Of the Bears’ first 14 games in 2015, fully nine have been against playoff teams. The fact that the Bears were 2-7 in whose games says that they weren’t at that level, but it also says a couple of other things.
One is that they generally won’t be well served in strength-of-schedule tiebreakers in whatever draft order they find themselves after next Sunday’s wrap up at home against Detroit. This weekend concluded with six six-win teams. The fact that the Bears managed their six against from a schedule with so many games against playoff teams, unofficially at this point, suggests that the Bears are one of the stronger teams in that group; hence, higher draft slot.
(For record-keeping purposes, the Bears had wins over Green Bay and Kansas City; and losses to Arizona, Denver, Green Bay, Minnesota (twice), Seattle and Washington.)
More important is that while the 5-11 meltdown of 2014 left the locker room and collective psyche in shambles in only Marc Trestman’s second year, the Bears have rarely had total breakdowns.
“We feel it; those [players] feel it,” said coach John Fox. “We’re getting there.”
The Bears played a total of 37 games without core members of their projected No. 1 offense – Martellus Bennett (5), Jay Cutler (1), Matt Forte (3), Alshon Jeffery (6), Eddie Royal (6) and Kevin White (16) – and six different offensive lines in 15 games. So winning six games probably ought to be graded on a little bit of an expectations curve, even if the NFL doesn’t.
But nine wins hasn’t cracked a core group persona: “Playing free and playing with heart and intensity,” said rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman, “and at the same time, trust each other – I think that’s who we are, a group that has character. Of course we have some rough patches. But we can play with anybody.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
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But Fox’s prime directive taking over as head coach was to reform the culture and the level of football along with it. When defensive end Willie Young stood up Saturday night in the team dinner in St. Petersburg, it was an indicator that the culture reformation was coming from within, not just imposed by Fox. And that is when that culture starts to mean something.
“One of the things you try to create is a ‘player-culture,’” Fox said on Monday. “They’re the guys who play the game. Sure, coaches are part of it. We’ve got systems, schemes, but at the end of the day they have to execute.
“The term ‘TEAM’ – Together Everybody Accomplishes More – and doing it for your teammates and doing it for something bigger than yourself helps create chemistry, an edge, whatever word or label you want to put on it. It’s empowering guys to lead. In my experience with different teams, different championship teams, you had that. Whether it’s been here with the Bears or with teams you’ve experienced or I’ve experienced, it’s something you try to establish. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a minute. I think we’re developing that. We’re not a finished product yet by any means.”