“Your quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all.” —The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring
Besides this being a random way to infuse sports with my Tolkien nerd-dom, does anyone else feel like that’s basically the experience we get during every Bears game these days?
After all, following the Bears’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars two Sundays ago, coach John Fox reiterated that his team’s margin for error in most games is essentially negligible given how conservatively Chicago plays offensively and how much they put on a defense that, sadly, isn’t as well-built for handling 80+ plays of work as Fox thinks it is.
John Fox: “Our margin for error is very, very minimal right now. And I think our record is kind of an indicator of that.” #Bears
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) October 16, 2016
And yet, that seems to be just how Fox likes it, and he’s proving that right now with his handling of Jay Cutler.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm, Fox has told friends that he is “done” with Cutler, further cementing the thought that the Bears are ready to move on from the long-time Chicago signal-caller at the end of this season.
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) October 27, 2016
First of all, it’s got to feel great for Fox to have his apparent resolution on Cutler become public knowledge. Can’t wait until he has to answer questions about that…
Additionally, if the thought wasn’t already in your head, that might give us a clue as to whether or not Fox would’ve stuck with now-injured backup quarterback Brian Hoyer or gone back to starting Cutler once he had been medically cleared following a thumb injury that had kept him out since Week 2.
Sure, Fox—a world champion at obfuscation and revisionist history—will tell you in the media that “Jay’s our starter” and “this was the plan all along,” likely denying along the way that there would’ve been any quarterback controversy in the first place when Cutler was healthy enough to return. Oh wait, he did say that?
#Bears coach John Fox said his comments about the competition at QB were misconstrued. He said Jay Cutler always was their starter.
— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) October 24, 2016
#Bears coach John Fox on Jay Cutler's status over the past 5 weeks: "I think Jay kind of knew all along what the plan was."
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) October 25, 2016
But actions speak louder than words, and at this point, the Bears’ head coach has done nothing to merit us taking anything he says at face value.
For one, Cutler’s “miraculous” medical clearance on Monday, which indicated that he could grip a football and practice this week, was far too conveniently timed to escape notice.
We’ll never know for sure, since Hoyer’s broken forearm took suspense out of the equation, but something tells me that we would’ve gone another week wondering whether Cutler was anywhere close to playing if Hoyer’s unfortunate injury hadn’t happened.
Why? Because if he could grip a football and throw it Monday, then he in all likelihood could grip and throw a football last week too. Even if it wasn’t enough time for him to play Thursday on a short week, we could’ve had clarity on whether he was close to practicing again.
But instead of being forthright about Cutler, what did Fox say instead?
John Fox on the plan at QB: “We don’t have a plan.” (Because Cutler is still hurt.)
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) October 10, 2016
Actually, the plan seems a bit clearer now, and it has far-reaching ramifications for the Bears going forward with Fox as their coach.
I think that many, including those that like Cutler, can agree that it’s about time for the Bears to move on from him as their franchise quarterback. He’s going to be 34 next year, he’s struggled to stay healthy behind the poor protection he has consistently received during his time in Chicago, he turns the ball over, and quite simply, he’s not going to lead the Bears to a Super Bowl. Not that that’s all his fault, but it’s still the truth.
— NFL (@NFL) October 26, 2016
But Fox’s desire to be rid of Cutler, as well as his apparent desire to play a journeyman borderline starter with a pee-shooter for an arm instead of him, speaks volumes about how he expects to win football games, both with this team and in the past.
He doesn’t care about explosive offenses and quarterbacks that can throw the ball all over the field. He prefers the game manager-type who has mastered the arts of the handoff, dinking and dunking, not fumbling, and not throwing interceptions—and, as a result, not really scoring that many points, apparently.
In Fox’s 15 years as a head coach, his teams have ranked in the bottom half of the league eight times, per Pro Football Reference. And twice, his teams have been dead last in points per game. Once was in 2010, when he got fired after his Carolina Panthers went 2-14. The other time? Right now.
— cover32 Bears (@cover32_CHI) October 18, 2016
Interestingly, his defenses have only been ranked in the top half of the league in pts/gm nine times, despite his reputation as a defensive-minded coach. His two units with the Bears have both been at 20th, which, while not being abjectly terrible, isn’t great. Fox’s defenses also don’t take the ball away that much either, only ranking in the top-10 three times with him as a head coach.
So…what exactly is John Fox’s formula for winning games? Defense? Takeaways? Taking care of the football? All those things sounds great on paper, but it seems as if his whole track record doesn’t reflect those ideals. And while he did make two Super Bowl with two different teams and coached a few very explosive offensive teams, there’s a whole lot of bad sprinkled in with the great.
And when he’s given a roster that still needs talent—superstars like Peyton Manning, young Steve Smith, and Von Miller sure aren’t on this team—and can’t execute his game plans the way he prefers, he’s proven that he isn’t willing to adapt to what he has.
Yes, injuries have decimated this particular team, but even so, it’s not just about the personnel. The coaching has been just as questionable as anything we’ve seen from an execution standpoint.
When he gets his wish and his gun-slinging quarterback is gone next year, along with his best receiver, what does Fox plan to do? Stick to his own guns and give opposing defenses a steady dose of zone runs, 6-yard passes, bad clock management, and field goals while his defense sweats out almost 40 minutes a game on the field?
Does he have to ability to really develop a young quarterback into a star or do we need to hope that the likes of an Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers somehow gets injured, falls out of the league for a year, gets cut by their team, and signs with the Bears as a reclamation project, presuming he’s still around in like three years?
How long will we need to watch the Bears seemingly stand on the edge of a knife seemingly every single game only to watch them slip and fall off more times than not, as evidenced by the 7-16 record Fox currently owns as coach of the Bears? Are the Bears just hampered by the previous regimes’ failures, or is this something we can look forward to next year and year after that too?
Based on what I’ve seen of Fox’s style and how his teams have performed in the past and present, I think we can say, just as we’ve said for many years about Cutler, that we know what he is and what he does. And if what we can expect from him is more of what we’ve seen this year and previous years, I think that we should be concerned about his vision for the Bears.
Because it’s starting to look to me like his vision for the Bears is being just good enough to get beat at best and being totally hapless at worst.