John Fox eats sliver of blame pie, but players devour the lion’s share

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If you’re looking for some measure of success from the Bears in their 23-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, there’s always this: there were a number of different things that needed to go wrong for All-World Brett Hundley to lead the Packers to a victory and the Bears found a way to nail almost all of ‘em.

But before we get into all the trips, slips and falls that led to the Bears’ demise, let’s talk about the elephant in the room that everybody is, indeed, talking about.

Head coach John Fox is not the problem. He’s “a” problem, sure. But not “the” problem.

I know it’s fashionable to storm the castle with pitchforks and torches and demand the king’s head on a platter — oh wait, I’m dating myself by a few centuries here. These days, it’s the trendy thing to pull out your smartphone and in 280 characters or less, vent your frustration at the head coach because … well, someone needs to be held accountable for ruining your Sunday, right?

Anger and resentment at Fox has been building for weeks now and it perhaps culminated when Fox challenged the ruling on the field that running back Benny Cunningham was out of bounds as he dove for the end zone in the second quarter of Sunday’s game.

We all know how this played out. The ruling on the field was overturned, the officials declared that Cunningham had lost control of the ball, fumbled it through the end zone (or the pylon), which by rule is a touchback and a change of possession. Packers ball. Bears miss out on a golden opportunity to tie the game.

There are many problems with this whole sequence of events, so let’s dissect them one by one.

First, the call on the field never should have been overturned to begin with. The rules clearly state that in order to overturn a call, there must be clear and irrefutable evidence. Yes, the ball clearly came out of Cunningham’s hands before he crossed the goal line, but that’s immaterial.

The focus of the review needed to be on this: when any part of Cunningham touched the out-of-bounds paint, did he still have control of the ball?

And unless the bigwigs in the corporate office — who are now a part of the review process — had special camera angles that were not privy to Fox Sports and the general public, there is no way that the call can be overturned by visual evidence. Show me one camera angle that clearly and irrefutably shows that the ball was loose in conjunction with no part of Cunningham’s body touching the white stripe.

There is none.

The second problem with the replay is that I defiantly challenge any fan who makes the audacious claim that, “Fox should have seen that the ball came loose before Cunningham crossed the goal line … I saw it happen live and didn’t need a replay!”

Okay, first of all, that’s easy for you to say from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy with a camera angle zoomed in on the action and no bodies obstructing your view.

The play in question occurred on the opposite side of the field from the Bears’ sideline. Let me let you in on a little bit of Football 101 here.

  • The width of a football field is 53.3 yards from sideline to sideline.
  • That distance is even greater from the far pylon to about 30-35 yards down the opposite sideline, where the coaches box is.
  • Then, you throw in the fact that there were about a dozen bodies between where the play happened and where Fox was standing, obstructing the view from the Bears’ sideline.
  • And on top of it all, the speed of the game is much quicker when you don’t have instant replay to slow down and examine frame-by-frame visuals.
  • Not to mention, the vast majority of plays — almost all of ‘em — where a player stretches the ball toward the pylon end with that ball popping loose. So it should not have sounded any alarm bells — even in live, full-speed action — to see Cunningham lose the ball.

No, it’s not Fox’s fault for wanting to challenge that. He saw Cunningham extend the ball toward the goal line. He saw the pylon move. He saw his players celebrating. The mere idea of “wanting” to challenge is not his fault.

If you want to crucify Fox for anything, his only crime is for listening to — or not listening to, whatever the case may have been — his designated assistant in the booth who lets him know what calls are worth challenging and which ones are not.

If it seems like I’m being overprotective of Fox, I’m not. He shares in the blame in losing to a divisional rival coming out of the bye. The Bears, at times, seemed listless and lacking the intensity you’d expect in game of this magnitude. A team will very much take on the personality and demeanor of its coach and the Bears did not seem to have a fire under their collective backsides on Sunday.

But to say it’s all Fox’s fault is a sad reach.

At one point during the second half, the Packers were down to their third-string running back, Jamaal Williams, who made the Bears defense look like a slice of stinky swiss cheese. Leonard Floyd missed on an arm tackle, Kyle Fuller got run over, and I believe it was Eddie Jackson who “caught” Williams and was dragged for a first down.

That’s not coaching, that’s player desire and those are tackles that need to be made short of the first down marker.

I’m amazed that there still exists a contingent of fans and overly critical Chicago sports writers who want to blame Fox for a roster that is listless and uninspiring. The fact that the Bears even have three wins at this point says more about how coaching has helped than hurt.

Interestingly — and how is this for a twist? — I stand with the masses who want the Bears to have a new head coach for 2018 season. But I say that without venom spewing from my mouth or malice in my heart, for I feel Fox is a good coach and he’s not to blame for the vast majority of the Bears’ problems right now.

My call for a new head coach has less to do with Fox than it does with Mitch Trubisky. Fox was hired to change the culture in Chicago. Under general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman, the Bears became a soft organization. The team got bullied on the field and were blown out far more often than desired. The players had “big” personalities that caused more headaches in the locker room than success on the field. When Ryan Pace was hired as general manager, he saw the need to change the mindset in the organization and he got that with a stodgy old coach like Fox.

Fox served that purpose, the Bears are on the upswing, the culture has changed — even though the success has not — and now it’s time to take the next step.

The Bears have placed so many resources in young Trubisky that I’d prefer a young, offensive-minded coach who can help him grow and develop and who can get the most out of him.

With that said, the Bears need more talent to compete and no amount of coaching can make this roster, as currently constructed, a playoff contender.

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