Mitch Unrein

View from the Moon: The dangers of anyone-but-Fox hysteria

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AP

View from the Moon: The dangers of anyone-but-Fox hysteria

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.

Keeping Pace?

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.

Bears Week 2 grades: The loss to Tampa Bay was as bad as you thought

Bears Week 2 grades: The loss to Tampa Bay was as bad as you thought

QUARTERBACK: F

The two interceptions and lost fumble charged to Glennon are impossible to get past. The first interception came on a quick gain play when Glennon locked into the stick route ran by tight end Dion Sims and failed to see linebacker Kwon Alexander, who jumped the route to pick the pass off (tight end Adam Shaheen was open on the play, too). Glennon said he could’ve got the ball out sooner or moved better in the pocket on the fumble he lost when his arm was hit. And on his final interception — a pick six — Glennon thought he saw Josh Bellamy beat cornerback Robert McClain, but the throw was still dangerous and he admitted he should've gone to another progression. Glennon’s decision-making simply has to be better. 

RUNNING BACK: D-

Tarik Cohen (seven carries, 13 yards) and Jordan Howard (nine carries, seven yards) were ineffective on the ground, though Cohen caught eight passes for 55 yards and continues to be a factor in the passing game. Neither Howard — who declined to speak to reporters for the second consecutive game — nor Cohen got much help from the Bears’ offensive line, for what it’s worth, and credit should be given to a disruptive Tampa Bay front seven. But for the Bears’ offense to be at its best, it has to get more than 20 yards on 16 carries from its running backs. 

WIDE RECEIVER: C+

While this was still a game, the Bears’ receivers did what was asked of them, consistently getting open and catching the ball over the middle. Kendall Wright in particular was involved early and often, which was a good sign after a quiet first half last week against Atlanta. Still, there will be a ceiling on how good this unit can be so long as they don’t have someone who can stretch the field — in other words, until Markus Wheaton plays. And for as solid as this unit was in the first half, it combined for four drops in the in the fourth quarter. That can’t happen even if a game is out of reach. 

TIGHT END: C-

Some of the Bears’ ineffectiveness running the football falls on the tight ends, too. Zach Miller had six catches for 42 yards and was a reliable target for Glennon, though the only time Sims was targeted was on that pass Alexander picked off. Shaheen only played a handful of plays and wasn’t a factor, though it might've been nice to see him get an opportunity to catch some passes in the second half. 

OL: D-

Gerald McCoy and the Buccaneers’ front seven gave the Bears’ offensive line fits, and even before Tom Compton’s game-ending hip injury, this unit was struggling to get a consistent push for Howard and Cohen. The Bears will have to hope Kyle Long — who didn’t travel to Tampa — can return to the lineup in Week 3 against Pittsburgh. But if there are concerns about playing Mitchell Trubisky behind this offensive line, it’s worth noting Glennon was only sacked once on Sunday. 

DL: C-

Eddie Goldman recorded a sack, a hurry and a tackle for a loss while Akiem Hicks stuffed Charles Sims on third-and-one to force the punt Cohen fumbled. Mitch Unrein had a tackle for a loss and a hurry, too. This unit made the fewest mistakes of any on the Bears’ defense, but also didn’t get enough pressure on Jameis Winston, who was largely unbothered in the pocket. 

LB: C-

Danny Trevathan was whistled for two holding penalties and Willie Young was flagged for another, all of which allowed the Buccaneers to convert third downs and keep scoring drives alive. Losing Nick Kwiatkoski to a pec injury hurt. Positives here: Willie Young recording his first sack of the year and Pernell McPhee forcing a fumble, which was recovered by Leonard Floyd for the Bears’ first takeaway of 2017. 

DB: C-

Mike Evans got his against the secondary, catching seven passes for 93 yards with a touchdown (that touchdown came on a perfectly-placed back-shoulder throw, which gave Marcus Cooper no chance to make a play on it). The most egregious of those catches was a 17-yard gain on third-and-5 late in the second quarter that led to a Nick Folk field goal. The Bears were able to bottle up DeSean Jackson, who only caught three passes for 39 yards, while tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard combined for three catches and 41 yards. 

For the defense as a whole, they were dealt sudden-change short fields and extended drives, which was made worse by the sweltering heat of Tampa. A C- grade across the board seems right. 

“Just because the ball was in their hands doesn’t mean they have to score,” Hicks said. “I think collectively we can do a little bit better.” 

SPECIAL TEAMS - F

Cohen’s ill-fated attempt to field a punt led to a predictable fumble and Buccaneers touchdown. It was the major rookie mistake, one he admitted was “dumb” after the game: “If I had to do it again I would just stay away from the ball,” Cohen said. Tanner Gentry committed an unnecessary roughness penalty on a kick return that backed the Bears up to their own 12-yard line at the end of the first quarter. 

COACHING - F

The Bears were sloppy not only with those four turnovers, but with the eight penalties the team committed, and mental mistakes don't reflect well on a coaching staff. John Fox is now 0-8 in September as coach of the Bears, with those eight defeats coming by an average of 15.6 points. And too, this loss didn’t show any improvement from 2016’s 36-10 defeat in Tampa, a notable concern in Fox’s third year in Chicago. 

Jordan Howard's eye injury keeps him grounded as Bears fly to Arizona

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USA TODAY

Jordan Howard's eye injury keeps him grounded as Bears fly to Arizona

The Bears' best offensive player won't be suiting up in Saturday's preseason game. In fact, he won't even be on the sideline. 

Jordan Howard suffered an eye injury Friday, preventing him from flying with the team to Arizona. 

Although ESPN's Adam Schefter believes it's minor, that's not a good sign for an offense that relies heavily on the run game.

Joining Howard on the inactive list are more key offensive guys: 

- Kyle Long, OL

- Jeremy Langford, RB

- Joshua Bellamy, WR

- Markus Wheaton, WR

That means Mike Glennon, who is embroiled in a growing quarterback controversy, will have his work cut out for him. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears will also be missing some notables: 

- Danny Trevathan, LB

- Mitch Unrein, DL

- Bryce Callahan, DB

- Alex Scearse, LB

- Jonathan Anderson, LB

- Kapron Lewis-Moore, DL

Hopefully Howard and the team can get healthy before the real deal begins because last year's injury-plagued season was certainly no fun.