Bears

1-on-1 with John Fox: How Bears coach sees his team, 2015 season

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1-on-1 with John Fox: How Bears coach sees his team, 2015 season

Going into his 38th year of coaching, Bears coach John Fox has gone to three Super Bowls, worked with Hall of Fame coaches and players, and overseen team makeovers in Carolina and Denver. In Part 1 of a conversation with CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John “Moon” Mullin, Fox lays out some of his operating principles and philosophies, the one common denominator in success he’s experienced, and how he believes the 2015 Chicago Bears season will unfold.

Q: You said back in training camp that you thought you – the Bears – would be better than people think. Still feel that way?

A: I do. I really do. I’ve seen progress. The world doesn’t stand still. In this league you don’t stand still. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. If you can have the mindset of just getting better every day, and it’s something you sell, almost like vacuum cleaners… .You’re going to get hit in the mouth. You can’t blink, you can’t waver. You’ve just got to keep marching like that.

Events + your response = the result. It’s true in life, it’s true in everyday practice, it’s real. There’s all kinda [stuff] that happens, whether it’s [a player] talking something about… .

And here’s what I say to you about that: If you don’t have something good to say about somebody, don’t say it. I learned a long time ago that it’s OK to point fingers, just as long as you know when and where to point them. If things are bad, point them at yourself. If it’s good, point ‘em out. And don’t worry about what you can’t control. You can’t control what the media says, you can’t control what your teammates says, so [the heck with] it. We’re going to talk about it but like a duck, it’s going to roll off, so don’t worry about the noise, just do your job.

The quarterback and the head coach get way more credit when things go well and way more blame when it’s bad. That’s why we’re compensated better than anybody else. So suck it up.

Q: No one wants to talk win totals or stat specifics, but what’s your sense of how the season plays out?

A: Truth be told, everybody breaks the season down into four quarters. Our first four games, and a little preseason, there’ll be a learning curve. Whenever you have a new staff, it’s just not as well-oiled early. Going back to both places I’ve been [Carolina, Denver], it didn’t start great. By the time you finish that first year, then it consistently gets better because you have some core players that know your system.

It doesn’t happen overnight, even from just the learning curve. Forget about the ability level; it’s knowing and understanding the system.

Q: Publicly and privately, there’s a looseness, an ease with a lot of this team. And watching you around practice, you seem to like these guys.

A: I’ve been with lots harder-to-manage groups before [laughs]. Yeah, yeah, because our guys are not afraid to work. One thing I cannot stand – and I’ve had all kind of different personalities, backgrounds, all that – the thing I cannot tolerate is guys not willing to work. In my mind, you don’t work, you don’t get better.

I use [UCLA coach John] Wooden’s ‘Pyramid of Success.’ The cornerstones are ‘industriousness,’ which is hard work, and then ‘enthusiasm.’ I’m convinced that you don’t work to your maximum unless you’re doing it with enthusiastically. And it’s contagious. Call it fun, call it anything you want. If you can learn that skillset or mindset, there’s more energy and you get better.

Q: This has been, shall we say, an “interesting” early stretch with you and some of the media over different things.

A: I said, ‘I don’t like evaluating players in the media.’ What I really should’ve said was, ‘I don’t like criticizing players in the media.’ And I don’t really like saying in the media what I think of an opponent. I mean, somebody one day asked me what I thought of the receiver, Jordy Nelson, getting hurt [torn ACL] in Green Bay. C’mon, what am I supposed to say, ‘I’m cheering because somebody got hurt?’ Come on.

And every day I’m getting asked when Kevin White’s going to be ready. How am I supposed to know exactly? And if I say something, give a timeline, and then the player isn’t ready by then, then everybody thinks there’s something else wrong, or whatever. That’s why everything is ‘day to day’ with me, because that’s really what it is. I always do what protects players the most.

Q: You’ve drawn a very hard line on not letting out what you consider ‘competitive information.’

A: If you come out and say who’s practicing, who’s out, whatever, any earlier than you have to, you’re helping your opponent. If a guy is ‘out,’ then who you put there for him is another advantage because they can study and break down that guy.

