 35 yards or 30% of offensive plays.  Cutler 11/23 123 yards and one INT on a tipped pass.  When I look at these sequences, I see nothing alarming about the play calling. Sure we can pick at a couple of calls. I would have run on 3/4 in the red zone. Maybe not call the reverse on 1/10 with Williams.  But when you look at the score and field position, the play calling was pretty standard fair.

I am in no way defending Trestman or Kromer here.  However, when you really look at the situation, and other than maybe two or three plays, which we have no idea would have been successful. I see nothing overtly wrong with the play calling.  Which wheels us back to the defense again and how their awful performance can lead an offense into a nightmarish situation.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bears ~ it started with Briggs

There is no where to start.  The hew and cry is to fire Emery, Trestman, Tucker and cut Cutler or at the least bench him.  Truthfully, right now I take no issue with any of that but the Cutler cutting/benching scenario.  However, we know none that will happen.  If you read my piece on how the Bears organization (read family) runs the business, Trestman more than likely will return. As I mentioned in that article, Tucker will more than likely be the fall guy.  But I think we all now realize the problems of this team run deeper than the coaches or Cutler.

I point the finger at Lance Briggs as the poster child for what is all wrong with the Bears.  His remarks about this being his final year were fine until he dropped the comment about sitting in the meeting room and after five minutes he has already checked out. Coupled his walking out of the Bears locker room when Marshall voiced his disgust.  That sent a clear signal to me he no longer cared, and his play shows that!

Fans want to know where the Bears leadership is, not Briggs and he should be the one! Funny how the Bears beat writers take a hands off with Briggs.  When a team struggles or is on the verge of falling apart, the most veteran players stand up and take over. It has become clearly evident, that Briggs,  Garza, Jennings have little interest in doing so. Tillman said last year that there were players not buying into Trestman.  I thought Peppers was a big part of that, and still do, but based on past comments by Jennings and now Briggs it is clear, the core players from the Lovie era are a cancer.

That is one issue, and no way excuses Emery, Trestman and the coaches or the other players.  However, when you have a band of players that are undermining what others are trying to do, the in time it infects the whole group.  The rotten apple syndrome fully in force.  There are a lot of issues with this team and will write on them through the week, but for me if you want to start cleaning house. Cut Briggs, Jennings right now.