The NFL doesn’t grade on a curve, only pass-fail, as in win-loss. The Bears won only one more game under John Fox than they did a year ago in Marc Trestman’s second year. But more than one game’s worth changed inside the Bears because of coaching in 2015.
The Bears offense went into its final game with six of its top seven receivers either on injured reserve or simply injured. And the defense came in with exactly one lineman who’d been on the roster in training camp. Injuries are part of every team’s season but that kind of sick list is something else entirely.
That the Bears won six games may be surprising that it was so few, or so many, given not only the catastrophic injury clusters at certain positions, but also that the coaching staff was doing what it had to do while installing new schemes on offense, defense and special teams. Reshaping the culture of the team was a primary goal and that was clearly accomplished regardless of the win total.
"I think the confidence [John Fox] brings, the excitement he brings, the accountability he brings, the discipline and all those things he started the moment he walked through the door really show up in the everyday work and on Sundays,” said wide receiver/returner Marc Mariani, one of the coaching victories, someone who’d caught five passes in three career seasons before 22 this year. “He's going to tell you, ‘We're going in the right direction. We're doing things right.’ It's exciting to be a part of it. We all see it and it's not just talk. It's what he brings. It won't be long. We're going to be playing a lot longer [than 16 regular-season games] in years to come."
The change effected in the game of quarterback Jay Cutler was the obvious major individual coaching achievement of coordinator Adam Gase. Cutler posted career-best’s in passer rating and other areas, even with three interceptions in the Detroit game.
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One overall in the philosophy of Fox’s was a strong running game, and coordinator Adam Gase put the plan into practice. The 2014 Bears ran the football 25 or more times just five times all season; the 2015 Bears had just two of 16 games in which they did NOT rush at least 25 times.
Gase surprised opponents at times with a two-back personnel grouping. Against Detroit, he unveiled a package with all three of Ka’Deem Carey, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford on the field at the same time, Forte and Langford split out right as receivers and Carey the lone runner with Jay Cutler in the backfield. Carey popped the play for a 10-yard run. Given the shortage of proven wide receivers, the scheming was a reasonable gambit.
That Gase was able to develop more of Jay Cutler’s game despite the whirlwind of receivers and changing offensive line personnel was an accomplishment of near-epic proportions.
“I think we’ve handled it pretty good,” Gase said. “The hardest thing for us is just practice, trying to get that rhythm, more for down-the-field throws. “We’re close to hooking up on a lot of these but we just don’t quite have the timing we need and that comes through guys being in and out and just not being able to develop that kind of timing.”
The defense under Vic Fangio completed its makeover as a 3-4 despite having limited player resources specifically suited for the scheme as designed. Yet the defense improved from 30th to 14th in yardage allowed and from 31st in points allowed to 20th, even with three return touchdowns given up. The run defense allowed about 125 yards per game vs. the 113 per game last season some of that traces to a 2014 defensive line that underwent few changes due to injury.
“It’s improved,” Fangio said of his unit. “That’s for sure, and really improved from the start of the season throughout.”
Special teams had myriad breakdowns early in the season and too many inexcusable penalties for a group that needed to be more disciplined.
Bears coaching season grade: A