Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15


Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15

Defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins described the remaining four games of the 2015 season as “a test of character” now that the Bears have stumbled to 5-7 in the playoff discussion purely as an exercise in mathematics.

Because the Bears have faced multiple character tests this season and come up short too many times, notably the three different times they have held .500 in their hands and fumbled it.

Football “character” has different elements and the Bears need to address them in the time left to them.

[RELATED - Blown chances in OT loss to 49ers put Bears on brink of being finished]

Amid the aftershocks from the Bears’ 26-20 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers, safety Chris Prosinski passed on offering details of what went so horribly awry on the 71-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith that ended the game and effectively more than that.

“I’m not going to point fingers,” Prosinski said.

Nor should he or anyone else. Because the only digit that should have been pointed anywhere was the thumb.

If one or more of the Bears’ defensive backs wanted to step up and say, “My bad,” as Robbie Gould did after his failed field-goal try, fine. But players usually don’t discuss schematic specifics, good or bad, and that’s not really the point, anyway.

What is, is that for the first time this season, the word “appalling” can be hung on a defeat.

If the Bears weren’t as good as the 49ers, that’s one thing. But while disparaging Bears talent borders on the cliché’d by now, the simple fact is that their talent was enough to:

  • split with the Green Bay Packers;
  • be within a missed assignment of taking the 10-2 Denver Broncos to overtime;
  • allow the Minnesota Vikings 10 points in the final 1:49 to lose by three;
  • and take down the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Chiefs who are 6-1 since that game.

“The only difference between people with good records and maybe not so good records is they've won more of their close games than the not-so-good-record teams,” coach John Fox said.

[MORE: Bears shoot themselves in the foot in OT loss to 49ers]

Not necessarily.

Judging effort or focus is never easy or always altogether fair, but questioning it isn’t unreasonable, certainly not in this case. Jenkins said that the Bears were focused before this game, but “focus” is fluid and the Bears are 5-7 in very large part because of how they played at the end of the game – if there was focus in all three areas, it wasn’t apparent – as well as how they played at the beginning, not looking like they were fully ready to play.

“We’ve just got to show up every Sunday,” said defensive end Willie Young, a tacit summation that the Bears didn’t this time. Not at the beginning on offense, settling for field goals or less, or at the end on defense with the disasters of Blaine Gabbert’s TD run or Torrey Smith’s TD catch.

“We just lost rush lanes,” defensive lineman Will Sutton, taking some ownership of a sloppy fundamental by a position group having a strong game. “We’re taught to do some things but sometimes you gotta just play football, and [Gabbert] just hit the hole where nobody was at. It’s just the little things at the end. I thought on defense we played a real good game and just let it slip.”

Poor effort or sloppiness is typically laid at the feet of coaching. But effort and sloppiness are products of poor preparation during the week, and maybe the Bears just took wrong conclusions out of their film sessions, maybe that the 49ers really weren’t very good. It happens; just ask the New England Patriots after their experience with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But if professionals need to be motivated when all they need to read are a calendar and schedule, then the term “professionals” does not apply.

A criticism leveled at Fox by former boss John Elway was that Fox’s Denver Broncos didn’t go down “kicking and screaming” at the end of big games. (I never quite got that, when you’re talking about a coach who consistently wins; so Elway was saying Fox’s teams just kicked and screamed in little games?). Not sure that is the relevant problem, certainly not with every member of the beaten Bears.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The offensive line and running backs played as good a game collectively as they have all season, to cite one group of individuals who pass the effort eye test. Young, to cite another, was within a shoelace of taking down Gabbert early in that 44-yard gutting run in the fourth quarter “To know you were just a shoestring away and ended up in a touchdown… ,” Young said, reflecting. “Any closer and I think I’d have had him.”

Jay Cutler and his receiver group were collectively handled by one of the NFL’s poorer pass defenses. Cutler, for his part, was personally out-schemed by San Francisco on his pick-6 in the first quarter, set up by blitz looks, not recognizing peril, and getting no help from receivers like Josh Bellamy in the screen cluster.

