Bears

Presented By Mullin
Bears

Never mind that it was against the Cleveland Browns. The Bears could only play who the NFL put in front of them, and a 20-3 downing of a woeful team playing to end a winless season shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. It is the same woeful Browns that pushed the Green Bay Packers to overtime and the Pittsburgh Steelers barely got past.

But those really don’t matter, because all that mattered ultimately was whether the Bears (5-10) could take care of business with nothing to play for, and whether the arrows for certain core players were continuing to point up.

Both of those things transpired. It wasn’t an artistic success but it was a success and that is the only point that matters. The Bears very, very much needed to throttle a team it should have, the Browns (0-15) being the first of eight underdogs to a John Fox Bears team that the Bears defeated.

Most notably: The offense netted just 258 yards under Mitch Trubisky’s quarterbacking, but it did what it did with only one starter – left tackle Charles Leno Jr. – in his normal assigned spot. Right tackle Bobby Massie was hobbled throughout, center Cody Whitehair was at right guard, and Hroniss Grasu started at center and Bradley Sowell left guard because of injuries.

That offensive line, against one of the NFL’s best defenses against the run (the Bears managed just 3.1 ypc. and that was with Trubisky’s 44 on seven carries), was hammered for five sacks. But this was what the organization wanted/needed to see out of Trubisky, and it wouldn’t be a complete shock of coach John Fox dubs this the fourth straight “best” game Trubisky has played in his rookie season.

 

Factoring in the conditions at Soldier Field and a blitz assault from Cleveland D-coordinator Gregg Williams, Trubisky’s workmanlike 14-for-23 INT-free passing for 193 yards and a rating of 87.8 – the seventh time in his last 10 starts with that rating or higher – mattered.

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The Bears are likely to find themselves in a situation with cornerback Kyle Fuller that is eerily similar to where they were with Jay Cutler a few years ago. With Cutler, coming off a decent 2013 season, the Bears had to decide between a one-year franchise tag or a long-term deal with big money guaranteed. The choice was inexplicably the latter and the organization is arguably still paying for it in the form of delayed development at the most pivotal position in sport.

The same choice is looming on Fuller, whose 2017 has been the kind of year anticipated when he was the No. 14 pick of the 2014 draft – on Sunday, an interception and six passes broken up, giving him unofficially 22 on the season.

The issue with Fuller is obvious: This is a contract year for a player who last year clearly didn’t have the full buy-in of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio after Fuller had arthroscopic knee surgery in August and never returned. That makes him by definition high-risk for a massive contract investment, which is what cornerbacks command. Stefon Gilmore got $40 million guaranteed (on a $65-million deal from New England); Jacksonville had to guarantee $26 million of a $67.5-million package to land A.J. Bouye.

The simple route with Fuller, as it was with Alshon Jeffery (and should have been with Cutler) will be a franchise tag. That was $14.2 million for 2017, likely goes up a tick with the cap increase, but securing Fuller while holding open the door to a long-term deal takes care of a foundation position that would have to be addressed in free agency or the draft, or both.

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Some players should look in the mirror answers to why the 10-loss Bears defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens – all in or flirting with the playoffs (Baltimore) – and lost to the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, the Lions twice, the 49ers. A lot of coaches stand to lose their jobs because of inept performances not of their own doing. That’s just the way it is, but… .

 

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Predictably after a year (years?) like the Bears have had under Fox, the coaching search reports will begin, and realistically, those have already been swirling around not only Fox, but also Bruce Arians (Arizona), Kyle Shanahan (Washington) and Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), among others. As far as Fox specifically, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport said on “NFL Game Day,” "Ted Phillips, their president, doing homework now trying to figure out which candidates are going to be available in the likely event John Fox is out.”

Several intriguing subtexts here:

Phillips has had roles of varying import in the searches and selections of Bears coaches and general managers for quite a few years. First thought is that if Phillips is indeed “doing homework,” it could well be more fact-finding than hands-on searching, which the Bears do not need in any way, shape or form.

The second intriguing subtext in Chicago is that the decision on Fox has rested with GM Ryan Pace, who interestingly, on the WBBM Bears pregame show, alluded to development that’s gone on with a young core of players as a positive this season.

That could loosely be construed as a vote in favor of Fox, but don’t go too far down that road. For what it’s worth, though, the conundrum for evaluating Fox lies in the basic chicken-egg debate that runs through virtually every assessment of an NFL coach. How much of the overall problem lies in a lack of talent vs. how much of it rests with a coach and staff not facilitating the talent that was there? If Fox isn’t back in 2018, but Cam Meredith, Kevin White, Kyle Long and Leonard Floyd are full-time, how much better will the ’18 Bears coach be just from having that particular weaponry alone available?

One other thought on the coaching carousel as it warms up out in the back shed:

Arians in some jeopardy in Arizona is a case study in something untoward in the NFL. This was the one-that-got-away for the Bears when then-GM Phil Emery opted for Marc Trestman over Arians, who then went west and turned around the Cardinals with seasons of 10-6, 11-5 and 13-3, the last of these ending with Arizona in the NFC Championship game. Then he apparently got stupid incapable, going 7-8-1 in 2016 and 6-8 to this point in 2017 – all of this playing with a makeshift quarterback situation in the same division with the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.

If Arians is somehow cut loose by Arizona, and Fox is shown the Halas Hall door, the Bears could rectify the mistake they made letting Arians get away and bring in one of the elite quarterback gurus in the NFL. Won’t happen, but a thought.