Bears

Intriguing scenarios still linger for Bears and John Fox's future

Intriguing scenarios still linger for Bears and John Fox's future

Shaking the last crumbs out of the post-Packers-loss notebook...

In the wake of the Bears’ embarrassing and bewildering loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, an inescapable thought was that the defeat very possibly foreshadowed the end of John Fox’s tenure as Bears coach.

But how soon? And honestly, should it?

The glow of the Bears before the Green Bay game was misleading. I wonder if the hysteria reaction in the wake of it might be, too.

On the “should” point, first – 48 hours ago the Bears had won two of their previous three games, against teams with a combined record of 17-10, and Fox was being fitted for a La-Z-Boy instead of a hot seat. None of that offsets the appalling performance by a Fox team that should have been accelerating into a game that represented nothing short of a season-changing opportunity.

Which should mean that, as tempting or natural as it may be, any judgement of Fox should not be finalized based on the 23-16 loss to the Packers. GM Ryan Pace may have a rolodex of replacement possibilities – every GM does – but he and the organization didn’t launch Fox on Monday, so they have not reached a decision that presumably can’t be reversed by the results of the Detroit game next weekend and the Philadelphia Eagles game the week after.

Put another way...

If the Bears handle the Lions (they defeated Detroit in Chicago last year with Brian Hoyer under center, and lost by three in Detroit with Matt Barkley last year and the Lions headed for the playoffs)...

...and the Bears stun the Eagles (they’ve beaten the AFC North-leading Steelers and 7-3 Panthers already this year)…

…what will be the narrative on Fox’s situation? Just a thought.

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On the “how soon?” point: Well known is the fact that the Bears have never fired a coach in-season, and Fox’s presence at the Halas Hall podium on Monday said the Green Bay loss hadn’t done it. Nor had the resulting 3-6 season record, nor had the fact that it was to a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers, nor that the Packers were coming off a short week vs. the Bears fresh from their off-week, and so on.

However, while chairman George McCaskey is committed to honoring and respecting the past, he is anything but a lockstep prisoner of it. He has put his imprint on many areas of the organization since succeeding brother Mike as the apex executive.

Why this could matter is that McCaskey would not be the first chief executive to break with tradition and in this case be agreeable to a coaching change if Pace wants to go that way, perhaps with an interim such as Vic Fangio to finish out the season.

The Bears are historically loyal and patient with their coaches, but McCaskey jettisoned GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman after two years. In the process, McCaskey became the first Bears chief executive to fire a head coach after only two seasons (Paddy Driscoll just went back to being an assistant coach under George Halas when Halas was ready to resume head-coaching after a two-year break in the last '50s.)

McCaskey and Pace would have some recent history as suggestive precedent. The L.A. Rams fired Jeff Fisher after wobbling to a 4-9 point with rookie quarterback Jared Goff in place last year. They lost their final three games but are 7-2 this year. The Buffalo Bills dumped Rex Ryan before the end of 2016; they are in the playoff discussion this year. Tennessee fired Ken Whisenhunt seven games into the 2015 season and went to 9-7 under Mike Mularkey in 2016 after the organization removed the “interim” label from Mularkey.

Nothing here should be taken even slightly as predicting or advocating that the Bears making a coaching change after this one game, which left them 2-3 under quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It is very, very unlikely that the Bears cast out John Fox without letting the rest of the season play out. The New York Giants, mired in a season considerably worse (1-8) than the Bears’, issued a statement of support for coach Ben McAdoo. The Bears and Giants are old-school organizations, the Maras and McCaskeys have similar values, and the Giants don’t fire coaches in-season, either.

But going the opposite direction from the earlier next-games scenarios: f the Bears sleepwalk again and are embarrassed by the Detroit Lions at home next Sunday, then have real problems in Philadelphia with the Eagles the following week, no one should rule out a historic “first” for an organization that can only be increasingly classed as desperate.

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For those hoping the Bears jettison Fox after this year, a common citation is the fact that no Bears coach has held onto his job after a third straight losing season. That’s a little misleading, if only because it is a very small sample size, and enough exceptions in this case make the rule suspect.

