KANSAS CITY – Coach John Fox described his approach to the NFL season as one shared by myriad other coaches, that of thinking in terms of quarters. As convinced as he was of the Bears ability to achieve more than the common predictions of mediocrity for his team, he acknowledged in an exclusive interview with CSNChicago.com that the first quarter of the season would involve some sort of learning curve, and it has, for players, coaches and beyond.
The first quarter of 2015 is now over, despite the preseason feel that some sectors continue to struggle through. The expectation bar is now raised, certainly from standpoint of schedule:
The Bears’ next two opponents are a combined 1-7; none of the Bears’ second-quarter opponents are above .500; and at this early quarter-pole, the remainder of the schedule has just 4-0 Denver and Green Bay as the only teams currently with winning records.
After the loss in Seattle, where special teams gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and a long trick punt return, where the short-handed offense barely threatened midfield, let alone the Seahawks end zone, Fox was candid:
“Really, we’ve got young guys, whether they’re young or not because it’s all new. Our special teams, offense and defense are all new systems to these football players. It’s not an excuse.”
He wasn’t using that excuse then and he won’t now.
Offensive line positions are still at issue, and Jay Cutler has yet to throw to a fully healthy and staffed group of wide receivers.
“It does get challenging,” Cutler said. “Even this week, a bunch of new guys, we have some guys banged up, so getting through practice, just getting everyone on the same page communication's gotta be good.
“I think from the OC on down, everyone's done a great job; coaching staff, players locking in during meetings... Mistakes are going to happen out here but we'll just try to eliminate them.”
And that is really the crux of it now. The Bears are done one-fourth of their first season under Fox, coordinators Vic Fangio, Adam Gase and Jeff Rodgers, and while injuries and a learning process inevitably continue, the mistakes by members of all three phases that have been the reasons for a 1-3 start can no longer inevitable.
The suspect defense in supposed transition has made exponential leaps, with more expected with the play of Jarvis Jenkins, Pernell McPhee, Eddie Goldman and anticipated return of Jeremiah Ratliff.
The offense has outgained three of the Bears’ four opponents (excepting only Seattle when coaches drastically dialed down the game plan to “safety” for Jimmy Clausen). The Bears have as many 20-yard pass plays (14) as their opponents, and more 10-yard running plays (16) than their opponents (12).
But the Bears also have more giveaways (six) than takeaways (four), and they have been penalized 33 times to opponents’ 28, getting back to the “mistakes” issue.
Special teams have held a punting edge on opponents (47.3 yds. avg. gross vs. 44.7) and Robbie Gould is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. Lengthy returns remain an issue until they’re not (Oakland had a kickoff return for 37 yards and punt runback of 22) but the disasters of the first three games were at least scaling back.
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All of which points to a Bears team that has had its John Fox learning-curve quarter. The Kansas City Chiefs have beaten only 1-4 Houston and allowed 30-plus points in their last three games, all losses. The Bears are presumably not what they’re going to be with more time under the Fox regime but they are done with time for excusing elementary mistakes as just part of doing business.
“I think there has been parts of those games where I think we’ve been competitive,” Fox said. “We just haven’t done it for the long haul yet, for all 60 minutes.”
And that’s what the second “quarter” is about.