This game’s about matchups. That’s what some of these cats don’t really get. If this was game week and somehow somebody’s out of practice and we move people around, knowing that is a huge advantage for your opponent. It’d be a huge advantage for me if I was the opponent. Putting information out there is not doing us any favors. Maybe people don’t care, but there it is.

I get it. I don’t hate people. I get it. I would appreciate a little more if they did. It is all about competitive advantage.

Q: You’ve spoken of how much Chuck Noll influenced you, his toughness and how he did things. What have been others who are really part of who and where you are in this business?

A: After working with Chuck at Pittsburgh, it was up with the Raiders and Al Davis. People either loved him or hated him, and you didn’t always see eye to eye. But in personnel, I learned how he thought. He was an excellent personnel man. The evaluation of personnel. And that’s all part of being a coach, being a good evaluator, otherwise, if you can’t evaluate players, how are you going to pick a team?

Then I went to the New York Giants – Wellington Mara, Robert Tisch, George Young, Ernie Accorsi. Player-wise, Michael Strahan, Jason Sehorn, Jesse Armstead – Hall of Fame kinds of players – and people – every day.

My very first job, Sid Gillman was the A.D. at a small school called USIU [United States International University]. I got to sit with Sid Gillman every day for six months. He was a ‘system’ guy, whether it was recognition, terminology, he was about “make it make sense.’ That didn’t used to matter in the pros because guys couldn’t go anywhere and you had them a while. But now this is where a little of the college game has crept into the NFL – you have to have a learnable system that makes sense and guys can come in and it’ll make sense.

Q: You’ve won in Denver, Carolina, with the Giants. What’s the common denominator? Obviously talent and players, but a lot of people have talent and players and don’t win. What’s the single biggest common constant in winning?

A: It’s people. It’s people. It’s the front office. It’s ownership. It’s ownership. It’s players. It’s more than talent and a quarterback, even though everybody wants to make it that. Now, to get elite, history would prove, not 100 percent but a large percentage, those do give you a better chance. Obviously.

But I go back to San Diego [1992], the only team in NFL history to start 0-4 and make the playoffs. And not only did we make the playoffs, we won the division. And not only did we win the division, we won 11 of our last 12.

In Denver my first year, we started 1-4, finished 8-8, won six in a row with Tebow our quarterback. Next year, Peyton Manning’s our quarterback; he’s going to be the wonder child, and we start 2-3; wasn’t good. Then we win 11 in a row. It wasn’t easy. We had a drastic change in our system from the year before; completely different offense. And we didn’t start fast.

It’s back to people. I tell guys, ‘I’m not spending eight hours a day with [jerks]. And I don’t expect you to, either.’ When those come up, I’m runnin’ them out. Because it’s people. If you have all oars in the water and don’t have ‘anchors,’ you’ve got a chance – I don’t care what your talent level is.

If you play smart football, don’t turn it over, beat yourself, keep it close, you can win games in the fourth quarter. We did it in ’03 [Carolina, Super Bowl]. Obviously you can’t do it with no players. But if you’ve got success, you’ve got good people.

People ask me about last year. Hell, I don’t know about last year. I say: You’ve got a rearview mirror. You glance at it to see what’s behind you and learn from it. But you spend all your time looking in the rearview mirror and not out the windshield, you’re going to wreck. We need to be looking ahead, not behind, except glancing to learn from it. 

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

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USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

Take a look over the NFC landscape and try to find me a team that can compete with the Rams. 

Packers? Held back by Rodgers' knee and Rodgers' coach. Saints? Might not even win their own division. Washington? Does Alex Smith really scare anyone in the playoffs? 

The Rams have one of the easier paths to the Championship Round/Super Bowl that we've seen in some time. Will it likely stay that way? Probably not. But there's a difference between parity and mediocrity and right now the NFC is toeing the line HARD. 

Outside the NFC's "elite", how did your team do this week? 

You can take a look here and see where they landed. 