Consider:

Three of the nine coaches since the end of George Halas’ final stint were around for three straight losing seasons. Two were gone after two straight and one – Mike Ditka – was done after one. Under Chairman George McCaskey, Marc Trestman and Lovie Smith were dismissed without reaching the three-and-out standard.

Coach                        Fired after…

Marc Trestman          2 straight losing seasons (2013-14)

Lovie Smith               3 straight .500-or-better seasons (2010-12)

Dick Jauron               4 losing seasons in five (1999-2000, 2002-03)

Dave Wannstedt       3 straight losing seasons (1996-99)

Mike Ditka                 1 losing season (1992)

Neill Armstrong         3 losing seasons in four (1978, 1980-81)

Jack Pardee              (quit)

Abe Gibron                3 straight losing seasons (1972-74)

Jim Dooley                3 straight losing seasons

Besides the results in the standings, the undisciplined, sloppy play of the Bears in the Green Bay loss was the sort of thing that reflects very badly on coaching and coaches, even though none of the eight penalties assessed and three others flagged but declined were on the coaches.

“Lack of focus,” Trubisky said by way of blunt explanation after Sunday’s game. “It seemed uncharacteristic for us because we were locked in and ready to go.”

In fact, the Bears had become better behaved since Trubisky took over from Mike Glennon. They were assessed 10 and eight penalties in Glennon’s last two starts, then 8-5-5-4 in Trubisky’s before Sunday.

“Was it a real clean game, no,” Fox said. “I think we didn't line up properly as far as formation, we went in motion on a play, we went early. You know those are real, you saw 'em as well as I did. It created some behind-the-sticks series and that was a factor, especially on our third-down conversion ratio.”

As far as poor focus, Fox wasn’t copping to much by either coaches or players. “Well, I think you know it's all of the above,” Fox said. “You know there's no doubt about that. But I think there's some new people out there you know that, again it's not an excuse, it's just a reality.”

Bears grades: The return of D's and F's, except for the linebackers

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USA Today

Bears grades: The return of D's and F's, except for the linebackers

QUARTERBACKS: D

Mitchell Trubisky threw three interceptions, with two of them particularly deflating: His first pick came on the second play of the third quarter when he overthrew Kendall Wright while rolling to his left; his second came in the end zone on third down. The last one came late in the fourth quarter when he and tight end Daniel Brown weren’t on the same page. Those mistakes were disappointing for a guy who hadn’t thrown an interception since Week 12, and now has as many interceptions as touchdowns (seven). But Trubisky did make a number of good throws, like when he stared down a blitz and found Markus Wheaton for a 22-yard gain. He also appeared to be the reason why the Lions to jump offsides twice, a good sign for his development with his cadence. But while he threw for over 300 yards for the first time in his career, the turnovers are the most important thing here. 

RUNNING BACKS: D

While some of the Bears’ running issues on Saturday were the product of some shaky run blocking from an offensive line that lost its two starting guards (Tom Compton and Josh Sitton) to injury, Jordan Howard wasn’t able to do much, either. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t break a tackle, and Howard finished with only 37 yards on 10 rushing attempts. Tarik Cohen didn’t get on the field much, playing only 25 of the Bears’ 63 offensive snaps and gaining one yard on two rushing attempts. The good news, perhaps, for this group: Howard caught all four targets he received for 26 yards, and he, Cohen and Benny Cunningham combined for 12 catches on 15 targets for 75 yards with the Bears’ only touchdown (which went to Cunningham). 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D

The stats for this group are inflated by the Bears’ having to try to pass their way back into the game in the second half, but while Kendall Wright (seven catches, 81 yards), Josh Bellamy (five catches, 70 yards) and Markus Wheaton (two catches, 42 yards) seemed to be productive, that trio only caught 14 of their 24 targets. Trubisky’s accuracy issues had something to do with that, but there were some poor plays in there too, like when Wright couldn’t hang on to a pass on the Bears’ first drive that was dislodged by safety Quandre Diggs. Also concerning here: Dontrelle Inman was invisible for the second straight week, only catching one of two targets for five yards six days after Trubisky didn’t look his way at all in the Bears’ blowout win over Cincinnati. Bellamy was also whistled for two penalties. 