If the Bears truly didn’t have enough talent – and they’ve achieved what they have so far without Alshon Jeffery for five games, Eddie Royal for six, Kevin White for 12, Matt Forte for three, and that’s just offense – the San Francisco loss would be at least a little understandable. Fox and coordinators Adam Gase, Vic Fangio and Jeff Rodgers did have players with enough talent in enough right positions to have won this and other games.  

Ryan Pace ranked among bottom-third of NFL general managers

Ryan Pace ranked among bottom-third of NFL general managers

Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace is having what many believe is his best offseason since taking the job in 2015, but after three seasons and only 14 wins, he needs a big year in 2018 to justify the confidence ownership has in him. 

According to a recent breakdown of all 32 general managers, Pace ranks among the worst decision-makers in the league.

No. 23: Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears

There’s only so much you can accomplish in one spring. The problem is that Pace let himself accumulate so many needs to begin with. He needs Trubisky and Nagy to springboard a fourth-year turnaround. 

The rankings didn't include six new GM hires, which makes Pace's positioning even more troubling.

Even though the Bears haven't seen wins on the field, Pace has done a solid job through three draft classes and appears to have the right coaching staff in place. His first hire, John Fox, was a calculated move by a rookie general manager to have an experienced football guy to lean on. Now, several offseasons later, the team is starting to take on his identity.

Despite all the talent Pace has added through the draft and the slow but steady transformation of the team's overall culture, it's a win-now business and if his blueprint doesn't start producing more wins than losses, it will be hard to justify more time and patience for his plan to develop.

Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

The NFL Draft is a necessary evil if you’re a veteran player, especially if your team just drafted two players at the position you play and your contract doesn’t provide much job security beyond the upcoming season. 

That’s the spot Danny Trevathan is in now. The Bears nabbed Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in April's NFL Draft, then used their fourth-round selection on Joel Iyiegbuniwe. Both players are inside linebackers; the Bears could net $6.4 million in cap savings if they release Trevathan following the 2018 season. 

Trevathan, though, isn’t approaching 2018 like the writing is on the wall for it to be his final year in Chicago. 

“It depends on how you look at it,” Trevathan said. “For me, it is what it is, (Smith’s) a good player and he’s going to help us out on defense. You just want to go ahead and do your job and keep working. He’s a good player, just like we’ve all got some good players out here. But he’s … we got the right guy to fit our defense. He’s working his tail off and he fits in with our linebacker group.”

That Trevathan answered a question about the decision to draft Smith, specifically, in that manner isn’t surprising. The 28-year-old is one of the most respected leaders in the Bears locker room, the kind of guy who sets the tone for the rest of the defense (in other words: Exactly what you want out of a veteran inside linebacker). Trevathan offered plenty of praise for Smith not only as a player, but for how he’s approached his first few practices wearing a Bears helmet. 

“He's quick, instinctive, learns well,” Trevathan said. “He's just out here trying to get better. That's what I like about him. He's calling the call sheets out. He's learning the plays. That's what you want in him. You want him to come out here and be humble. You want him to work hard. I see that in his eyes, coming out here. It's a lot of lights on him. It's a lot of attention on him. But he's finding himself out here, coming out here and trying to make some plays.”

The reality, though, is that Smith may not be the one to take Trevathan’s job, if it comes to that. The best-case outlook for Iyiegbuniwe would appear to be that the Bears found a fourth-round steal who can pair with Smith as Vic Fangio’s long-term inside linebacking tandem. If “Iggy” proves to be that guy, then Trevathan could indeed find his place in Chicago in jeopardy. 

And, too, even if Iyiegbuniwe doesn’t quickly develop into a starting-caliber player, the Bears could still decide to cut ties with Trevathan if Smith proves to be elite. 

The best way for Trevathan to make sure he’s still here in a year, though, is to play a full 16-game season — something he hasn’t done since 2013, and he's missed 11 games since signing a four-year deal in 2016. 

But when Trevathan is on the field, his speed and physicality are a critical component to the Bears’ success. That won't change in 2018, at the least. 

"(He has) that veteran experience," coach Matt Nagy said. "We went against Danny when I was in Kansas City and he was at Denver so we always knew what kind of player he was. He has the demeanor to him, a focus, he's very serious when he's out there on the field and he'll have a great mentorship, he'll be a great mentor for Roquan."