Bears

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

PHOENIX – Where the relationship between Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox goes beyond 2017 remains to play out with their third season together. At this point, however, despite a combined total of nine wins over their first two, the critical bond between coach and general manager appears both clear and solid.
 
Which is no small state of affairs with the growing pressure on both and the organization, pressure that will only intensify if the on-field fortunes of their team does not begin to dramatically reverse. And both know it. Losing doesn't build character, it reveals it, and the same applies to a relationship; if there are cracks, adversity of the kind the Bears have endured the past 32 games will widen and expose them.
 
That relationship has been the subject of speculation virtually since its inception, when Pace hired Fox following the end of his tenure with the Denver Broncos. Much of it centered around who was in fact making the final decisions on personnel and who was the advisor, with some positing that Fox was in fact the final authority if only because age, seniority and experience. The primacy of Pace, however, has become clearer with each decision and traces or shadings of any fractiousness are conspicuously absent.
 
"His people skills are tremendous," Fox said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings. "His evaluation skills are very good. I think humility is always a great quality in this business. And I've seen that. He's the same guy. He hasn't changed. Sometimes people get [elevated] positions, whatever position that may be and they change. It's just how some people react. And I haven't seen that."
 
Pace, who recently turned 40, is by his own description wanting buy-in on decisions. In the cases of free agency, which have involved the high-dollar commitments designed to have immediate payoff, he has identified pro targets and involved Fox in the decisions.
 
Looking for an immediate hit at linebacker to upgrade the entire defense about this time last year, Pace targeted Denver leading-tackler Danny Trevathan. Fox was his first consult.
 
"Just having drafted [Trevathan] and seeing him develop and get better and his work ethic and his preparation and study habits and how he is as a teammate in the locker room," Pace said of what insight Fox provided. "Those were all things that were taken into consideration."
 
This year, with the max need of improvement, the franchise-grade decision was to make a change at quarterback. Jay Cutler effectively made the decision on himself and he was out. Whether Mike Glennon is or is not an upgrade will play out this year, but Fox was involved in and endorsed the decision to go in a decidedly less-experienced direction.

[RELATED - No signs Bears are locked into drafting a QB in 2017]
 
Pace had attempted in the past to trade for Glennon, which Fox agreed with. Fox had familiarity with Glennon from his time coaching in Carolina.
 
"I was in North Carolina when [Glennon] was playing [at N.C. State], actually," Fox recalled. "I was exposed to two guys there. A good friend of mine was the head coach at NC State. Both Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon were coming through at that period in time, so I got exposed to them, watching games and kinda following them.
 
"And obviously evaluating both of them coming out, they were in different schools then. So I had a high opinion of them then. And then really [Glennon] was talked about a little bit before this year as a potential guy to get, and then this year, being free and without any kind of compensation, we dove in pretty good and feel good about it."
 
Most expectations are that the Bears will not repeat a three-win season, and that an improvement from the first two years keeps both Pace and Fox in their jobs. Key players (Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long, Kevin White) returning from injuries, free-agency upgrades on both sides of the ball and a draft class currently with two picks in the first 36 point to perhaps the kind of turnaround Fox has produced (in years two) at Carolina and Denver.
 
Fox did not dwell on what the roster was or wasn't when he arrived, or on how much of an overhaul Pace needed to do when he took over from Phil Emery and brought in Fox to replace Marc Trestman. But the reality was there.
 
"Going back to a lot of the changes, we've had a lot of change," Fox said. "I think we're better for it. Unfortunately, you can't walk around with your chest out about that because of our record the last two years. But I have total confidence and [Pace] has done an outstanding job and will continue to.
 
"I understand you have to win. And I finally feel like we're in striking distance." 

View from the Moon: Bears 'siestas' continue, leaving progress difficult to find, but it’s there ... somewhat

View from the Moon: Bears 'siestas' continue, leaving progress difficult to find, but it’s there ... somewhat

Consider this a connect-the-dots exercise, with the end game being to figure out what the overall picture is. Because the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions was many things, a couple actually very good, but too many of them kinda-to-very bad...

The overarching point of the 2017 season, per senior Bears management, is progress. Not just on the part of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who had a fourth solid performance in six NFL starts; but on the Bears as a whole. A week after showing anything but, the Bears showed something that could masquerade as progress.

How real is it? The Bears in the past eight days have given few reasons to trust it.

Because while coming close against a respectable Lions (6-4) team counts for something, the Bears are still 3-7 at the end of the day and 3-13 under John Fox against the NFC North – a division winning percentage of .188, which would be lower than that of the Marc Trestman Bears (.250), who managed to win their three NFC North games in two seasons vs. Fox’s three.

As concerning perhaps, the loss left the Bears 3-9 under Fox in games decided by three or fewer points, the hallmark of what simplistically can be ID’d as “losing” teams.

