If my own feelings are in any way a barometer for the overall mood of Bears’ fans, the hope surrounding this team peaked before the Week 8 Saints game, and plummeted this Sunday with a sloppy, embarrassing loss to an underwhelming Packers’ squad of ho-hums.
There is a part of me—and by extension I can only assume a part of the Bears’ fan base—who wants to give in, declare the Bears a bad team, and go back to enjoying my bumbling Beloved without the hope of anything competent showing up on the field.
This article is a defiant stand against that part of me, and perhaps it will help convince some readers to hold on to the tip of the towel before throwing it all the way in.
It all comes down to Christian Jones
I bet you didn’t see that coming. I am not here to say that Christian Jones is the answer to the Bears’ problems. Instead, the fact that Christian Jones was the defensive play caller for Sunday’s game against the Packers exemplifies the three biggest reversible reasons (call them excuses if you like) for the Bears’ poor performance: the wrong injuries, poor personnel choices, and poor play calling.
If you watched the defense between snaps Sunday, there were several (i.e. way to many) times the defense looked confused, changing positions and asking questions right up until the offense snapped. The same situation was true against Minnesota when Jones took over play calling duties. In Sunday’s game, there is no single play where this clearly made the difference—although it’s certainly possible it was the reason for Montgomery’s untouched touchdown run. In the Minnesota game, it seemed almost certain that play calling confusion led to a 58-yard Jerick McKinnon touchdown (a 7 point play in a game that was decided by 3 points).
So why was Christian Jones the defensive play caller on Sunday?
The Wrong Injuries:
This year has been kinder to the Bears than last in terms of number of injuries. The problem is that the injuries have been focused in places that led to dramatic drop-offs in the performance of an entire unit. For Christian Jones to take over play calling against Minnesota required injuries to Jerrell Freeman and Nick Kwiatkoski, a suspension of Danny Trevathan (due to an injury he caused Davante Adams so technically still counts into my injury theme), and finally an injury to John Timu during the game to take out the last Bears’ linebacker with play calling experience.
On the offensive side of the ball, a sneakily-crucial injury domino came in the preseason, when reliable and flexible backup interior offensive lineman Eric Kush suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. The Bears went into the season precariously thin at interior offensive line, and they have paid the price significantly. Cody Whitehair has been moved around enough to get a possibly-permanent case of DMS, Hronis Grasu has repeatedly started at center despite not having built up the necessary strength to play the part in the NFL, and the offensive line has been devastatingly incohesive throughout a comic series of configurations which at one point included 4 tackles and a guard playing center.
Poor Personnel Choices:
Christian Jones demonstrated against the Vikings that he was a liability as a defensive play caller. Nick Kwiatkoski demonstrated in Week 2 that he was a very capable defensive play caller. With Trevathan out, the Bears coaches decided to give the headset to Christian Jones instead of Kwiatkoski. Presumably, they preferred Jones’ skill-set in Nickel packages, which amounted to 45% of snaps when Kwit was taken off the field. I honestly think that decision likely cost the Bears the game.
If there is an incremental performance boost with Jones over Kwit in Nickel packages, it cannot possibly make up for ineffective communication and a repeatedly confused and unprepared defense.
I can make other arguments for different personnel choices on the defensive side of the ball (e.g. I’d like Leonard Floyd to have less snaps to keep him explosive on his pass rushes) but the play calling linebacker is by far the most significant choice I have issue with.
On the offensive side of the ball, the decision to play Hronis Grasu at center and move Whitehair to guard is certainly in contention for most costly. In Sunday’s game, Grasu had the worst PFF pass-blocking rating of any center in over two years—his run-blocking grade managed to sit closer to the “worst of the week” range. The offensive line play on Sunday was significantly worse than it has been with either Compton or Sowell playing guard and keeping Whitehair at center.
The Bears couldn’t establish the run in part due to the Packer’s stacking the box, but the offensive line play didn’t give the Bears a chance. The Bears predictable play calling and poor receiver corps are certainly handicaps to the offense, but the interior line has gone from a strength to a weakness and led to a number of sacks and runs-for-loss that even an elite passing game would struggle to overcome.
I’d be remiss to not mention this poor receiver corps while whining about personnel choices, but I’ll make this quick: I disapprove of playing anyone over Wright, playing Gentry over anyone, keeping Bellamy over Thompson, playing Bellamy over Thompson, and playing Bellamy over McBride this Sunday. #OpinionbearOut
Poor Play Calling:
On the defensive side of the ball, this category mainly refers to the poor on-field play calling by Christian Jones.
On the offensive side of the ball, you can find a plethora of articles here criticizing the play calling, including some excellent points in Andrew’s recent trial of John Fox. In short, it’s too limited and too predictable.
As I mentioned in the beginning, my aim was to focus on problems that are reversible. In terms of injuries, if Trevathan and the interior offensive line stay healthy, this is an exponentially better team.
In terms of play calling and personnel choices, it’s possible they could change under the current coaching regime. They probably won’t.
They probably will change next season.
I’ll let you read between the lines.