With a quarter of a season left it’s fairly obvious the Bears aren’t very good. A jaw-droppingly dreadful home loss to the formerly one-win 49ers is the latest evidence of that sad fact.
Must be the coaches. What have they ever done? John Fox came here a career Super Bowl loser having failed to pull off the trick twice with two different franchises. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had the same position he now holds at yet a third team that lost a Super Bowl.
Castigate coaches all you like, but it is a time-honored belief that coaches can’t coach if their players can’t play. Let’s be polite and say the Bears’ talent is lacking.
How far short is it? When the Bears face the Browns on Christmas Eve at Soldier Field, four experts contacted for this story believe it will be a battle between the two worst rosters in the NFL. At least the Browns have a ton of draft picks to fall back on.
“Yeah, I think their offense is the easiest in the NFL to game plan,’’ a longtime coach admitted.
It’s a formula the Bears see every week: stop the run; make them throw; cover them man-to-man on passing downs and watch the receivers fail to separate.
The Bears defense was keeping them in games earlier in the season, but they are a shadow of their former selves with multiple injury concerns at pass rusher, inside linebacker and safety. Once upon a time the Bears also boasted a power running game before injuries and inconsistency on the line and at running back took a toll.
It has been a theme with the Bears. Injuries follow the franchise like night follows day. The team used a strategy of pretending it was all bad luck after last year’s three-win, injury-plagued season. They didn’t make aggressive, drastic changes in staff or procedure. Heck, at this point why not try a shaman or a faith healer, even a witch doctor?
From the lofty heights of a 3-4 record with victories over the Steelers, Ravens and Panthers, the Bears have been stacking losses like Lego pieces. If every setback were a springboard to greatness the Bears would be a Super Bowl contender.
Sadly, that is not how it works in the NFL. Fox and his staff will be out of work at the end of the season and kid general manager Ryan Pace will be tasked with getting a younger, more energetic, less experienced and relatively unknown replacement.
Bigger name coaches won’t want Pace picking their players — not when his Plan A keeps failing and Plan B seems incapable of working. There won’t be much faith in a guy who can’t find a player to produce a sack unless he’s claimed off waivers or runs out of safeties to the point of signing a “starter” off the street. The GM has given us a work in progress that hasn’t progressed.
The offensive line is measured via sundial, or at least plays that way, a Pro Bowl receiver was allowed to walk without replacement and the shiny new quarterback to rust unfurnished with nary a playmaker in sight.
Pace will find a coach. You can get anybody to take a job. People want a paycheck. A bigger problem will be finding assistant coaches because most of the really good ones are already under contract around the league.
Any new coach will want to turn over the roster — out with the old and in with the new. Pace can begin another rebuild in the fourth year of his tenure. Blame the bad free agent signings and uneven drafts on the coaches.
But at some point in a private moment maybe he ought to ask himself if it is the coaches or the players, or even the guy stacking the deck?
Why wait three years to draft a quarterback? Shouldn’t Jay Cutler have been released a year ago if you were going to spend more money on one year of Mike Glennon? How’s Marcus Wheaton doing? How can you run out of kickers?
The Bears would own the No. 6 pick if the season ended now despite having the same 3-9 record as the Broncos and Colts. The winless Browns would pick first, followed by the 49ers and Giants (both 2-10). The rest of those teams all have a coach or GM with fewer years on the job than the Bears with Fox and Pace.
Being further along in a rebuild seemingly would indicate the Bears would be getting better instead of worse. Maybe Pace will get it right with a different coach who has a resume as thin as his own. Shouldn’t the Bears at least have to beat the Browns before that is decided?
Mike Mulligan is a special contributor to the Chicago Tribune.