“We’ve had a lot of close games, and it’s just finding a way to close those out,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to work towards that, and figure it out for sure.”

What makes “progress” difficult to see, though, is that the Bears do not play like a team either coached to be or with the proven ability to play at a professional level all the time. Teams with that problem typically make coaching changes at the ends of seasons, since the conclusion usually is that the talent can be there, just that the coach in hand, fair or not, can’t get it out of the roster.

“We’ve shown spurts and moments, like we have for some time now,” Fox summarized. “But we have lulls. We have siestas. We just don’t do it for 60 minutes. ... People have ups and downs. Well, we’re in a stage as a football team where we have those moments in games. We have to do a better job of coaching it and we have to do a better job of executing it in games.”

The Green Bay Packers were one kind of measuring standard last week, and the 3-7 Bears were embarrassed against a foundering team that had been soundly beaten by the Lions the week before the Bears faced them, and buried 23-0 at home Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens.

The Lions were a different kind of quiz, a real offense putting up more than 27 points per game. The Bears allowed the Lions their requisite 27 points (seven of those coming on a touchdown return of a Trubisky fumble), but put up nearly 400 yards and 24 points of their own in a game that ended on a Connor Barth missed field goal from 46 yards, Barth’s fifth miss in 11 attempts from beyond 40 yards.

(Barth’s miss may have been particularly bitter for Fox, after watching Detroit’s Matt Prater win the game from 52 yards – the same Matt Prater who kicked for Fox in Denver in 2011 when Fox’s Broncos beat the Bears in the Marion Barber Game with Prater field goals from 59 yards to tie with 3 seconds left, and from 51 yards to win in OT.)

“All these games in the NFL – they’re hard games – but when you have a game like this that you should win, you just have to win those games,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright. “I think with us, when we win one of those close games, it will help us get over the edge and we’ll start stacking them up on top of each other.”

Then again...

The Bears seemed to lose their compass in the third quarter, with one rushing yard on four attempts. But they finished with 222 yards and the way they amassed them mattered: 125 and a touchdown for Jordan Howard; 53 for Trubisky, a number of them on designed runs; and 44 plus a TD for Tarik Cohen – all combining to average 7.4 yards per carry.

Bigger picture, the Bears were in the position of having at least a chance to tie because Trubisky managed to drive the Bears 55 yards in the final 1:32 from the Chicago 17 to the Detroit 28. This would constitute something shiny lying there in the mud, and make no mistake: This is a big deal.

To put Trubisky in some kind of context: Rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman, the fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, replaced Tyrod Taylor in the Bills starting lineup Sunday, against a Los Angeles Chargers defense allowing opponents to complete more than 64 percent of their passes. Peterman completed 11 of 14 in the first half, about 79 percent. But – five of the Peterman “completions” were to Chargers.

DeShone Kizer has been in and out and back in the starting lineup for the Cleveland Browns, suffering through a rookie season with one of the worst teams arguably in NFL history. But – Kizer, with 12 interceptions vs. four TD passes, is one of the reasons the Browns are in various “worst ever” discussions.

Trubisky threw 30 passes without an interception on Sunday, and 65 without a pick over his past two games. He’s thrown 145 NFL passes with just two interceptions, an INT rate of 1.4 percent that ranks ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan and a list of others. Critics of his development can have their points, but the kid has learned ball security at an early NFL age even while averaging 32.4 pass plays per game.

The next step is getting his team over the top, because he is still completing just 53.1 percent of his passes and was missed badly on a number of throws on Sunday. His deft TD pass to tight end Adam Shaheen in the first half was NFL-perfect (where his guy or nobody catches it), but his throw low and behind running back Benny Cunningham at the goal line in the first quarter forced the Bears to settle for a field goal in a game decided ultimately by three points.

Trubisky clearly gets the big picture, too, pointing the thumb and not any fingers. He paused before answering a question about his rookie learning curve:

“I think adversity is a great teacher,” he said. “Overcoming the struggle is a great teacher. There’s no rookie excuse. You don’t get a freebie because you’re a rookie.

“My teammates trust me and they have confidence in me, so I’m preparing as I should. Coaches have me prepared and my teammates have my back. New situations are going to arise every time, but there are no excuses. I’m just looking at these opportunities as chances to overcome, and not dwell on it.”

Under Center Podcast: Alex Brown goes off on Connor Barth

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Alex Brown goes off on Connor Barth

On the latest Under Center Podcast, Laurence Holmes, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down the Bears loss to the Lions on Sunday following Conner Barth’s missed field goal in the last seconds of the game and debate whether or not Tarik Cohen should be a part of the Bears two-minute offensive packages.

Plus, if the Bears hope to keep Vic Fangio past 2017, does he need to finish out the season as the Bears interim head coach?

Listen to the full Under Center Podcast right here: