Everyone Sees the Problem. The Question Is How to Solve It.
The Bears problems on defense are complex. But almost everyone agrees that what made them the worst defense in the NFL this season really boils down to one play from the last game. Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune comments:
“Coach Marc Trestman had no explanation because, really, there is no explaining it.
“Why did the Bears let a fumble, a live ball, sit on the turf without pursuing it late in the first half of their 33-28 loss to the Packers on Sunday? This is the Chicago Bearsdefense, a unit with a proud history of forcing turnovers, for cryin’ out loud.
“How could they let a Packers receiver pick up a fumble and jog into the end zone? In the de facto NFC North championship game, no less?
“’There has never been a time this whole year where I’ve blown the whistle in practice and the ball was on the ground that we didn’t pick it up and scoop and score with it,’ Trestman said. ‘For me to try to explain why that happened, I really can’t at this time because we’ve never allowed the ball to sit on the ground like that at any time in practice.'”
David Haugh, also at the Chicago Tribune, seems to think that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker should pay the price for this incompetence:
“Jarrett Boykin‘s bizarre 15-yard fumble recovery return for a TD for the Packers exposed the defense’s lack of instincts and awareness. It doesn’t matter if Bears players swore they worked on picking up loose balls in practice the way they did under Lovie Smith. They didn’t when it mattered. The effects of good coaching show up on Sundays. That the Bears watched as Boykin scored indicted Tucker most of all.”
The essence of good play is not just practicing hard, as the Bears have done by all accounts, but having the fruits of that practice show up on Sunday. There were stories of former Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop staying up to all hours of the night watching film. But Shoop was a lousy offensive coordinator because all that film watching never showed up in the results on Sunday. The same is true here.
Firing Tucker would be one potential solution to this problem. And it’s not as unlikely as I once thought it was. Brad Biggs at the Tribune comments:
“It will be interesting to see if there is any fallout and potential changes to Trestman’s coaching staff as the week moves on. Trestman remained very supportive of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker throughout the season. He used three defensive coordinator in five seasons with the Montreal Alouettes.”
But, really, that’s just an easy change that may or may not solve the problem. After all, if that was Trestman’s ultimate solution, why did he have to do it three times? Why did former Bears head coach Lovie Smith run through offensive coordinator after offensive coordinator with little apparent change in the results?
its easy for a guy like Haugh (or most fans) to call for Tucker’s head. The real question is how do you fire Tucker without identifying what, specifically, he lacked that someone else will bring to the table? What, exactly, did he do wrong? How do you induce players to translate the work which they were doing right in practice to the field on Sunday? When you can tell me that, then I’ll listen.
Most people will tell you that the key to solving problems like those the Bears face may lie in accountability. How do you hold a player accountable of his actions?
One suggestion is to create competition. Adding players who can take your position from you can cause you to concentrate a lot more on what you are doing when it all counts. That is something general manager Phil Emery will undoubtedly strive mightily to do this offseason. On the other hand, there wasn’t a lot of competition for positions on the offensive side of the ball where the Beas played extremely well.
Could the difference between the offense and the defense come down to the man in charge? After all, Tucker is just an assistant. Is it possible that the Bears played better offensively under Trestman because playing for the head coach, the man who ultimately determines their fate, made them more accountable for their actions than playing for an assistant? Even if that’s not it, Trestman is the man who successfully coached the offense so its obvious that he has the potential to provide something that the defense lacks.
If so, then the performance of the defense might come down to Trestman’s failure and not Tucker’s. Trestman is the man responsible for the whole team, not just the offense, and he should be held responsible for the performance on both sides of the ball. Trestman may need to bear this in mind as he enters his second season. His deeper involvement on the defensive side of the ball may be what leads to the team’s overall success.
In any case, it’s fairly obvious that we all understand the problem. What will be interesting in the months and years ahead is looking to see how the Bears go about solving it.