Picking through the still-smoldering embers from the Bears' loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:
Complicating any evaluation of what the Bears were, are or will be is that the zombie apocalypse that managed zero first downs, 33 yards of offense versus 36 yards lost to penalties and 24 unanswered first-half points in Philadelphia is generally the same team that stood 3-4 after seeming turnaround wins behind Mitch Trubisky over the Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens, two teams making playoff pushes of their own.
The Trubisky offense topped 300 yards in four of the previous five games and did that against credible defenses. Against Philadelphia, a season-low 140 yards. That could turn out to be a blip — and the Eagles can do that — but no team had netted fewer than the Dallas Cowboys’ 225 last week and the Denver Broncos’ 226 the week before, two teams that have combined for 10 straight losses (three teams combining for 14 straight losses if you throw in the Bears).
Injuries have again riddled the defense, but something ominous has been happening on that side of the football, with opponents scoring 20, 23, 27 and 31 points since the 17-3 throttling of Carolina, a game marked by two defensive scores.
And the defense seemed to be feeling the Philly burn.
"That hurt yesterday," defensive lineman Mitch Unrein said. "We’re pissed off, to tell you the truth."
That doesn’t mean anything by itself, but if there weren’t some anger, that would be a fatal tell.
Fire Fox, then what?
The status of John Fox will be a Level 1 topic until it isn’t, whether by virtue of his dismissal or if he sees Year 4 on the strength of a reversal of fortune during the remainder of the 2017 campaign. But be careful with the anybody-but-Fox hysteria.
Drawing on perspective: The Bears once went from sliding down under Jim Dooley to free fall under Abe Gibron, and from a death spiral under Dave Wannstedt to five years at 35-45 under Dick Jauron. Offensive guru Marc Trestman was going to finally turn Jay Cutler into something, presided over an epic downturn and then forced the Bears to turn to Fox for corrective action.
No real conclusion suggested there, only that getting a new coach isn’t even a remote indicator of getting the right coach.
In the Bears' case now, the solution is far from simple, much more complicated than simply finding a coach with an offensive background to shepherd Trubisky to greatness. The templates in Los Angeles (quarterback Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay with the Rams) and Philadelphia (quarterback Carson Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson with the Eagles) are seductive models, but only if the quarterback proves out, as they have for those teams. It is always — always — about the players, ultimately.
The Bears dumped Lovie Smith after a 10-win season, brought in quarterback whisperer Trestman, surrounded Cutler with Pro Bowl talent (Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall) and were off the rails after barely a year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers jettisoned Smith in favor of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who has overseen some 2017 statistical improvements by Jameis Winston but only within the context of an overall Buccaneers collapse from a 2016 season that nearly ended in a trip to the playoffs.
Josh McDaniels, another name in play by virtue of his time with the New England Patriots alongside Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, went to Denver in 2008, got shed of Cutler on the way to an 8-8 season, then was fired in early December the next season with a 3-9 mark. The Broncos then filled the vacancy with Fox the following year after elevating Eric Studesville, a former Bears assistant and Broncos running backs coach, to the post of interim head coach.
A very good point raised by a reader via direct message to me at @moonmullinNBCS: A friend had said to him regarding general manager Ryan Pace, “It’s about the culture Ryan has created around this organization.” To which my correspondent queried, “What culture would that be?”
Reasonable issue to raise. On Pace’s list of five prime directives, talent acquisition makes up the first four. Building a football operation with the right group mindset is an integral element in the overall. In Pace’s situation, one of the first tasks confronting him, besides hiring a head coach, was to join with that coach to eradicate the negativity that had festered under Trestman. Part of doing that was to weed out certain players who were antithetical to building a team-based organization.
That meant difficult decisions (and second-guessing) on letting go of Cutler, Forte, Marshall and even Bennett, whose premium on “team” has been out’ed by this season.
Not to place too much blame on those one-time Pro Bowlers, but: Cutler has helped the Miami Dolphins go from wild-card finisher last year to the second-lowest scoring team in the AFC and just one game better than the Bears at 4-7. The New York Jets finished 5-11 with Forte last year. The Jets became Marshall’s fourth team to miss playoffs in his two years there, before he went on to the New York Giants — who went 11-5 and earned an NFC wild-card spot in 2016 before Marshall arrived — and was part of the 0-5 start this season before being injured.
The point was that while Pace was giving up production numbers in some cases, the real point was to bring in certain kinds of players. It hasn’t translated into enough wins to this point, but Pace finally addressed the quarterback situation this year, so arguably his real clock started on draft day with Trubisky.
One other Pace thought:
In the extremely unlikely event the Bears were to jettison Pace at season’s end, the replacement would make four general managers under chairman George McCaskey over the last seven years: Jerry Angelo (fired after 2011), Phil Emery (fired after 2014), Pace and the GM to be named later.
That would make them unofficially the Cleveland Browns West, with the Browns going through four in a year less time (including incumbent Sashi Brown, who was given the title of Executive Vice President of Football Operations presumably to break the GM run). The Browns win the Instability Bowl with two additional general managers: Phil Savage through 2008 and George Kokinis for just 2009.