After losses to Packers and Cardinals, Bears are … what, exactly?


After losses to Packers and Cardinals, Bears are … what, exactly?

Trying to make sense out of what unfolded Sunday in Soldier Field, because some of it really doesn’t make sense...

The great misfortune of the Marc Trestman era was that in part because of coaching, the whole was so much less than the sum of the parts; a team good enough to win eight games in 2013 despite an avalanche of injuries on defense degenerated into whatever the 2014 Bears were by the end.

There is no such thing as an overachiever but the whole point of coaching is to sports-wise enable and draw the absolute best from a group of players. That’s why John Fox was hired, as well as Vic Fangio and the rest.

Perhaps then the disturbing aspect of the Bears’ 48-23 loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, apart from specific instances of incompetence, was that so much of the damage done to the Bears was self-destruction, which was directly opposite the general expectation of an accomplished coaching staff like Fox’s.

“What killed us were self-inflicted wounds,” said left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

[MORE: Cutler out with 'strained' hamstring; Bears won’t name Jimmy Clausen starter yet]

Those fell into more than one classification, unfortunately. And fair or not, coaches typically are blamed for a team as bereft of discipline as the Bears were Sunday, although Jimmy Clausen, in his first 2015 declaration as presumptive Bears starting quarterback, took the back of his mates.

“We’re not undisciplined,” Clausen stated post-game. “I don’t agree with that statement at all. The biggest thing is we’ve got to get everyone on the same page so we don’t have those same mistakes and we can keep letting drives go. ... I have to do a better job of communicating with those guys, just moving the chains down the field.”

The problem is that the Bears help so much. Despite playing two of the more reputable offenses in the NFC, the Bears outgained both, by a combined 737-622.

Except for the giveaway yards. The undisciplined ones.

The Bears incurred 170 yards in penalties, tying a franchise record set 71 years ago, 14 misdeeds in all. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, who ran his winning streak to eight games dating back through last season, passed for 185 total yards; the Bears gave the Cardinals 80 passing yards on pass-interference calls and another 15 on a roughing-the-passer infraction.

[RELATED - What do Bears have in Cutler replacement Jimmy Clausen?]

The Bears were penalized six times in the first half; with time to reorganize and collect themselves at halftime, they drew 11 penalties over the final 30 minutes.

The reality, as evidenced by the Green Bay game, is that too many of the mistakes lay beyond the reach of the coaches and lay in dismal execution. Of Arizona’s 42 points through three quarters, 35 of them were the direct result of catastrophe misplays and mistakes by the Bears.

Arizona’s first and second touchdown drives covered a combined 145 yards; the Bears gave the Cardinals 80 of those yards on pass-interference penalties by cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Alan Ball.

But it was far worse than just those two plays. Far worse.

The Cardinals returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, which could be ascribed to superior scheme and execution except that it was clear that Bears coverage personnel almost to a man was incapable of getting off blocks.

Fuller committed an obvious pass-interference penalty after failing to get any initial jam of receiver John Brown. That flag cost the Bears 42 yards and put the football at the Chicago 11-yard line.

[MORE: John Fox message after Bears’ loss: 'We’ll find guys who want to do it']

One Arizona possession later, Ball failed to make any effort to turn his head and on a deep throw, also to Brown, incurred a 38-yard penalty for pass interference. From the Chicago 16, the outcome was effectively certain.

The deadlies

Bears quarterbacks threw two interceptions, giving the ball to Arizona once in the end zone (the pick-six of Cutler) and once at the Chicago 32-yard line, both turnovers turning into touchdowns.

Clausen’s third-quarter interception by Patrick Peterson left the Cardinals at the Chicago 32, and two plays later the Cardinals were in the end zone.

Bad teams do the kinds of things the Bears do. That’s why they’re bad. And maybe the Bears, being without expected critical components (Jeremiah Ratliff, Kevin White, Ray McDonald, Alshon Jeffery), are. And maybe it’s not really that simple.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

“The difference between 5-11 and 11-5 is this much,” said defensive end Jared Allen, holding two fingers nearly together. “I hate to break it to the fans and [media]. It’s not a big difference. It’s not a whole lot of changes you need to make. It’s execution at this level. It’s execution and guys making a play here or there to change the tide of the game.

“Very rarely are you going to see pure domination. And that’s the difference. We’re going to keep plugging away. I know everybody on the outside looks at the score. We look at the details. If you fix the details, everything else corrects itself.”

That will be worth watching. Because right now, on a John Fox-coached team, some things aren’t making sense.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

USA Today

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

The Chicago Bears logo has withstood the test of time. In a sports era full of uniform changes, the Bears have maintained the classic orange 'C' for most of their nearly 100 years in Chicago.

Unfortunately, tradition doesn't equate to popularity.

Chicago's logo ranked 28th in the NFL, according to a recent poll of nearly 1,500 football fans. Only the Redskins (29), Bengals (30), Jets (31) and Browns (32) were worse.

I’m not sure how I feel about the underbite on the “C.” I can see how this would be a polarizing feature of this logo. I wish to an extent that it met up more evenly. I think they could have had the bottom meet up in a more even fashion and still maintained the sharpness, of the “C,” which I like. I don’t mind the point [ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE “C”], without the point it would be super boring. The point actually does add something from a design standpoint that makes it stand out.

Bears fans will take exception with the results. Wins have been hard to come by in recent seasons, but there's still something special about seeing the familiar navy and orange on Sundays in the fall. The 'C' is arguably the biggest part of that. Sure, it's not a complex design overflowing with colors, but it represents a long and storied history. 

It's interesting that each of the bottom five teams have struggled to string together winning seasons. On the flipside, teams like the Saints, Falcons, Rams, Vikings and Eagles rank in the top six. Maybe it's recency bias.

In the NFC North, the Lions rank No. 2 (which is a shocker) and the Packers are No. 20.