Let me start by saying that I feel the defensive struggles have more to do with personnel and injuries than it does with Mel Tucker and it would not shock me if Trestman kept Tucker and did not scape goat him.
When Mel Tucker was hired he said that he would keep the defense the same as in the Lovie Smith era, to cater to the existing defensive players.
This was an epic failure as the players got old, injured and ineffective and it leads to an embarrassing defense and a possible playoff miss.
So the experiment has failed, and if the Bears are going to keep Tucker it is time to rebuild and build the defense that he can call plays for and have success. That begs the question of what does a Mel Tucker defense look like?
I picked 2 of Mel Tucker’s defenses and looked at the personnel to see if there were any similarities and what the Bears are missing. I know that Tucker did not have a lot of say in personnel, but these are the type of guys that he knows how to work with.
2008 Cleveland Browns Defense
2010 Jacksonville Jaguars
In both situations running a 3-4 or a 4-3, Tucker has had huge NTs. In Cleveland he had Shaun Rogers [6’4″ 350lbs.] and in Jacksonville he had Terrence Knighton [6’3″ 360lbs.]. My guess is that Tucker’s run defense is largely based on having an anchor that can occupy the double team and protect the LBs.
Bigger, More Physical DEs
In the 3-4 he obviously had bigger DEs in Corey Williams [6’5″ 320lbs] and Athyba Rubin [6’3″ 330lbs.], but the trend of bigger DEs continued in Jacksonville. In Jacksonville he played with Jeremy Mincey [6’3″ 280lbs.], who the Bears attempted to sign who’s game is based on power and Austin Lane [6’5″ 275lbs.] who has great size. They also played with Aaron Kampman who was a physical pass rusher and a strong run defender.
The Bears do not have a big, physical, mauling NT that can protect the LBs and hold his ground against a double team. Even when Paea is healthy he does not really fit that role. We have been seeing it all season as OLmen are getting up to the LB and causing our LB core to look very poor. The Bears would need to bring in a big mauling NT in the off-season.
The bigger physical DEs are also going to be an issue. Corey Wootton seems to be the ideal base LE because physically he is a lot for an OT to handle. But David Bass and Shea McClellin seem to have little value as neither can play the run at all. Peppers will be gone because of cap reasons. I think Tucker expects more run defense from his DL that our guys are capable of providing.
Active and Athletic MLB
In Cleveland Tucker had D’Qwell Jackson, who is not a huge MLB, but he can run and attack the RB. In Jacksonville he had Kirk Morrison and Daryl Smith, both players were athletic and could move and attack the line of scrimmage.
LBs with tons of tackles
By looking at the stats and production from both defense it would appear that DL, which is a bigger group, protects the LBs who rack up a TON of tackles. In both defenses the 2 primary LBs lead the team in tackles by a significant margin. D’Qwell Jackson had 154 tackles in Tucker’s season as the Browns d-coordinator.
The Bears have the young LBs in Bostic and Greene and the veteran in Briggs that can run and tackle in the open field. The real problem is that they are not being protected right now. These are not big stack and shed LBs like Brandon Spikes and David Harris, these are fast guys who can find the ball. If they are not protected they will not be successful.
Good Tackling Safeties
In both defenses the safeties were heavily involved in the defense and accumulated a number of tackles. The defense requires at least 1 safety [Pool-Cleveland, Greene-Jacksonville] that can be a factor in the run game. Both sets of safeties were among the team leaders in tackles and impact plays.
Press Man CBs
The Jacksonville fans I spoke to said that Tucker had a majority of his success in 2011 using press man coverage and that when he ran a zone heavy system the year before it was really bad. Tucker may be a man coverage coach and that is what he calls better.
Our safety play has been terrible and neither Conte or Wright is capable of being a consistent tackler that can be in the top 5 for this team. They both struggle way too much in coverage to be considered for man coverage. We have seen both of them get torched by TEs in man coverage. This position would need a huge makeover if we were going to run a man system.
The CB position is probably going to go through a make over anyway, but we would need to get more man coverage CBs. Tim Jennings does not have good size, but he is so physical that he may be able to function as the #2 CB in the system. This conversion would probably signal the end for Charles Tillman, but with his health issues that may not be the worse thing.
-If you are going to keep Tucker I would let Tucker run the defense that he wants to run whether that is a 3-4 or 4-3, big NT, pass rushing DEs I think forcing a coach to coach a system was a complete failure.
-We thought that keeping the system was a good thing because of the players, well the players failed and they are also getting old and injured so I see very little worth saving from this group. Our decisions should not be based on 33 year old players that have been injured [Briggs, Tillman] or ineffective [Peppers, McClellin, Conte] for most of the season.
-We need to get bigger on the interior DL. It is clear to me that Tucker relies on his LBs being able to flow to the ball. That will never happen with undersized interior players that do not demand double teams.
-The Bears need to improve at safety regardless of the defense that they are going to run, but they need someone in the back end needs to be able consistently tackle in the run game.
-The Bears need to start bringing in some CBs that can potentially play press man coverage and can jam WRs at the line. It seems Tucker prefers physical man coverage, which may limit big plays, but should improve the pass rush by taking away easy throws.