Chatting with ProFootballTalk.com legend Mike Florio on NBC Radio’s “PFT Live!” Wednesday morning was a good chance to noodle over how a call of 10-6 could possibly be made for a Bears team coming off a two-year death spiral that ended with five straight losses and its 5-11 final count. (One good friend in the business suggested that I made my picks while in a marijuana shop. Let the record show that I have been in Florida most recently and absolutely nowhere near Colorado or Washington. Just in case you were wondering.)
The topic of the day, the week really, is the Bears’ schedule. Florio wondered if there was a wave of civic angst over the Bears getting such a difficult start to the season, with Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle their first three games. While that’s a load of a work order for a team starting out with a new head coach, my take is that the norm for thinking on the Bears is that there’s so much negativity still raging from last season, that most folks don’t think it matters when the Bears would play the Packers, Cardinals or Seahawks; they’ll lose anyhow.
Mike threw out that it might be better for a team beginning over with a new coaching staff and new players to open with easier games and build some cohesion and momentum. My take was a little different.
The Bears are putting out an enormously changed team, particularly on defense. With someone as accomplished as head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the absence of film on the “new” Bears may be to their advantage. They won’t reveal a lot in preseason, so let Aaron Rodgers figure it out starting on Sept. 13.
I’ve gone against the easy flow that says the Bears under Fox will be every bit as bad as the Bears under Marc Trestman.
I just don’t see it. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, I just don’t see it.
“Coaching” is the qualitative
The qualitative part is Fox. At age 60, he wasn’t going to just take a job to have a job, and he wasn’t going to take an irreparable situation and invest years on a rebuild at this point in life.
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More to the point, when he has taken over train wrecks (Carolina 2002, Denver 2011) he had them back on the rails in two years or less. Similarly, successful veteran coaches taking over teams routinely effect immediate improvement – Bruce Arians in Arizona, Jim Caldwell in Detroit, Andy Reid in Kansas City. Fox fits with that group and has achieved major turnarounds not once, but twice.
Players are the quantitative
But the quantitative part is no less part of the “10-6” thinking. The Bears project to have not only a radically different defensive scheme with Fangio’s 3-4. They also project to have as many as eight new starters on defense, including every member of the front seven with the possible exception of Jeremiah Ratliff, and even he would be starting at nose tackle instead of three-technique if he finishes the preseason ahead of Ego Ferguson on the depth chart.
Pernell McPhee had more sacks (7.5) in 2014 than any Bear and McPhee played only about half the Baltimore Ravens snaps. Antrel Rolle even at 32 is immediately the best safety the Bears have had since Mike Brown was in his prime a decade ago.
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McPhee and Rolle also bring Super Bowl rings with them, and both are part of position groups that the essence of complimentary. McPhee is part of a pass rush that portends a large upgrade for the entire defense. And Rolle’s veteran presence and excellence anchor a secondary that does nothing but help buy time for McPhee and the rush to get home. And how much does Rolle project to help the development of Kyle Fuller at cornerback?
Here’s the overall:
For no team in the 25 years of my covering the Chicago Bears has the “whole” been so much less than the sum of its parts. And in no case have I concluded that so much of the fault lay with the head coach and staff. Players on the field are absolutely the core of the game. Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Mel Tucker didn’t throw an interception or give up a touchdown. But their “turnovers” bordered on epic.
A criticism of military generals is that they too often are preparing to fight the last war. Similarly, viewing the ’15 Bears through the prism of ’14 is like looking at anything through a prism – the view is warped.