Frequently in life, we are asked to describe our feelings on a particular topic in one word. In the sports world, that same tactic is often applied when someone is asked to talk about a certain aspect of a team, and that exercise is a useful one when it comes to the Chicago Bears.
This season, the team’s defense can largely be summed up in one of three words: “ineffective,” “undisciplined,” or “injured.”
The first and third words in that sequence are both appropriate terms to be used about the Bears, but it’s the second word that’s perhaps the most telling, and it’s also the one that will define the way the team played in their 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Yes, the penalty on Shea McClellin for unnecessary roughness was a big stretch by officials looking to adhere to league mandates to protect quarterbacks, but outside of that obvious screw-up, there was plenty to be mad about when it comes to dissecting this defense.
First and most blatant on that list was the myriad of missed tackles that the team had in the game. Wrapping up and tackling is something that is preached by every defensive coordinator from Mel Tucker to the volunteer who coaches your kid’s Pop Warner team, but the Bears didn’t seem to get that memo on Sunday.
Whether it was Julius Peppers and Major Wright attempting to go for the big hit on Jordy Nelson while Tim Jennings was trying to wrap him up (he got away), or Craig Steltz’s almost comically-bad attempt to tackle James Starks in the open field, the Bears’ attempts to tackle in this game were awful, and made diehard football fans and casual observers alike just shake their heads and mutter under their collective breath.
In addition to the poor tackling, there was the ever-present issue of blown coverages on receivers. Chris Conte’s passing off of Randall Cobb to a completely unprepared Zack Bowman on the fateful 4th-and-8 in the fourth quarter led to an easy touchdown and the victory for the Packers. The number of times that Isaiah Frey was beaten on routes almost had to be counted on two hands. Wright once again had an awful game in helping out in coverage over the top. Just about everybody in the Bears’ secondary had at least one screw-up in the game, and it really cost the Bears a lot in terms of yardage and points.
Finally though, there was the piece de resistance that perfectly encapsulates the wretchedness of the Bears’ defensive performance this season, and that was the second quarter touchdown for Jarrett Boykins. Peppers did everything right in getting to Aaron Rodgers, and forced the ball out of his hand before he started throwing the ball.
Except the Bears didn’t get the memo. The ball sat on the turf untouched for what felt like an eternity, and despite the officials never blowing the whistle to end the play, all 11 Bears defensive players sat staring at it. Finally, Boykins sheepishly picked it up, and when the Bears still didn’t move from their stationary positions, he ran it into the end zone for the touchdown.
The enduring image of the whole sequence came when Boykins ran right past Lance Briggs, who stood with his hands on his hips and watched Boykins fly by him into the end zone.
In practices throughout training camp and during the season, every player has two indispensable thoughts drilled into their skulls: play until the whistle, and if there is a ball on the field, grab it. The worst that can happen is that the official will blow the play dead, but then at the very least you have covered your own rear end.
The Bears did neither of those things, and while some were quick to point the finger at Mel Tucker for the play, the fact of the matter is that a good number of the players on the field at the time are seasoned NFL veterans, and yet all of them just nonchalantly watched the Packers score the easiest touchdown that they will ever score.
That is not a failure of coaching. That is a failure of players who have consistently underperformed and under-executed all season long, and the blame for this gong-show of a season has to go squarely on them.
Phil Emery has a grim task to go about as he tries to remake a defense that surrendered over 6000 yards of offense and gave up over 20 points in all 16 games that they played this season, and judging by the way that some of the players gave up on that play, it would be safe to assume that many of their tenures in the Windy City are about to come to an abrupt end.