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

QUARTERBACKS: C+

While the context of Mitch Trubisky still learning and developing in his second year in the NFL, and first in Matt Nagy’s offense, is important, there were too many missed throws and poor decisions to overlook on Sunday. One of his interceptions wasn’t his fault — Josh Bellamy can’t let a pass that hits him in the hands and chest, while falling to the ground, wind up in the arms of a waiting defensive back. But Trubisky’s second interception was on the quarterback: Anthony Miller ran an excellent corner route and flashed open, but Trubisky’s timing was slightly off and he under threw the ball, turning what should’ve been a breezy touchdown into a 50-50 ball. Jonathan Jones made a spectacular play to come down with it for an interception, but the point is it shouldn’t have been a contested throw in the first place. Trubisky missed three throws to Miller that all could’ve resulted in touchdowns throughout the game. 

Trubisky nearly was intercepted in the end zone twice, too, a week after throwing an end zone pick against Miami. Throwing in the vicinity of offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and reserve tight end Ben Braunecker was a poor decision, one Trubisky knew immediately he shouldn’t have made. 

And Trubisky’s accuracy on deep balls was disappointing — he only completed one of 10 throws that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with that one being the one-yard-short Hail Mary to Kevin White as time expired. In fact, on throws of 15 or more yards, he wasn’t much better, completing only two of 14 passes, including the Hail Mary. 

But the Bears still managed 31 points, and Trubisky did well to diagnose a Patriots’ defense that was neither containing nor spying him, gouging them for 81 yards on six scrambles. That showed an important skill of Trubisky’s — even when things aren’t going well for him through the air, his ability to make plays with this legs was critical in keeping this offense afloat. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Tarik Cohen again had an impactful game catching the ball, with eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards with a touchdown. What he’s able to do out of the backfield props up the grade for a group that, otherwise, didn’t have much success on the ground: Cohen rushed six times for 14 yards, while Jordan Howard gained 39 yards on 12 carries. Cohen’s longest run was five yards; Howard’s was six, and combined they averaged barely over three yards per carry. The Bears have shown they can score points without an effective running game, but how long can that last?

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin injury and only caught one of five targets for four yards, and dropped what would’ve been a third-down conversion in Patriots territory in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead of an extended drive into the red zone. New England’s defensive strategy was to take away Taylor Gabriel, which is executed successfully — Gabriel only had one target until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with three catches for 26 yards. 

Miller had the best game of anyone in this group, consistently running open — only with Trubisky missing him frequently to the tune of two catches seven targets for 35 yards (there were, probably, three touchdowns to Miller Trubisky left on the board with over- or under-thrown passes). Kevin White caught his first two passes of the year, including a career-long 54-yarder on the game-ending Hail Mary, and also drew a penalty in the end zone on a one-on-one fade route. Josh Bellamy, conversely, did not have a good game, going 0-for-4 on targets and aiding J.C. Jackson’s interception of Trubisky by not cleanly coming down with a pass along the sideline. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Trey Burton had his breakout game, catching nine of 11 targets for 126 yards with a touchdown and doing an excellent job to be a reliable target over the middle for Trubisky with Gabriel taken away by New England’s defense. Seven of Burton’s nine receptions were for a first down, with another one gaining 11 yards on a first-and-15. Dinging this unit’s grade was Dion Sims dropping his only target, which would’ve gone for a first down late in the second quarter. It was Sims’ first target since Week 1. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The entire offensive line did well to protect Trubisky, especially after New England sent a few early blitzes that seemed to cause confusion up front. But even when the Bears brought in Sowell to be a sixth offensive lineman, the run blocking wasn’t there — on the five running plays on which Sowell was on the field, the Bears only gained nine yards. The Bears’ ineffectiveness running the ball has been a recurring issue, with blame spread evenly between the running backs and offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Bilal Nichols made three splash plays — a hit on Tom Brady, a forced fumble and a run stuff — and continues to look like an excellent mid-round find by Ryan Pace. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman did well to make sure the Patriots’ didn’t get much on the ground after Sony Michel was injured, and that interior pair combined for five pressures — nearly half the Bears’ total of 11. But when the Bears needed a quick stop, knowing New England would run the ball late in the fourth quarter, the defensive line didn’t manage an impact, allowing the Patriots to chew up 3:49 of the remaining 4:13 left on the clock. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

