Trestman has Lovie’s problem in reverse: ‘O’ is good, ‘D’ is woeful
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter December 31, 2013 10:33PM
Updated: February 3, 2014 3:48PM
The Bears underwent one of the strangest transformations, probably in NFL history, this season. Their offense improved from 21st in points scored in 2012 to fifth in 2013. And their defense went the other direction, from second in points allowed to 27th.
Perhaps fittingly, it led to as many victories as losses this season. And after failing to make the playoffs with an 8-8 record, all the Bears did was maintain an unhealthy imbalance that obviously needs to be addressed in the offseason.
With most if not all of their offensive starters expected to return, the Bears’ offense is likely to take another big step in the second year under Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh. And while the defense has nowhere to go but up after a disastrous 2013 season in which the Bears were 30th in total defense, last in run defense and tied for last in sacks, it remains to be seen just how much improvement can be made in one offseason.
After his first season as the Bears’ head coach, Marc Trestman is in the same top-heavy situation as Lovie Smith was after his first season. Lovie had a defense about to take off and become one of the best in the NFL. But his offense was spotty at best and a drag on the team at worst and ultimately led to his departure.
It’s early, but Trestman is on a similar course, considering how poor his team’s defense was by almost any measurement this season. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was dealt a bad hand with injuries to Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Nate Collins and Kelvin Hayden. But the Bears also struggled with fundamentals and technique — the traits any coach should be able to instill in any player on the field.
While offense is the way to go in the NFL today, you still need a good defense to win. Nine of this year’s playoff teams are ranked in the top 10 in scoring. But eight of them are ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense.
The growing disparity between the Bears’ offense and defense is problematic — both on the field and in the locker room. The Bears allowed 20 or more points in every game this season. They scored 20 or more in 14 of 16 games. One side of the ball can carry the other for only so long in the NFL before fractures emerge — unless the good side is really, really, really good. And the Bears’ offense still is a long way from Broncos- and Packers-like efficiency.
That said, one of the constants in the transition from Smith to Trestman is that the Bears have a good locker room. The Bears’ offensive players supported the beleaguered defense without even a hint of discord throughout the season. Right up until the end when the offense scored 28 points against the Packers and the defense blew the game by allowing two touchdowns in the final quarter.
‘‘This room — I have never seen a group of guys fight like this,’’ guard Matt Slauson said after the loss that ended the Bears season.
‘‘This is the best locker room I’ve been a part of,’’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall said after cleaning out his locker at Halas Hall on Monday. ‘‘This is the best organization I’ve been a part of That’s the only cool thing about playing for different teams — you get to experience things, and when you find a good one, you’re grateful for it. I’m really appreciative of being here.’’
Slauson typically took his share of the blame on the part of the offense after the Green Bay game.
‘‘There were a lot of times I was thinking, ‘This is ours. We’ve got it.’ Slauson said. ‘‘But unfortunately we didn’t execute throughout the game entire game. It’s not just the defense. Offensively we had opportunities. The very first kickoff of the game, Devin [Hester] gave us a great opportunity and we go three-and-out.’’
Slauson, a free agent who hopes to return in 2014, acknowledged that the Bears need to do a better job of clicking on all three phases next season.
‘‘We’re out of sync,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s always a time when one side is having to pick up the other or special teams is picking up both or whatever. That’s a tough world to live in. You need everybody picking up everybody.’’
The Bears’ situation is far from hopeless. For one thing, Trestman’s team is heavy on the winning side — offense. (Lovie Smith built a strong defense when defense made the difference, but unfortunately was caught in a transitional period. From 1999-2005, every Super Bowl champion was ranked in the top 6 in the league in scoring defense; in the following seven years — ever since the Colts’ 23rd-ranked defense beat the Bears in 2006 — only two Super Bowl winners have been ranked in the top 10).
And Trestman has a much better grasp of the defense than Smith had of the Bears’ offense. Presumably that means he’ll have a more astute hand in addressing the issue. Whether or not Mel Tucker is the problem, the Bears’ hopes hinge on Trestman knowing how to fix it.