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.
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.
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.
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.
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.