Over the roller coaster ride that has been the Bears 2020 season, plenty of blame has gone around to try to explain the team’s woes. Mitchell Trubisky wasn’t good enough. The offensive line couldn’t create space for the run game. Matt Nagy’s playcalling had no rhythm. Nick Foles wasn’t good enough. Trubisky wasn’t good enough, again.
But over the last quarter of the season, a new and unfamiliar culprit began to emerge: The Bears defense. After surrendering no more than 26 points over their first 10 games, the defense started to falter, giving up 30 or more points three times, including one game where they allowed 41 points. In true Bears fan fashion, however, people couldn’t decide whether to lay the blame at Chuck Pagano’s feet, or to question why the players couldn’t execute on the field.
Following the Bears’ 35-16 loss to the Packers in Week 17, Alex Brown was asked who he thought was more culpable on The Football Aftershow. Ultimately he said both coaches and players deserve some blame, but he did say he thought the lion’s share belonged to one group over the other.
“I think it’s definitely a combination between the players and coaching,” Brown said. “But I lean more towards the players’ side because the coaches can only call the play. He can only put you in position to make plays, and I think Pagano— if you really watched the game— I think he did that. Vildor dropped a pick. He was in position to make a play. Eddie Jackson, Mingo, they’re in position to make plays— huge plays— if they catch those balls, those are takeaways. Those are interceptions to Aaron Rodgers’ ‘perfect day.’ It totally messes that up. But you don’t catch those plays, or you don’t make those picks, you don’t change that momentum.
“That’s not Pagano’s fault. If he calls that play and now you’re one-on-one in the hole with Jones, you’ve got to make the tackle. The coach doesn’t do that. So for me, it’s more on the players, but I get what people are saying, because everything falls back on the coaches.”
While Brown keyed in on those three particular instances the defense squandered to make a huge momentum shift, Olin Kreutz noticed a subtler problem that affected the game more consistently.
“The pass rush wasn’t there today,” Kreutz said on The Football Aftershow. “(The Packers) lost Bakhtiari—and obviously Aaron Rodgers does a nice job in the pocket and gets the ball out fast— but they did stop them a couple times on first and second down to put them in passing situations. We saw Robert Quinn, he was getting home in the first half, getting some pressure on him. But not enough pressure up the middle from Akiem Hicks, Mario Edwards, and not enough just harassing Aaron Rodgers, all day, trying to get him to make mistakes.
“For all the money they’re spending on that defensive line, and the defensive side of the ball, Khalil Mack doesn’t come up with very many plays today. Akiem Hicks doesn’t come up. Eddie Jackson drops the interception… Kyle Fuller gets beat for a touchdown. Really, Marquez Valdes-Scantling drops that touchdown pass over Duke Shelley— that’s five touchdown passes on the day.”
After Kreutz called out the big-money players, Brown said something no one would have expected going into Sunday’s game.
“Just because Khalil Mack had a sack, doesn’t mean he had a good game,” Brown said. “Quinn had a better game than Khalil Mack, to me. Just from me watching the game, I thought he had a really good game getting pressure on the quarterback. But we need more of that. We need more guys beating one-on-ones and that’s not what we’re seeing.”
All of that said, the Football Aftershow crew wasn't ready to completely let the coaches off the hook. At times, they noticed players weren’t in positions to succeed.
“There’s a lot of confusion in the secondary,” Kreutz said. “Guys one-on-one with the linebacker, and we’re all wondering, what the hell defense is that?... You’re trying to wonder what the hell’s going on a few more times than you’d like to while watching these games. What coverage are they in? You see them looking at each other. They’ve got to get this thing straight, because we all know what Drew Brees can do with the football.
“This defense the last month or so, we’ve been trying to say, you’ve got to worry about these guys. They don’t look good.”