A matter of survival at this point for Bears
By Robert Zeglinski
Maybe it’s not all bad at Halas Hall when you consider that old adage “when it rains, it pours” used to have a positive connotation. Piling on negativity ironically didn’t originally apply. Though, while used as an advertising slogan for a salt company, it’s come to be mainly adopted into the general lexicon of disaster, catastrophe, etc.
And is there any better way to describe the 2016 Bears season after Chicago’s 22-16 loss to the New York Giants? Objectively no.
The Bears came into this year with elevated expectations albeit none related to any playoff aspirations. Chicago was supposed to take a progressive step in John Fox’s second season and begin to show signs of hope for the future. Given the young talent that’s emerged such as tailback, Jordan Howard, the center, Cody Whitehair, and outside linebacker, Leonard Floyd, the latter part of that assertion still holds true. Something to build on in setting a contending foundation.
But that improvement in team results to ingrain a step in still-setting concrete? All barred off with caution tape, prepared to close up shop for 2017’s training camp. Caution is mentioned for just how decimated injury-wise the Bears are.
It was really of no consequence that they came out and competed well with a current playoff team in the Giants. From an early pretty over-the-top touchdown to tight end Zach Miller, to drives matriculating down the field with incremental short passing to neutralize a vicious Giants pass rush. All smart and efficient play from quarterback Jay Cutler, a week after sinking the Bears in Tampa Bay.
Yes, stretches of that game had you wondering what was with this Jekyll and Hyde squad. Believing that this Chicago team will at least make the final stretch run entertaining to watch while seeing those previously mentioned young talented pieces flash and more.
And yet, all is for naught in hoping for a moral victory, especially if you can’t leave the field healthy. A hard fought game from a shorthanded Bears team would only add to these woes and no doubt have head coach John Fox exasperated and exhausted at all of the horrible fortune at play.
Chicago came into the game without the right side of its offensive line in Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. Alshon Jeffery was unavailable due to a mandated PED suspension. And your nose tackle, Eddie Goldman, was inactive due to a bum ankle, after returning just a week earlier.
By the time the Bears left East Rutherford, New Jersey, it would’ve been fair to assert that they double their medical staff. From Miller being lost to a broken foot, ending his season, to All-Pro caliber guard, Josh Sitton rolling his ankle, the misfortune kept going and going.
The tensest moment was when one of those foundational pieces in Floyd, was brought to his knees after leading with the crown of his helmet while trying to make a tackle. Instead, he went straight into his teammate, Akiem Hicks, as his body recoiled instantly. He would seemingly receive attention from every doctor on hand – let alone either sideline’s team physicians – as MetLife stadium sat in petrified silence awaiting for any sign of hope.
Floyd would travel home with the team after precautionary tests in the hospital, as none of his injuries were deemed life or career threatening. He’s now in the concussion protocol, but not without sending a chill down the Bears’ spines.
“We were just very, very happy and relieved…,” said Fox to the Chicago Tribune of Floyd’s condition. No doubt a thought not unique to the veteran coach alone.
Life has a funny way of throwing everything possible in your face when you’re at your lowest. Monday’s collective sigh of relief from the Chicago brain trust, eventually brought about more displeasure.
The first major post game hit was when linebacker, Jerrell Freeman – who had been playing at an All-Pro level – was suspended for four games in accordance with the PED policy like Jeffery. In a statement, Freeman apologized to everyone, while noting he “made a mistake with my prescription medication for which I take full responsibility.”
Freeman’s carelessness in conjunction with Jeffery’s – two crucial players – paints a picture of a lack of discipline, and otherwise further casts Fox into a darker cloud. Yes, he isn’t the one supposed to individually monitor his players take in making sure they properly read labels, but two suspensions to two stars in one week is more than a trend. Five PED suspensions in his tenure demonstrates complete mismanagement.
To top all of this discontent off, Cutler is now out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury late against New York. He was the difference from mediocrity and outright atrociousness for this Bears team, and he’s gone again in a flash.
From preseason on, Chicago now has 12 of the original 22 projected starters out for the time being. The list seems endless from cornerbacks Deiondre’ Hall and Kyle Fuller, to Cutler, Goldman, Long, Massie, Sitton, Floyd, Jeffery, Miller, White, and Freeman. It makes you wonder if the 2016 Bears ever had a chance.
With the formerly third-string quarterback in Matt Barkley stepping in, it’s fair to wonder if the Bears can even win once in the final six games. It’s worth contemplating if a victory or merely showing up to play is worth it. One break in fortune, and the Bears could enjoy another “banner” day and start to jeopardize a 2017 season – the last thing anyone wants.
The overall plan and vision of general manager, Ryan Pace, hasn’t been derailed, it’s just taking more stops than usual. Given his great drafting history, the positive outlook is that the Bears will definitely have high draft position to capitalize and add blue chip talent to this budding core.
But that’s above all concerns for the time being. This team first would do well to come out of 2016 in one piece. Cornerback Tracy Porter perhaps summed up the chaos best.
“Can we get anything good going for us? … It just feels like bad things continue to pile up on us.”
That “good” for Porter and the Bears, is at this point, mere survival in a crawl to the finish.
Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans
It doesn’t get any easier for Chicago with the budding Titans coming into town. Led by a future face of the league in quarterback, Marcus Mariota, Tennessee as a whole looks like it’s on the cusp of sustained dominance.
When the Bears are on defense: This is the Bears’ defense’s toughest assignment yet. Tennessee has the league’s second-best offense yardage-wise, and doles out an efficient balance not many teams can match.
It’s all led by the NFL’s third best ground attack bolstered by Mariota and running back, Demarco Murray – who is second overall in rushing individually. All of this success is primarily due to football’s second best offensive line led by rookie tackle, Jack Conklin.
The Titans have employed an exotic smash mouth offense that opponents have really only been able to slow, not stop. If Chicago’s offense can’t get going, the defense’s efforts might not matter. They are at serious risk of being worn down over time by Tennessee on Sunday even if they initially play well.
When the Bears are on offense: Barkley at quarterback should mean a probable 40 carries between each of Chicago’s tailbacks. Anything less, and it’s difficult to see the Bears not being blown out of the water.
If the game comes into Barkley’s hands at all, Chicago will be in dire straits, regardless of the competition of any defense. The quality of Tennessee’s 29th ranked defense here doesn’t matter. A quarterback that can’t make the simplest throws strikes no fear into anyone.
The only way the Bears win this game with some sort of offensive success is if Howard goes supernova with 200-plus all-purpose yards. With the Titans in all likelihood keying in on Chicago’s ground game without a viable passing game to compliment, the odds of that happening are moderately low.
Early pick: Titans 34 Bears 9.