Mel Tucker Jr. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
If there is one statistic that tells the entire story of the 2013 Chicago Bears, it’s this one:
before 2013, the Chicago Bears had surrendered 40 points or more in a game just four times over the preceding nine seasons. This year, they have surrendered 40 or more points four times, and have lost all four of those games, with the Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, and now the Philadelphia Eagles all feasting at the Bears’ all-you-can-score offensive buffet.
Making matters even worse, the Bears made all sorts of history in other ways on Sunday as well. The 54 points they allowed to the Eagles was the second-highest total they have ever given up in a game, with 55 points in a 1997 contest against the Lions being the only game higher than that. Also, the Bears’ have now given up more total yards this season than they have in a single season in franchise history, with the number now standing at 5840 yards after surrendering 514 to the Eagles in Sunday’s defeat.
With all of those numbers swirling around the team, some fans and pundits have begun to seriously question whether defensive coordinator Mel Tucker Jr should keep his job after this season. After all, taking a defense that gave up the fifth fewest number of yards in the league last year (5050) and watching it in all likelihood give up a mind-boggling 1000 more yards or more this season is a stinging indictment of the system that Tucker is operating, and the calls for his ouster certainly have some merit based on that fact alone.
In Tucker’s defense (no pun intended), there have been several factors working against him. For starters, Tucker has been saddled with having to keep the Cover-2 defense that Lovie Smith used in place this season because of the veteran-heavy make-up of the defense. Guys like Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman weren’t happy that Smith got replaced after going 10-6 last season, and that displeasure led to the front office’s decision to keep largely the same system in place this year, with disastrous consequences.
Complicating matters is that the Bears have had to deal with the injury bug on defense this season in a way that few teams have had to deal with. Briggs missed a huge chunk of the season thanks to a fractured shoulder. Tillman missed time with a variety of ailments before a torn triceps ended his season. Henry Melton, Nate Collins, and DJ Williams all tore knee ligaments and were lost for the season. Stephen Paea has had turf toe all year long and has missed several games. Even Shea McClellin has missed games because of a hamstring injury.
With all of those bumps and bruises, it’s easy to see why Tucker has had such a tough time putting a quality defense on the field. Having to throw rookies like Khaseem Greene and Jon Bostic on the field against the kinds of offenses that the Bears have had to face has been a trial by fire, and the rookie duo has been burned repeatedly in the process.
On the flip side, however, most of the Bears’ veterans have taken a bit of a step back under Tucker. Major Wright is one such case, as the safety has had a horrendous year despite playing for a new contract with free agency looming. McClellin has shown absolutely no progress in terms of his ability to play against the run (he made a couple more awful plays in that area in Sunday’s loss), and in fact has even regressed to a degree in his second season in the defense. Even Chris Conte has shown no improvement as his pass coverage skills have repeatedly been exposed as lacking, and his tackling ability (or lack thereof) has been the subject of ridicule all year long.
In addition to not showing any signs of being able to develop his players on that side of the ball, Tucker has also shown a complete lack of ability to adjust to what an offense throws at him, and that was no more apparent than on Sunday night. Succeeding where teams like the Cowboys and Browns had failed, the Eagles made it crystal clear in the game’s early stages that they were going to pound away with the run, and yet Tucker couldn’t do a single thing about it. Both LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown ran roughshod over the Bears, becoming the first duo of running backs to both rush for 100 yards in the same game against Chicago since Otis Armstrong and Norris Weese of the Denver Broncos did it in 1976 (thanks to Christopher Kamka of CSN Chicago for that tidbit).
In spite of that kind of regression and inflexibility in scheme, Tucker should get another chance with the Bears next season. Emery showed some savvy in restricting an anemic offense and turning it into a powerhouse in one offseason, and while expecting him to work that kind of miracle again with the defense is a bit of a stretch, he is going to have a lot of room to be creative when re-making the defense into a more palatable image for Tucker.
Just like offensive coordinators like Mike Martz and Mike Tice were given new weapons to try to galvanize the offense, Tucker is going to get the opportunity to show what he can do with new toys next season, and rightfully so. If he can implement his own game plan without having to worry about ruffling the feathers of veterans on the team, then he will get a much fairer shake than he was given in having to deal with the remnants of the Smith regime this season.
If he continues to show no progress and drives the Bears further into the ground, then the team would be completely within its rights to can him after next year. They do owe it to Tucker to at least give him one year with his own system and players before they make that decision though, and it would be a smart move on Emery’s part to keep Tucker around.