Could this have been an F? Definitely. But it’s not based on this factor alone: The scheme deployed by Vic Fangio didn’t ask Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to rush the passer as much as usual, with those two players combining to drop into coverage more (31 times) than rush the passer (29 times). Yes, when Mack and Floyd rushed — which was a one-or-the-other thing, not both at the same time — they weren’t effective. And Floyd, especially, was picked on by Brady and James White, who easily juked him for a touchdown in the first half. This was not a good game for either player, as well as Aaron Lynch, who only had one pressure in 10 pass rushing snaps. But given what this unit was asked to do, it wasn’t a failure — though it was close. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan thumped 10 tackles and was solid in run defense, but did allow three receptions on four targets, two of which went for first downs. Roquan Smith, too, was solid against the run but was targeted five times, allowing four receptions for 35 yards with three first downs and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. Smith did well to pressure and sack Tom Brady on a third down play near the end zone, resulting in a field goal. Smith only played 34 snaps, though, his lowest total since Week 1. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

Kyle Fuller played well outside of getting beat on a perfectly-thrown back shoulder pass from Brady to Josh Gordon on fourth down, and his interception — which was aided by a good play by Adrian Amos — set up Trubisky’s touchdown to Burton that brought the Bears within one. Both Fuller and Prince Amukamara tackled well, as did Sherrick McManis the two times he was targeted. Gordon’s 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, though, can’t be overlooked — Amukamara was in coverage on that play, and Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that would’ve brought Gordon down around the 32-yard line. Instead, he gained another 30 yards on the play, setting up White’s second score of the game. Concerningly, this is now the third game of six in 2018 in which the Bears have allowed at least one big-chunk passing play in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Opponents are 1-10 when allowing two or more special teams touchdowns against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. More recently, teams are 44-8 when scoring two or more special teams touchdowns in the last five years (as an aside, the Bears managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 despite allowing a pair of ‘teams scores). 

Things started off well for this unit, with Nick Kwiatkoski punching the ball out of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands into the waiting arms of DeAndre Houston-Carson on a kick return, leading to a Bears touchdown. Cody Parkey forced Patterson to return his next kickoff, and the Bears swarmed the returner to drop him at the Patriots’ 18. But the Bears lost a good chunk of their momentum when Patterson scythed 95 yards for a return score on his next return attempt, with Kevin Toliver II missing a tackle — though he was the only player who even had a chance to bring down Patterson, so the return hardly was solely the fault of the rookie. Toliver, though, did later commit a holding penalty on a Patriots punt that sailed out of bounds. 

Ben Braunecker, who’s been a generally solid special teams contributor over the last few years, wound up on his back on Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. It doesn’t count for much, but credit Benny Cunningham’s effort to try to get to Kyle Van Noy on that play — but there was no way he was going to get to the Patriots linebacker, who was surrounded by a gaggle of teammates to get into the end zone. 

Similarly frustrating for this unit was, after Trubisky found Burton for touchdown that cut the Bears’ deficit to seven, they allowed Patterson to take the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the New England 41-yard line. 

COACHING: B

This may seem high given how Fangio’s defensive plan didn’t result in much success and how Chris Tabor’s special teams units coughed up 14 points. But worth noting is more than half the Patriots’ offensive possessions didn’t end in points (six of 10), which is hardly awful against an offense that scored 20 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals while only punting 21 times in its first six games. That’s not to completely absolve the Bears’ defense, as the execution and scheming needed to be better. But this wasn’t a total failure on that side of the ball, at least in terms of holding New England to 24 points. 

That being said, this grade is mostly about Nagy doing well to scheme the Bears’ offense in a game in which his quarterback was uneven and his quarterback’s two top receivers were limited either due to injury (Robinson) or the Patriots’ defense (Gabriel). Scoring 31 points in any week is impressive, and the Bears were a few better-executed plays away from not needing a Hail Mary to get one more yards to tie it at the end of the game. Complain all you want about the ineffective of the Bears’ running plays, but this offense has scored 48, 28 and 31 points in its last three games. What Nagy’s been able to do has been a big reason why, even if the Bears are only 1-2 in those contests.