Just short of two years into the Ryan Pace and John Fox era with the Chicago Bears, and the team is still in disarray. What’s the issue with the Bears? More importantly what is the fix in Chicago?
On January 8, 2015 the Chicago Bears hired former New Orleans Saints Director of Player Personnel, Ryan Pace to lead the teams revamping efforts after a dismal 5–11 finish to their 2014 campaign. That 2014 season saw the former Bears General Manager Phil Emery ousted along with his Head Coach Marc Trestman.
Within eight days of Ryan Pace being hired as the new General Manager of the Chicago Bears, Pace had made his decision in regards to the first Head Coach of the Bears during his tenure. The man for the job was former Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers Head Coach John Fox. The decision was announced on January 16, 2015 that Fox had agreed to become the 15th Head Coach in franchise history.
The hiring of Pace and Fox led to the popular additions of Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, and all seemed peachy just a month removed from the disastrous Phil Emery and Marc Trestman era had come to a screeching halt.
Fast forward to just under two years later, and things are anything but peachy. The only thing that the Chicago Bears are in contention for is a top five draft selection in April, and quite frankly the plan stinks. The Bears are heading into the final quarter of the season at 3–9, last in the NFC North and second to last in the conference behind only the 1–11 San Francisco 49ers.
There has been rumblings that Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio will be dismissed following the season, but is it Fangio that needs to go? Will firing the Defensive Coordinator who has been handed a plethora of stop-gap type players to work with over the past two seasons fix the Bears dismal offense?
Will that fix the fact that the Bears highly touted seventh pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Kevin White, has only played four games for the Bears in two seasons due to injuries? The first draft choice in the Ryan Pace era has 19 catches for 185 yards since being drafted in April of 2015. Sorry, but I’m not buying that solution.
The Bears problems since the Pace/Fox era began have been far more than the defense. The Injuries have piled up at an alarming rate, the offense has sputtered under newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains, the team has faced a pair of Performance Enhancing Drugs suspensions in the last two months and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Jay Cutler was largely considered to be out the door when Pace and Fox took the helm prior to the 2015 season, the feeling was that there was a realistic chance that Cutler was done, and the Bears would take a quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft. That didn’t happen, Cutler remained the starting quarterback of the Bears heading into the 2015 season.
In 2015 under then Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase, Cutler amassed 3,659 passing yards while tossing 21 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions, good for a quarterback rating of 92.3. All of that without the then recently departed Brandon Marshall or then Rookie Kevin White to throw to. The team sputtered to a 6–10 record in 2015, largely because of the defensive shortcomings, and the ability to score. The Bears averaged 20 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NFL, while the defense allowed 24 points per game which ranked 20th in the NFL.
Those shortcomings were due to the players involved, not the guy calling the plays for the most part. Alan Ball, Shea McClellin, Adrian Amos, Chris Prosinski and Jarvis Jenkins were some of the players that Vic Fangio was given to work with by Ryan Pace. The Bears have no clear-cut stars on the defensive side of the ball, as a result they have ran out a carousel of late-round and undrafted quality defenders. Christian Jones led the 2015 Bears in tackles with just 59.
With the additions of Leonard Floyd in last April’s NFL Draft, Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman both via free-agency, the Bears defense has improved from the 20th ranked defense in 2015, to the 16th ranked defense in 2016. The secondary still features 2014 NFL Draft bust Kyle Fuller, complimented by a slew of practice team should be’s which have looked awful this season.
Jerrell Freeman leads the team with 69 solo tackles and 22 assists to this point, already surpassing Christian Jones’ team leading numbers from 2015. Danny Trevathan is right behind Freeman with 49 solo’s and 17 assists, but beyond that the stat leaders consist of a jumble of Cre’von LeBlanc, Jacoby Glenn and Harold Jones-Quarey and other guys that most have never heard of.
If you’re a Bears fan you know that you have had at least one moment during a game this season where you said “who the hell is this guy?” while watching the defense in action.
While the defense has improved slightly from 2015 to 2016, everything else has slid to the point of seemingly no return. The offense is ranked 30th in the NFL entering play this Sunday versus the Detroit Lions. Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer have taken turns on the injury report, with both now down for the count in 2016. Leaving former USC Trojan Matt Barkley at the helm of a Bears offense that features more stars on the injury report and the suspended list, than on the field this week.
Ryan Pace and John Fox rolled the dice on second year running back Jeremy Langford this past offseason when they allowed fan-favorite Matt Forte to walk, and sign with the New York Jets. Snake-eye’s boys, Langford has been flat out bad in 2016, so bad that he has lost the primary role to rookie Jordan Howard, a fifth round pick out of the University of Indiana.
Howard, however has been one of the lone bright spots in what has been a very forgettable 2016 season. Howard has flourished in his increased role thus far, racking up 883 rushing yards on 181 carries, good for 4.9 yards per carry so far. Howard also has 242 receiving yards on 22 catches to go along with his rushing numbers, and last week Howard rumbled into the end zone three times against the 49ers.
Speaking of last week, the Bears continuing their season long narrative of doing everything wrong, managed to muster up just enough to beat the 49ers and assure that themselves of a lesser draft pick in next April’s NFL Draft.
The moral of this low-light reel that has been the Bears for a long time now, is that the current plan is not working. Whatever Ryan Pace is thinking, is not working. Whatever John Fox is doing in the locker room and on the sideline is not working. The Bears are broken, dare I say, broken beyond the point in which they were before the Pace/Fox era began.
Why? Well there’s a myriad of reasons as to why the Pace regime has failed thus far, most of which have been touched on here in this piece. Poor draft results, not enough additions in free-agency, a heaping mountain of injuries, under-achievement and even the loss of Adam Gase to the Miami Dolphins this past offseason.
The moral of this story though, is that something needs to change down at Halas Hall, and I’m not buying the scapegoating of Vic Fangio. I’m talking about the whole shebang. If Ryan Pace wants to keep his job, and keep the support of the fans, he needs to fire John Fox. Fire Fox, admit to the fans that the original plan didn’t work, and pick a direction to head in.
It’s not inconceivable that the initial plan just didn’t pan out for Ryan Pace, and I actually think that Pace is a smart executive, he certainly has the track record behind him prior to his Bears tenure. The biggest mistake that Pace could make this offseason, would be to deny that his original plan has failed and stick with it.
Make the tough decisions, swallow your pride and admit the wrongs, and Ryan Pace can still avoid going down with the sinking ship that is the Chicago Bears.