Questions loom regarding Urlacher, Trestman, Tucker, Arians and Lovie
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter January 1, 2014 8:24PM
Brian Urlacher’s leadership skills would have come in handy in critical moments. | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
TOP 10 REGRETTABLE
MOMENTS THAT COST
THE BEARS A PLAYOFF BERTH
1. Coach Marc Trestman’s decision to have Robbie Gould attempt a 47-yard field goal on second down in OT against the Minnesota Vikings (right). Gould had made his last 10 attempts from 46-58 yards. But why tempt fate with two downs to play with? And since when did the placement of the ball at the hash marks make a difference to an NFL kicker?
2. Gould missing that 47-yard field goal. It was a bad time for a big miss by one of the best kickers in NFL history, who had made 22 of his last 26 attempts from 45-58 yards.
3. Trestman waiting until the final drive to replace quarterback Jay Cutler with Josh McCown against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. Cutler, clearly affected by ankle and groin injuries, was 9-for-22 for 102 yards in the second half before McCown rallied the Bears to an almost-tying touchdown.
4. James Anderson’s too-late blitz on fourth-and-11 against the Vikings. Anderson was looking to the sideline when the ball was snapped at the Vikings’ 8 with 1:55 left and the Bears leading 20-17. He was one step too late on a blitz, and Matt Cassel barely completed a 20-yard pass that sparked a tying field-goal drive.
5. The blown coverage against the Green Bay Packers on Aaron Rodgers’ 48-yard TD pass to Randall Cobb (left). It was fourth-and-eight when Rodgers escaped an all-out blitz, and Cobb took advantage of confusion in the secondary for a wide-open catch and the winning touchdown.
6. Losing Henry Melton, Nate Collins, D.J. Williams, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman to injury in a five-week span. The Bears were 3-0 and ninth in the NFL against the rush when Melton was put on injured reserve with a torn ACL after Week 3. It was all downhill after Collins, Williams, Briggs and Tillman followed him to the sidelines.
7. Cutler’s high ankle sprain against the Lions at Soldier Field (right). When Cutler was healthy in that game, it took him five plays and 2:23 to drive the Bears to a TD and a 7-0 lead. He deteriorated from there, and the Bears still lost by only two.
8. The blown fumble recovery against the Packers. The Bears could have been up 14-3. Instead, they were down 10-7 in the second quarter.
9. Missing two two-point conversion attempts against the Lions. After a poorly executed pass play with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the sideline, a penalty gave the Bears a second chance. But Matt Forte was stuffed in the backfield.
10. Christian Ponder’s injury. Ponder had a 54.2 passer rating against the Bears at the Metrodome when he suffered a head injury on a hit by Shea McClellin late in the first half. Cassel threw for 243 yards and a TD in his place to help the Vikings win in OT.
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The Bears’ arrow still is pointing up. Marc Trestman’s offense, if it remains intact, as it appears it will, figures to be significantly better in Year 2, and that horrid defense can’t get much worse, with or without coordinator Mel Tucker.
But with the crushing loss to the Green Bay Packers, Trestman’s first season was a tremendous disappointment. The Bears fired Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season in 2012 because they wanted a coach who could do a better job of maximizing opportunity. Trestman was expected to win enough games early in the season to avoid situations like the Bears faced against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Packers or else find ways to win the difference-making games.
Like Smith, he did neither, leaving the Bears out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. As Trestman surely knows, they add up quickly here.
The staff has looked like a clear upgrade all season. But the sour finish left room for doubt — and opened the door for questions that will linger in the offseason. To wit:
Did the Bears miss Brian Urlacher?
Urlacher’s absence was a minor issue that looms larger in light of the Bears’ collapse against the Packers. While he clearly was not the same player at the end of last season that he was in his prime, general manager Phil Emery’s low-ball offer that induced Urlacher to retire seems like a miscalculation.
Who knows how long Urlacher would have lasted had he signed with the Bears last offseason. But his leadership, as it turns out, was invaluable and clearly missed.
With the Bears at full strength, Urlacher’s absence wasn’t an issue. But once the injuries hit, they missed his leadership. Players being out of position doomed the Bears’ defense all season. There’s no way they would have stood around and watched Jarrett Boykin pick up a loose ball and return Aaron Rodgers’ fumble for a touchdown had Urlacher been around. And the apparent miscommunication that led to Randall Cobb’s 48-yard touchdown pass that ultimately knocked the Bears out of the playoffs rarely happened with Urlacher in charge.
It’s hindsight and a second-guess; the biggest criticism of Urlacher’s departure last summer was the way Emery handled it. But Brian Urlacher was missed more than many of us thought.
Should the Bears fire Mel Tucker?
Though Tucker was dealt a bad hand with injuries, his inability to stem the tide was a disappointment. The Bears’ defense was weak on fundamentals — too many missed tackles (137, according to Pro Football Focus, fifth most in the league and 52 more than in 2012), players out of position and safeties unable to make a play on the ball — and the Bears didn’t appear to learn very well. The two breakdowns against the Packers, on top of everything else that went wrong this season, constitute a fireable offense in a league where head coaches are launched after one or two seasons.
But unless Emery demands a change, Tucker is unlikely to be going anywhere. He’s still Trestman’s guy. And after a season of trying to emulate Smith’s defense with a shorthanded roster, Tucker deserves a chance to do things his way — with presumed Emery upgrades — in 2014. At full strength this season, his defense resembled Smith’s with a league-best 14 takeaways in the first four games.
Should the Bears have hired Bruce Arians?
Arians, Emery’s second choice to replace Smith, is a tempting second-guess. His Arizona Cardinals finished 10-6 and out of the playoffs. But they played their best football when it counted; they were 6-2 after their bye, beating the Seahawks in Seattle and nearly beating the San Francisco 49ers last week. They also beat the playoff-bound Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.
But Arians also has a defense that is younger and deeper than what he would have inherited in Chicago. The Cardinals improved with replacement players while the Bears suffered. More than likely, Arians would have struggled as much as Trestman has. Still, based on what he did last year with the Colts and this season with the Cardinals, it’s hard to argue against the notion the Bears would be in better shape today with Arians.
Would the Bears have been better off with Lovie Smith?
With the Stepford-like support of his ever-loyal players, Smith likely would have done a better job of mitigating the disastrous circumstances that led to a defensive collapse. But even with Emery’s upgrades, there’s no way the Bears would have been as potent on offense. Smith will have more success in his second NFL gig than his first. But the Bears would be 6-10 or 7-9 with him this season.