Bears

Chances slim that Trestman boosts Bears 'W' total in 2013

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Chances slim that Trestman boosts Bears 'W' total in 2013

The only answers that really matter wont start coming until sometime in September. But there is nothing premature in musing about exactly what might expected of the 2013 Marc Trestman Bears and the 2013 Marc Trestman-Aaron Kromer offense in particular.

Not all of the expectations are necessarily good.

Chances are that the 13 Bears wont be as successful as the 12 ones. No coach in franchise history has ever won as many as 10 games in his first season; for that matter only one (Paddy Driscoll, 9-2-1, 1956) has even won nine.

The organizations tradition is that incoming coaches win no more, and usually fewer, games than the ones they replace. Since the end of the George Halas era 45 years ago, only Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt posted first seasons better than the coaches they succeeded:

Coach: Ws

Lovie Smith: 2004 - 5
Dick Jauron: 2003 - 7

Jauron: 1999 - 6
Dave Wannstedt: 1998 - 4

Wannstedt: 1993 - 7
Mike Ditka: 1992 - 5

Ditka: 1982 - 3 (nine-game season)
Neill Armstrong: 1981 - 6

Armstrong: 1978 - 7
Jack Pardee: 1977 - 9

Pardee: 1975 - 4
Abe Gibron: 1974 - 4

Gibron: 1972 - 4
Jim Dooley: 1971 - 6

Dooley: 1968 - 7
George Halas: 1967 - 7

Trestman will be challenged to top Smiths 10 wins in 2012. Then again, just about every year some new kid gets that done and more.

The Indianapolis Colts went to the 2012 playoffs with first-timer Chuck Pagano in first year and with first-timer Bruce Arians stepping in for 12 games when Pagano was ill. Jim Harbaugh went 13-3 and to the 2011 playoffs in his first NFL coaching season.

Then-novice Rex Ryan rallied the N.Y. Jets to the 2009 playoffs. John Harbaugh had the Baltimore Ravens at 11-5 in 2008, his first season as a head coach at any level.

Best guess: If the Bears do not equal or top Smiths 2012 win total or make the playoffs, Trestman will be back for 2013 but Jay Cutler will not, unless the failure is entirely the fault of the defense.

Trestman meets the media

Be careful not to over-analyze, over-value or even underrate whatever Trestman has to say at his first meeting with the public via media on Thursday. His performance as a head coach will turn on what he does on a sideline, not at a podium.

Remember the fawning over Phil Emery for his apparent candor and utterances in his Jan. 1 press conference? Some of those praising that and his extended interview process were doubting Emerys judgment after Trestman was the choice.

Judging Emery by a press conference session was as useful as evaluating a Presidency by the inaugural address.

Forte has the most to gain?

Trestman was hired for his abilities to structure an offense, which says quarterbacks. But far from just that position.

The early guess on the Bears who will prosper most under Trestman isnt Cutler. The latter may finally become a franchise quarterback (which is far from the same thing as the franchises best quarterback).

It will be Matt Forte, and not so much as a runner but rather as the true all-around back he was before last season (no fewer than 51 catches from 2008-2011) and as envisioned by the Bears when they gave him 17 million guaranteed in his new deal last offseason.

Through Trestmans 14 main NFL seasons, backs (one RB, one FB as the model) in Trestmans NFL offenses consistently caught upwards of 70 passes. Three times, backfield tandems caught more than 100. Three others they topped 80.

Brandon Marshall may not completely buy into that. But if he wants to play in the postseason for the first time in his career, he should.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

While the Bears praised Mitchell Trubisky’s operation of a controlled gameplan in his second NFL start, they’re not losing sight of the special kind of athleticism and playmaking ability the rookie quarterback possesses. Two plays in particular stand out — plays that led to anywhere from a five-to-10 point swing in the game. 

Trubisky’s 18-yard third down completion to Kendall Wright in overtime seems to looks better every time you watch it on film. Trubisky was pressured by two Baltimore Ravens pass rushers, but managed to wriggle free and slide to his right, only to find linebacker C.J. Mosley waiting in front of him. The blend of athleticism and aggressiveness Trubisky displayed in firing high over the middle toward Wright — who made a specular play of his own — is one of the many reasons why the Bears are so excited about him. 

“To be able to throw that ball with both hands in the air and changing your arm angle – that’s why you draft a kid second,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Because of things like that.”

But there was another instinctual, athletic play Trubisky made that was just as impressive, and just as important. Cody Whitehair’s snapping issues cropped up at the Bears’ 13-yard line, with the center sailing a snap over Trubisky’s head and toward the end zone. 

If Baltimore recovered that ball, it would’ve tied the game; had Trubisky simply fell on the ball, it very well could’ve led to a safety that would’ve brought the Ravens within five points about a minute after the Bears took a 17-3 lead. Instead, Trubisky picked up the ball, scrambled to his right and threw the ball away — one of six throwaways he had on Sunday. 

“(That) was a critical, critical play at that time,” Loggains said. 

This isn't to say that two plays — only one of which gained yards — are enough to say the Bears' offense is in a good place. It's still a group that necessitates a controlled gameplan, similar to the one they used with Mike Glennon. But the difference: Trubisky can make plays. 

Briefly, on Whitehair

Since we’re on the subject of another poor snap by Whitehair, here’s what Loggains had to say on that topic: 

“He’s gotten better. We still had one too many. The thing and point I want to make with Cody Whitehair is, obviously wants to talk about the snap, but you’re talking about two weeks in a row of completely dominating. We’re an outside zone team that ran 25 snaps of inside zone because of what they were playing. It changed our game plan and Cody’s a big part of that. The last two weeks we’ve been able to move those guys inside. He’s a really good football player. 

“We’re going to battle through these snap issues. We’re cutting them down. He’s more accurate. He did have the one that obviously is unacceptable and no one owns that more than Cody Whitehair does. But he is a really good football player and let’s not lose sight of the 79 snaps where he really helped the team run the football and you can’t do that without a Cody Whitehair at center.”

Loggains has a point here — if Whitehair were struggling in the run game, against the defensive looks the Ravens were showing, the Bears wouldn’t have been able to run the ball 50 times with the kind of success they had. But the poor snaps nonetheless are ugly and have to be eliminated — imagine the uproar over them if Trubisky didn’t make that play in Baltimore. The Bears' offense won't always be good enough to overcome those kind of self-inflicted mistakes. 

Loggains and coach John Fox have praised Whitehair’s attention to the problem, and as long as Hroniss Grasu is still limited with a hand injury, Whitehair will have some time to work through these issues. One final thought: Who would’ve expected, back in May, that Whitehair would have the problems with snaps, and not Trubisky?