TIGHT ENDS: D

Not having Adam Shaheen (chest) on Saturday was a blow to this group, especially after it functioned so well with the rookie in there last weekend in Cincinnati. Dion Sims caught his only target for nine yards, while Daniel Brown caught three of four targets for 32 yards — but that one target he didn’t catch was intercepted. That the Bears struggled to run the ball falls some on the tight ends, too: Only three of the nine plays with Sims and Brown on the field at the same time were runs, and those went for a meager nine yards. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: D

Four penalties were assessed to the Bears’ offensive line: Holding and a false start for Charles Leno, holding for Hroniss Grasu and illegal hands to the face for Cody Whitehair. Losing Sitton and Compton stretched this group to its max, and the Teryl Austin’s Lions defense had some success run blitzing the Bears. But it’s hard to find positives when the production from the Bears’ running game wasn’t there, especially a week after this offensive line dominated the Bengals’ front seven. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Akiem Hicks hit home on a sack for the first time since Week 8 and added a tackle for a loss, but he whiffed dropping Matt Stafford on that 58-yard heave to Marvin Jones in the second quarter. The Lions averaged 4.6 yards per carry, over a yard higher than their season average (3.4, 31st in the NFL). Eddie Goldman returned to the defense and only got on the stat sheet because of a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty he committed on the first play of the game. 

LINEBACKERS: A-

Sam Acho (one sack, one TFL, one hurry and a forced fumble) and Lamarr Houston (two sacks, two hurries, two tackles for a loss) each had huge games, while Nick Kwiatkoski had a solid game (eight tackles) as well. Pernell McPhee, prior to suffering a shoulder injury, had a few decent pressures and sniffed out a screen to Ameer Abdullah for a loss of six (he was injured on that play). This unit was not the problem with the Bears on Saturday, to say the least. 

DEFENISVE BACKS: D-

Eddie Jackson did some good things in the open field, but allowing Jones to catch that 58-yard jump ball in the second quarter — which was on a third-and-18 play and set up Detroit’s first touchdown of the game — was rough. Kyle Fuller struggled, too, allowing catches all five times Stafford threw his way for 61 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Fuller was flagged once, while Prince Amukamara had two penalties assessed on him. Stafford has been kryptonite for this group, with passer ratings of 120.2 and 115.3 and no interceptions against the Bears in 2017. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D-

There were two bad penalties assessed to the Bears on special teams on Saturday: First, DeAndre Houston-Carson was flagged for holding on what was otherwise a 90-yard kickoff return by Cohen. And John Timu was whistled for holding on a shanked punt that only went 24 yards, leading to the Bears beginning a third quarter possession at their own 36 instead of own 46. 

COACHING: F

Another week of undisciplined play (13 penalties) doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff. John Fox’s decision to punt on fourth-and-one from the Bears’ own 45-yard line in first half was head-scratching for a team without anything to lose. Not kicking an onside kick down 10 with about two and a half minutes left was odd, but made more confusing by Mike Nugent kicking a pooch kick instead of going deep. This postgame quote from Wright about why the Bears played so poorly six days after playing so well wasn’t necessarily meant as a criticism of the coaching staff, but can be read as sort of an inadvertent one:

“I have no idea,” Wright said. “I have no idea. That’s a question I can’t even answer. I would say we came out flat, but I don’t really think so. I think everybody was ready to play and everybody had the energy to play. It’s not anything I can put on that.”

Under Center Podcast: What’s the game plan!?! Bears lose 10th game to Lions

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: What’s the game plan!?! Bears lose 10th game to Lions

Laurence Holmes, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down the Bears 20-10 loss to the Lions on Saturday.

Why didn’t the game plan include more runs for Jordan Howard? How did Mitchell Trubisky play so poorly despite a career-high in pass yards? And where is the leadership on this team? Plus – could the Bears actually lose to the Browns and hit rock bottom?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: