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


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.

Did Eddy Pineiro kick himself on to the Bears' roster on Saturday?

USA Today

Did Eddy Pineiro kick himself on to the Bears' roster on Saturday?

INDIANAPOLIS — Eddy Pineiro had been begging for a shot at a long field goal in a preseason game. Midway through the third quarter of the Bears’ game Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, he finally got his wish. 

And Pineiro, in nailing a 58-yard field goal, gave the Bears’ beleaguered kicking competition one of its first overwhelmingly positive, encouraging moments. 

“I wanted that 58-yarder bad,” Pineiro grinned, “and thank God it worked out for me.”

Pineiro was mobbed by his teammates after making that kick, with cornerback Prince Amukamara verbalizing a growing thought around Halas Hall. 

“I feel like he’s one of the quote-un-quote swaggiest kickers I’ve ever seen,” Amukamara said.

Pineiro’s mental edge has been noticeable since he arrived from the Oakland Raiders in May, but now that he’s going on a full week of being the Bears’ only kicker, perhaps he’s able to let that swagger fly a little more. 

This is Pineiro’s chance to earn the job he thought he would’ve won in Oakland last year — before he got hurt — and whatever confidence boost he gained over the last week looked like it paid off on Saturday night. 

“It was a good day for him and we just want to continue for him to get that confidence, keep going more and more, show that we trust in him and keep rolling,” coach Matt Nagy said. “… I think you could see a little more confidence in him knowing that every rep is his and he knows he’s going to get every rep. There’s no questioning, when am I kicking in the game, in practice, etc.”

Nagy and Pineiro had a chat earlier in the week, with Nagy’s goal to make sure Pineiro didn’t feel like his job would be on the line every time he kicked. Pineiro said Nagy made him feel like his coach and team had his back — this after Pineiro admitted, on the day the team cut Elliott Fry, that he felt like he was on “thin ice.”

Pineiro wouldn’t have been wrong for feeling that given the preseason workload he had previously, though. 

Before Saturday’s 58-yard bomb, the majority of Pineiro’s preseason field goal attempts were chip shots. As in: Three of his five were from 30 or fewer yards, including a 21-yarder in the first half of Saturday’s game. His only other made field goal was from 41 yards, while he missed from 48 in the Bears’ preseason opener. 

While coach Nagy has said all he cares about is production — and not how long the kicks are — those sub-30-yard kicks don’t tell us much about a kicker. Making them is the bare minimum (missing one, on the other hand, is a waive-able offense). 

Pineiro still has one more game to prove himself — which, critically, takes place at Soldier Field. One long kick in downtown Indianapolis does not mean the Bears’ woes at that position are solved. 

It does, however, look good in light of Kaare Vedvik missing two field goals for the Minnesota Vikings (after they dealt a fifth-round pick for him) and throwing their kicking woes into a rough place:

Instead, Pineiro can confidently head into his final preseason game with the Bears thinking it may not be his last in the team’s uniform. 

“I feel part of the team,” Pineiro said. “I feel I’m gaining the coaches’ confidence, the players’ confidence.”

Bears react to Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement: ‘He doesn’t owe us any reason’

Bears react to Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement: ‘He doesn’t owe us any reason’

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears’ third preseason game of 2019 will be memorable for much more than Eddy Pineiro’s 58-yard field goal, as it turns out. 

On the sideline across from them, and around the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium, a surreal scene played out: Thousands of fans received an ESPN alert during the second half of Saturday night’s game with the stunning news that quarterback Andrew Luck was retiring. But there Luck was, standing in shorts and a t-shirt on the Indianapolis Colts’ sideline, all while legions of fans — and the opposing team — learned of the league’s most stunning retirement since that of Barry Sanders. 

“It’s unfortunate for Luck to not get to share his truth and break it out how he would’ve intended,” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “And no disrespect to Adam (Schefter), that’s Adam’s job, to break news. So yeah, it’s very unfortunate.”

That the news of Luck’s impending retirement broke during an otherwise-meaningless Saturday night preseason game — in which neither the Colts nor Bears played any of their starters — made it feel even more hallucinatory. 

Wait: Andrew Luck — the 29-year-old face of a franchise with such a bright future — is retiring? What? 

“He’s definitely a great player in this league, and after what he did last year after not playing for a while — yeah, so,” Amukamara said, trailing off. “It’ll just be interesting to hear the reason. 

“To be honest, he doesn’t owe us any reason.”

Luck, though, eloquently, candidly and emotionally explained his reasoning for retiring in a press conference following Saturday’s game. He described being “stuck in a cycle of rehab” and that the pain from six years in the NFL took the joy out of the game for him. 

“Part of my journey going forward will be getting out of pain and figuring out what’s going on and how to feel better,” Luck said. 

Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long, who dealt with his own brutal stretch of injuries and rehab from 2016-2018, discussed the toll that can take on a player. 

“If you’ve ever dealt with injuries as a professional athlete extensively, cause everybody deals with injuries on a certain level, but the guys that have been through just injury after injury, and it takes a long time regardless of their success rate, it starts to wear on you mentally,” Long said. “Obviously the physical aspect is tough. But the mental side is a real thing and you know, it’s just, being injured is tough, being injured is real tough.

“… I hope nothing but the best for Andrew in whatever he chooses to do.”

Bears outside linebacker James Vaughters — who was one of the more impressive players vying for a roster spot on Saturday — overlapped with Luck at Stanford in 2011. He said he remembered Luck’s dedication to his craft and attention to details among the things that made him a great quarterback. 

“He’s a high character guy, he’s a great leader,” Vaughters said. “He pays attention to the details. (I was) blessed to be able to play with him, blessed to know a guy like that because details, details, details are what make a difference in this game. I really appreciate the opportunity to play with him, the opportunity to know him. He’s a great guy.”

The Bears left Indianapolis on Saturday as merely a small part of the biggest NFL story of 2019. They were just the team on the opposing sideline when the news broke. These two teams play each other once every four years, so Luck’s retirement doesn’t affect their outlook for 2019 (unless you were predicting a Bears-Colts Super Bowl). 

But on a personal level, plenty of members of the Bears played against Luck or got to know him somehow. And from afar, those players and coaches conveyed nothing but respect for Luck, both the player and — more importantly, on this day — the person. 

“I have so much respect for him,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “I remember him coming out his rookie year (2012), seeing him grow and come in behind Peyton Manning. 

“Here’s the one thing I remember about Andrew, is a little story not many people know about: I remember sitting at the train station in Indy here at the Combine (Nagy was an offensive quality control assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles then). And everybody knew that he was going to be the first guy taken. And here he is going around to these 32 tables that teams have all their coaches sitting around to do interviews with a lot of players that might not have formal interviews — these were informal interviews. 

“And most guys don’t do that. Here he is, probably the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, he’s going around from table to table sitting down in these informal interviews with position coaches. And that always stuck out to me. And I said you know what, this guy’s going to have a heck of a career, and that’s what he’s done. 

“Obviously it’s shocking to everybody, and they have their own deal, but I just have a lot of respect for him.”