What the heck did we witness Sunday night in Green Bay? And where the heck do the Bears go from here? Sunday’s absolute beat down in embarrassing fashion in front of a national audience left all of Bears Nation with an uneasy feeling. How could the Bears possibly be this bad?
The following are some random thoughts I have that have built up during the Bears’ 3-6 start to the 2014 season.
Special teams, but specifically kickoff returns, have taken a 180-degree turn
Remember when Devin Hester used to put the fear of God in opposing teams? The greatest kick returner in NFL history had the ability change a game by himself. Nowadays, the tables have turned and I actually have fear of the Bears own special teams. The Bears almost never start a drive with good field position because they can’t seem to return a kickoff past the 20-yard-line. Why does Chris Williams insist on returning a kickoff from five-plus yards deep in the end zone? He never gets back to the 20-yard-line, and to make matters worse, the Bears’ undisciplined special teams will commit a penalty and push the offense back inside their own 10 to start a drive. Just take a knee in the end zone and start from the 20.
The run defense has improved, but the pass rush is still woeful
The Bears are ranked 15th in the NFL in run defense, which is a big improvement from last year’s historically bad campaign. This season, it’s the pass defense that has taken a dip — or a fall — and I blame the pass rush for its inadequacy. Willie Young has been a pleasant surprise, but the team’s starting free agent defensive end acquisitions — Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen — have not lived up to their contracts. Houston had a severe brain fart and injured himself celebrating a sack — his first and only of the season — of New England’s backup quarterback in the middle of a blowout loss. Allen, meanwhile, had his season derailed with a bout of pneumonia and has worked himself back in shape, but is still underperforming. I like what defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff brings to the table, but the defensive line as a unit has not generated enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to be successful.
Marc Trestman is losing my confidence as a head coach
It’s not in my nature to jump the gun and make rash decisions. Football fans in general are fickle beings. They change their minds in whichever direction the wind blows. Plus, we as Americans have a problem with patience. If something doesn’t go our way exactly when we want it to, we look to make a change. I don’t play by those rules. I know executing a plan takes time, so I’ve been always willing to give a head coach or a player the benefit of the doubt and let them prove their worth. I gave Trestman all the benefit of the doubt for a season and a half, but he’s finally losing my trust. These back-to-back losses in blowout fashion to the Patriots and Packers are more the players’ fault than Trestman’s, but the coach does deserve some blame for not having his guys more prepared. It’s understandable for the Bears to lose “big” to two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time — Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers — but it’s not okay to lose as big — and as bad — as they did. Trestman needs to hold his players accountable and have them ready to run through brick walls for him.
Jay Cutler has lost all confidence in his coaches, his teammates, and himself
Cutler’s talent has never — or, at least, it shouldn’t have — been questioned before. He’s a man who would win a quarterback skills competition if entered into one. But his decision making has always been a problem and what lies between the ears has been his biggest hurdle. At this point, with the whole world watching, Cutler has seemingly lost his confidence. He doesn’t trust all his teammates. He doesn’t seem to be learning from the coaches. And I don’t think he has the swagger anymore that gave him those “boom” moments to rival his “bust” ones.
I’m done with Lance Briggs … and the Bears should be, too
What happens when a player has nothing to lose? He become reckless, which is exactly what I think Lance Briggs has become. When Brian Urlacher retired — or was forced out by the Bears, pick your pleasure — the natural chain of command was for Briggs to step up and become the leader of the defense. He has not taken that step. And, after admitting publicly that this is probably his last year with the Bears, Briggs appears resigned to let fate play out without putting up a final fight for his job. My hunch is that Briggs still holds a big grudge at the Bears for cutting ties with his buddy Urlacher and his former head coach Lovie Smith. Not to mention, he’s probably sour on the idea that the Bears have invested heavily on the offensive side of the ball, including in Cutler, whom Briggs probably doesn’t think much of. Whether it be skipping practice to open a restaurant, stating publicly he loses focus in team meetings, or noting that he thinks his Bears career is near done, I think Briggs’ declining play and lack of leadership offer the Bears nothing.
There may be no light at the end of the tunnel anywhere in sight
Those of you who have read my stuff in the past know that I try to put an optimistic, positive spin on most things. There’s no use crying over spilt milk. What’s done is done and something better lies ahead, is what I always say. Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time spinning the outlook of the Bears in a positive direction right now. For starters, the Bears are supposed to be in a Super Bowl window right now. They have a lot of veteran talent and were supposed to build off their dynamic offense from a season ago. Instead, we’ve found out they don’t have enough talent, the coaching is suspect, the offense has plummeted, and they’re nowhere near Super Bowl ready. Sadly, almost all of the talent on this team is in aging veterans. The good teams in the league — at least, those with the brightest future — are the ones whose talent is in young players with small contracts. The Bears have maybe three players that fit the category of “good young players with small contracts.” Offensive guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and cornerback Kyle Fuller have the brightest futures mixed with the most affordable contracts. That’s not to say that the Bears can’t get anything out of the aging veterans they currently have. I still think Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett, and Tim Jennings all have a few good years left in them. And I have reasonably high hopes for Willie Young. But Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff are in their waning years. The entire left side — center included — of the Bears’ offensive line is either overpaid or old. And we don’t know yet what to expect of youngsters like wide receiver Marquess Wilson, defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, linebackers Christian Jones and Jon Bostic, and safety Brock Vereen. The Bears might need two or three more offseasons in order to supply this team with enough young talent and affordable contracts to be where they need to be, but by then, their veteran talent might be washed up and off the team. It’s really putting a lot of pressure on general manager Phil Emery to make the right draft picks in the upcoming drafts.