Today could easily be spent on the particulars of the Bears 20-12 loss to the New Orleans Saints. We could talk about the ridiculousness of the Zach Miller overturn, a call that irrationally and irrevocably changed the outcome of the game, but Adam Hoge covered that brilliantly HERE. We could talk about another sterling defensive effort, marred by a few costly mistakes, but Adam Jahns detailed those HERE. We could talk about Connor Barth but, really, who wants to?
Yesterday wasn’t about the small things, however. Yesterday felt big picture.
The Bears – Ryan Pace, John Fox, Vic Fangio – have built a championship defense. Not a decent defense or a good defense. A championship defense. And with a few off-season additions, it won’t matter who is coaching the unit. When the talent is that good and that deep you could bring Mel Tucker back and the Bears would still rank top ten in every meaningful defensive category.
[Note to Ryan Pace: Don’t bring Mel Tucker back. I was kidding.]
The offense is…the issue.
One couldn’t help wonder what Ryan Pace was thinking as he sat and watched his new team face his former team in the Superdome yesterday. It is well-documented how close the relationship between Pace and Sean Payton was during their time together and one has to believe there was some longing in the Bears GM’s heart Sunday.
Because the Saints offensive coaching staff was doing advanced mathematics at MIT. Their run game was varied and creative, using several formations and calls they hadn’t previously used this season. There was strategy in everything they did, with each early call having a late rationale. That’s not a wildly talented collection of offensive players but the coaching staff puts every one of them in the best position to succeed. Novel concept, huh?
The Bears offensive coaching staff was counting blocks at Wise Owl Nursery School in Belleville, NJ. (It is right between the McDonald’s and the bowling alley.) Their play-calling is predictable to the point of stubbornness. The four people I sat with at Josie Wood’s yesterday – folks not spending their Tuesday mornings watching the all-22 tape – were able to accurately predict run or pass about 90% of the time. Believe, I was taking an audible poll.
- When the Bears face obvious run-look defenses, they run into them.
- When the Bears face obvious passing downs, they run the most vanilla passing attack the league has ever seen. Insane considering their talent outside!
- On a third and fourth down late in the game, needing only a yard, the Bears suddenly put the game on the rookie’s right arm.
3rd and 1 and now you put it in the Rookies hands? You have 2 plays to get a first down with one of the best running games in the NFL.
— Patrick Mannelly (@PatrickMannelly) October 29, 2017
The Bears have a wonderful talent at quarterback. The have a good offensive line, when healthy. They have a perfect pair of complementary running backs. The whole world knows the Bears are currently playing with the league’s worst crop of wide receivers and that’s not going to change until they kick off their 2018 campaign. One can only hope a few of the players finishing out the string at that position make a positive enough impact to have a role moving forward.
But Pace is now faced with the most important decision of his tenure in Chicago: are John Fox and Dowell Loggains the men to coach this quarterback and build this offense moving forward? Pace likes John Fox. I’m told he likes John Fox very much. He could easily take the team’s offensive struggles on his own back, blame himself for the lack of receiving talent and give Fox/Loggains 2018 with a new stable of pass catchers.
He could also move on, thank Fox for helping him build the Bears back to respectability and hire a young offensive mind to usher that unit into the modern era.
Either way, the GM needs to get this decision correct and, more importantly, needs to get the decision correct now. The Bears can’t afford to waste another season of this defense. They can’t afford to wait another season before changing the system Mitch Trubisky runs.
At 3-5 through the first eight games of the 2017 season, the arrow is pointed decidedly up for the Chicago Bears under Ryan Pace. They are on their way to what is most likely a 7-9 season and four-game improvements in the NFL shouldn’t be undervalued. But the leap from 7-9 to the postseason is a leap many franchises have found the most difficult in the sport. Pace doesn’t have to look any further than the opposing sideline Sunday. The Saints finally look poised to break a three-year streak of 7-9 seasons.
The Bears won’t make that leap in 2018 if they continue to play pre-war offensive football. Pace has to determine if this coaching staff is capable of more.