Chairman George McCaskey was pretty clear at the owners meetings last spring, that coach John Fox and his Bears didn’t need a particular win total for job security or at least to earn the fourth year of Fox’s contract. All McCaskey specified was the need for evidence of progress.
Well… . As someone remarked after the Bears’ 23-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers (5-4), this one’s going to leave a mark.
To offer some sort of possible, ominous context:
The true end of the Marc Trestman tenure came in a 2014 blowout loss to the Packers, coming immediately after the Bears’ off-week. That Green Bay team had Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
This time the Bears (3-6) lost to the Packers immediately after the two weeks of prep time afforded by the off-week. But this Green Bay team was without Rodgers, and this game was to have been a statement and a step towards respectability, at least in the NFC North.
The game may in fact have been a statement, just the exact wrong kind in the vein of Fox’s Chicago future and his chances of seeing the fourth year of his contract.
“I’ve been doing this too long,” Fox said. "I’ve never worried about my job security, and I won’t going forward.”
The overarching issue Sunday, though, was that there was precious little that qualified as “forward” anything. Through nine games under Fox in 2015 the Bears were 4-5. Last year, cycling through Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and back to Cutler, the injury-riddled Bears were 2-7. This year, injuries not as much of a factor, and the results not much better, for any number of reasons.
To an alarmingly significant degree Sunday, the Bears’ bellyflop traced to their own inept lack of discipline and execution, which typically is laid at the feet of the coaching staff, fairly or unfairly. Whether by virtue of coaching or talent acquisition, no shading of anything Sunday resembled progress.
“A lot of stuff was self-inflicted on ourselves,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara. “That’s been the theme this year. When we’ve had enough, it’ll stop. But we have to make a decision.”
Somewhat of a curious assessment, suggesting that the Bears haven’t all made that decision yet. The problem is that Fox and his staff may pay for a theme that the players don’t seem to have had enough of, apparently.
Take on Trubisky
The expectations swelled going into Sunday because there were hints that the Bears might have had enough of their own mediocrity. And then this game happened.
The Bears had won two of their last three under rookie franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who had made some progress in four starts against teams all ranked in the top 10 defensively (Minnesota, Baltimore, Carolina, New Orleans). But against Green Bay – ranked 22nd in points given up, 20th in rush yards allowed and 23rd in passing yards surrendered – the offense reached the Green Bay 31 or closer and scored touchdowns on none of the possessions.
“We’re killing ourselves in critical situations, in third downs (4-for-14, or 29 percent) and red zones (actually, the Bears ran no offensive play from nearer than the Green Bay 25),” said Trubisky, who had the best day of his five-game career to date, completing 21 of 35 for 297 yards, a 46-yard TD pass to Josh Bellamy, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 97.0.
Trubisky’s progress notwithstanding, the Packers became the latest opponent to scheme with intent to force Trubisky and the Bears into something they weren’t necessarily good at yet, that being attacking all areas of the field. Trubisky may have thrown for nearly 300 yards but he was sacked five times, hit on two other occasions, and the Packers attacked the Bears’ front and collected 10 tackles for loss.
“[Trubisky’s] pocket presence will come along,” said Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who finished with a sack, tackle for loss, quarterback hit and a pass deflection. “You have to take advantage of that, and that’s exactly what we did. We ended up with five sacks, a number of quarterback pressures and hurries.
“That what you expect to do when a team is so one-dimensional.”
More “terrible 3” amid discipline breakdowns
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains spotlighted the three points of disaster for the Bears offense: sacks, negative runs, penalties. Trubisky was sacked three times in the first half. Four of Jordan Howard’s 11 carries went for negative yardage. Five penalties, three sacks, four negative runs – 12 negative plays in that informal accounting on the way to a disaster.
The point isn’t that Loggains was right. It is that the Bears with two weeks to prepare for the most average of the five defenses in Trubisky’s five starts, the offense kept doing exactly, precisely what Loggains identified as the reasons for offensive unraveling.
The word “undisciplined” barely applies. The Bears had seven penalties assessed in the first half, not including the three flags declined by the Packers because the Bears had bumbled to a negative play in each instance anyway. Five of those penalties were assessed on the offense, three of them pre-snap infractions.
Special teams were flagged for delay of game on a PAT. They were tagged for unnecessary roughness after a successful – yes, successful – field goal at the end of the first half.
Coming up short collectively
The Bears defense had allowed just two offensive touchdowns in the 13 quarters before the off-week. The unit allowed that many on Sunday alone, including one midway through the fourth quarter after the offense had scored to pull to within a field goal at 16-13. That 75-yard drive covered eight plays, one of four Green Bay possessions in the second half alone last eight or more plays. The Bears defense forced exactly one Green Bay punt on the five possessions of the second half with the game on the line.
A defense that had eight takeaways over the previous three games against offenses directed by three quarterbacks with Super Bowl experience (Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Drew Brees) had zero against a Green Bay offense run by a backup quarterback (Hundley) and without its two top running backs due to injury.
“They made some plays,” said cornerback Kyle Fuller. “There were some things, maybe I could’ve done better on a couple. But [the Packers] get paid, too, to make plays, and they made some today.”