What’s up with the Chicago Bears? They appear to be the Jekyll and Hyde version of the former Monsters of the Midway.
They take the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons down to the wire on opening weekend. Then they get mauled by Tampa Bay in Week 2. They follow that with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelersa��a preseason Super Bowl favoritea��only to lay another egg on Thursday Night Football in Green Bay.
Have they improved enough this offseason to be playing with the big boys? Or, is it a mirage that will disappear when the November gales blow in off Lake Michigan?
To be sure, however, the Bears are 1-3, and currently at the bottom of the NFC North division. And while they have looked very good at times with a powerful running game, they have also looked unbearable due to some very bad mistakes.
But there had been talk of the team being revitalized. After all, head coach John Fox usually takes a couple years to build his team into a contender (see the Carolina Panthersa��2003 NFC Champions and Denver Broncosa��2013 AFC Champions). There are signs of improvement, but there are also signs of more a�?Bad News Bears.a�?
So how did the Bears, who lost the NFC title game in 2010, get here?
When the Bears abruptly fired Marc Trestman after just two seasons and hired John Fox, it was supposed to bring some stability to the team that has been struggling since the front office lost faith in Lovie Smith in 2012. That stability is not happening. Trestman was 13-19 (.406 winning percentage) in his 32 games. And Fox, now working through his third season, is 10-26 (.277).
Plus, prospects don’t look good right now for much improvement.
Smith actually provided the team with its last winning record (10-6 in 2012). Yet it wasn’t good enough for the playoffs, so the organization let him go. Smith’s aging roster has been getting overhauled since that time and it appeared to hit rock bottom last season when the Bears finished 3-13 last season.
The Bears had the third pick in the 2017 draft, a spot that usually affords a team a decent pick. But Chicago GM Ryan Pace (only in his third year with the team), decided it wasn’t high enough to grab North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky. So, he traded their third-round pick (No. 67), one of their fourth-rounders (No. 111) and a 2018 third-round pick to San Francisco to move up and take Trubisky. And that’s where the trouble begins.
Despite plenty of the Bear faithful scratching their heads (and pulling their hair out) over the trade, Pace was right to focus on quarterback. During the offseason, the team had parted ways with their former angst-inducing signal-caller Jay Cutler (who retired to the analyst booth and then moved to Miami to un-retire with the Dolphins). Pace then signed free agent Mike Glennon to a three-year contract, installing him as a place holder while Trubisky learns the ropes.
Well, Trubisky had a very good preseason. So suddenly the fans that were wondering about the trade were now wondering why the rookie isn’t playing. Glennon has struggled mightily (against Tampa Bay when he coughed up a pick-six and against the Packers, where his four turnovers lead to a 35-14 rout). And the Bears fans who aren’t otherwise distracted by another Cubbies playoff run are calling for Glennon’s head.
a�?Bears fans think that Glennon is just Jay Cutler’s turnovers in a Scooby Doo disguise,a�? according to Seth Oberle (full disclosure, he’s my son), who lives in Chicago and interacts with plenty of Bears fans.
Perhaps Steve Rosenbloom, who writes for the Chicago Tribune, puts it more dramatically, punctuating his prose with periods:
a�?Mike. Glennon’s. Release. Is. So. Slow. And. He. Stares. Down. His. Primary. Receiver. And. He. Turns. Over. The. Ball. He’s. Bad. Why. Wouldn’t. John. Fox. Announce. A. Quarterback. Change. Friday?a�?
Rosenbloom has a point, though. In four games, Glennon has four touchdown passes, but five interceptions (second-most in the league). Plus, two fumbles this past Thursday. But it shouldn’t be this way. The Bears are supposed to be a running team.
Glennon has gotten help from his dynamic running back tandem of Jordan Howard and rookie Tarik Cohen. In the two non-blowout games (where the Bears did not abandon the run early because they were behind), the pair rushed for an average of 168 yards per game. In the two blowouts, Howard and Cohen accounted for 48.5 yards rushing per game. Relying on Glennon’s arm is not a solid strategy.
The defense, meanwhile, is young and improving, but has a ways to go. They are ranked eighth in yards allowed but 27th in points allowed. The offense needs more of that time-consuming running offense to keep the defense off the field. But that hasna��t been happening.
So it really comes down to a decision by the coach and front office at quarterback. When is the right time to make the change? Do you throw in a towel on a season that shows some signs of growth and ride with veteran who is not the future? One who isn’t getting the job done?
Or, do you switch to the rookie before you feel he is ready and risk thwarting his development? Most in the business would say you start the rookie when he is ready. Some, of course, would say otherwise.
a�?Four turnovers by Mike Glennon. His time’s up. I don’t know how else to say it,a�? Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune said after the Packers loss. a�?You figured the Bears could stick to their plan and bring Mitch Trubisky along at the pace they wanted to, but at this point you are in danger of losing the entire locker room. A game like this where the turnovers just added up and added up, you have no choice but to seriously consider that change right now. However un-ideal it is, this is the time!a�?
Turns out, Wiederer was apparently right.
Reports surfaced on Monday that the Bears would indeed make the switch to Trubisky. The time for a switch was ideal now that the Bears had 10 days before hosting the Vikings at Soldier Field. The Vikings will come to town with a chip on their shoulder after a loss to the Detroit Lions in their own house, where they also lost their rookie running back for the season on the heels of losing their starting quarterback for three (and counting) weeks.
The Vikings often sputter in Chicago, so the Monday night game could be a good spot to begin the Trubisky era.
We know what the fans want. The backup quarterback is always the most popular player on a struggling team. But this decision will have a huge effect on the remainder of the Bears’ 2017 season. And, Fox’s tenure with the team as well.
The season is only a quarter donea��it has to be too early to cash it in. As they say, the future is now. And whether Trubisky is ready or not, we’re about to find out.