By Robert Zeglinski
Say what you will of Bears head coach John Fox, but at least he’s consistently inconsistent. While all aspects of his team crumbles in pieces around him, he maintains a relatively solid public persona. Everyone knows his Bears are in very dire straits following Chicago’s 36-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but if you’d expect any whiff of discontent from Fox, you’d be mistaken.
“It wasn’t all bad yesterday”, said Fox to a Halas Hall media contingent on Monday. “I know the score was all bad.”
Maybe in retrospect, it wasn’t. The Bears seen in Tampa Bay were the kind that move towards a top draft pick in April, so it shouldn’t have been surprising.
But the sentiment drastically changes when the entire team preaches unrelenting confidence and they wear their hearts on their sleeves coming in. Chicago had an extra week to prepare for the Buccaneers, and had several incremental pieces like Kyle Long and Eddie Goldman return to the lineup. Certainly one would certainly foresee a more cohesive and prepared performance. This mythical second half run in the week leading up to Tampa, was supposed to just start to flourish, not be deflated.
This overarching hollow confidence disconcertingly reeks of the Marc Trestman era-Bears, a two-year span Chicago was trying to cleanse itself of with Fox. There isn’t a better referendum on another coaching stint that seems to be on its last legs. And when you remember Trestman won 13 games in his two-year tenure, while Fox has only won eight to this point, the similarities become all the more clear.
With Trestman in the fold, the Bears never had a less than satisfactory practice in the horrific 2014 season. Of course, this was in press conferences leading up to games. What was under wraps was explosive and reflected a Halas Hall falling apart. Chicago would be blown out in consecutive games by teams like the New England Patriots or Packers, and nothing was ever wrong, at least on the surface.
The Bears theoretically practiced well, so outsiders were told eventually everything was supposed to correct itself.
In 2016, the Bears have been decimated by injuries. From a long absence by Jay Cutler (more than likely “extended” by Fox) to the missing defensive link in Pernell McPhee, the Bears were just missing their chess pieces and more, the masses were told. All circumstances were supposed to correct themselves from a disastrous 2-6 start once this team was glued back together. Who could stop them once they were all united again on one front?
Overconfidence will drown you in the sea of reality.
Trestman had the practice excuse and then eventually attempted to scapegoat quarterback Jay Cutler for all of the Bears’ problems. But he was forthright with his intentions to try to distinguish himself from Chicago’s roller coaster signal caller. Fox has the injury excuse, but instead tried to distance himself quietly from his average passer.
No one ever bought what he was selling.
That’s the only stark difference here.
Trestman tried to prove he could win with journeymen backup Jimmy Clausen instead of Cutler. Fox attempted the same but to no avail once his preferred player in backup Brian Hoyer was injured. Now it’s about buoying a sinking ship with Cutler or drowning it altogether with the maligned Matt Barkley.
As you see Cutler is still seamlessly moving from laser touchdowns to sailing throws and miscommunicating with his receivers, Fox reluctantly chose Cutler. For his sake, there’s no other option. Now, it’s all about damage control as a coach who was brought in to oversee an ongoing rebuild and stabilize Halas Hall has done anything but. On one of the hotter seats in the NFL, Fox needs to prove he can pull his men together or risk his preached message of quiet confidence and character being washed away.
Saving his career in Chicago with the players available doesn’t become any simpler now either. That string of health the Bears enjoyed last all of two quarters. Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long is lost for the season after injuring his ankle. Defensive tackle, Eddie Goldman, either nicked or again aggravated his previously recovering ankle. And even one of the team’s new young bright spots in Jordan Howard is supposedly suffering from a hybrid ankle or Achilles injury, although the Bears have offered no clarity on that front yet.
What may be the final dagger though is star receiver Alshon Jeffery’s four-game suspension for using a banned substance on the NFL’s performance enhancing drugs list. On top of all the criticism being heaped onto Halas Hall, the Bears could have ill afforded to lose their best target in the passing game.
Jeffery explained in a prepared statement that he didn’t do proper research on a substance he said he was using to help with inflammation, which is in all likelihood, truthful. That doesn’t make his absence sting any less. Fox offered his own insulated angry thoughts saying, “We’ve very disappointed, he’s fairly embarrassed by it.” That’s as much controlled anger with an individual player as you’ll ever see from the coach. The Bears’ less than adored father figure occasionally isn’t veiled with his feelings.
At a time the Bears will need Jeffery more than ever, he’s now out due to carelessness on his own part, and you can be sure Fox reflects a locker room that also recognizes Jeffery’s grave mistake.
Now, the NFL’s 31st scoring offense will be without it’s best offensive lineman and in actuality, best offensive player in Jeffery. Injury added onto insult stacked onto whatever grossly miscalculated storm is again brewing in Lake Forest.
What will pull the Bears out is objective belief in Fox and his message. But the question is how can anyone believe this mess isn’t his fault? How can any of the Bears believe in his rhetoric and not give up on him if he’s the majority reason as to why they’re currently floundering? You know the answer. General manager Ryan Pace and the front office know the answer as well.
Global scientists have a “Doomsday Clock” that inches by minutes towards midnight for when they believe world conditions are unstable. On the Bears’ clock, Fox is all but on his own final countdown.
Week 11 @ NY Giants
Spurred on by their defense and timely play-making, the 6-3 Giants are getting hot at the right time. Given Chicago’s re-ignited offense’s injuries, it’s hard to see much success for the Bears in New Jersey against a growing dark horse.
When the Bears are on defense: Chicago’s one clear defensive strength is their pass rush boosted by growing Rookie of the Year candidate Leonard Floyd, McPhee, and Willie Young. This is a talented trio that can get after the quarterback.
The only problem is that they can’t consistently dominate in the offensive backfield if the Bears offense isn’t allowing them some reprieve from constantly pinning their ears back. And against the third least sacked quarterback in the NFL in Eli Manning, they’ll have an even more difficult task come Sunday.
What should really scare the Bears defense is Odell Beckham Jr. – a top five receiver in football. At the moment there is perhaps no better combination of smooth route running and explosiveness than Beckham Jr. Given the Bears’ injury issues in the secondary without Bryce Callahan and Deiondre’ Hall, the task will fall to Tracy Porter to try and lock the Giants’ primary weapon down.
Expectations for Porter individually in that matchup should be low. The key to shutting down Beckham and just the 24th ranked offense in the NFL, will have to be proper safety help from Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey. The Bears can’t afford any single coverage from Porter on Beckham. A player like him turns those opportunities into 75-yard touchdowns. If the Bears can even just slow Beckham, they may have a shot.
When the Bears are on offense: As mentioned, this attack will now have to operate without Jeffery for the next month and it’s best lineman in Long for the season. The Giants defense isn’t highly ranked, yet, but it’s been the primary galvanizing force into pushing them into contention.
Second year safety Landon Collins is enjoying an All-Pro caliber year dominating the center of the field for New York. And all of the money the Giants spent in the offseason on pass rusher Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins has paid off in spades for their defense. This is a unit that looks strikingly similar to the Giants’ previous championship seasons in 2007 and 2011. Build a lead and relentlessly pressure the opposing quarterback with an athletic defensive line.
The Bears would be best served to feed their bell cow Howard endlessly against an average line-backing core, or risk Cutler being torn asunder by a defense brimming with confidence. That time of possession created will also help the defense stay fresh get after Manning. It’s all complimentary football or so to speak. The last thing Chicago can afford is falling behind by a double-digit deficit here.
Early pick: Giants 26 Bears 14