When the Chicago Bears hired Marc Trestman as the team’s new head coach earlier this year, there was a mixture of head-scratching and mischievous grins among Bears fans. Here was a guy who had been a head coach in the Canadian Football League for many years but had a great track record as a quarterback whisperer and offensive guru, so it was clear that the Bears had gone for a cerebral type of coach.
Throughout the beginning part of this season, it seemed as though Trestman could do no wrong. There were the two game-winning touchdown drives the Bears were able to engineer with some adept play calling by Trestman, and even when Jay Cutler went down with a groin injury, Josh McCown was able to step in and be effective in no small part because of Trestman’s system.
In the past few weeks though, some of Trestman’s sheen as an offensive genius has begun to wear off. There was his play-call that ended up resulting in a failed fourth down conversion with Michael Bush near the St. Louis Rams’ goal line in Week 12, and his decision to hold onto time outs rather than try to conserve clock against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11 was met with plenty of derision as well.
In the Bears’ loss Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings, however, Trestman hit a new low. Whether it was his decision to spread out four wide receivers and throw a pass out of the shotgun on a third-and-1 play (the Bears failed to convert), or his decision to punt the ball late in the fourth quarter rather than go for a 4th-and-1 conversion from Minnesota’s 41 yard line, it seemed like just about every button Trestman pushed in the game ended up being the wrong choice.
There was no greater example of this frustrating train of thought than Trestman’s decision to have kicker Robbie Gould attempt a 47-yard field goal in overtime of the game. Obviously, the kick is well within Gould’s range, but Trestman opted to have Gould kick it on second down rather than trying to run more plays to get into better position. The kick ended up sailing wide right, and the Bears ended up losing the game on Minnesota’s next drive.
The decision by Trestman was even more perplexing considering how effectively the Bears were moving the ball on the drive. Forte ran the ball five times on the drive and picked up two first downs, and the Vikings showed absolutely no resiliency as he continued to shove the ball down their throats. Rather than let his running back continue to punish Minnesota and potentially get to within better field goal range, Trestman instead chose a 47-yard kick from a guy who was operating on little sleep after arriving on Sunday morning following the birth of his first child, and the decision did not pay off.
After the game, Trestman offered this defense of his decision:
“We were definitely in range and I didn’t want to, at that point, risk a possible penalty that would set us back, or a fumble or something unique. There’s no guarantee that we would get any yards on second down or third down.”
There is obviously a modicrum of truth to that statement. The Bears have been committing a lot of stupid penalties lately, and Trestman surely let that factor into his decision. What should have factored in even more than that, however, is the fact that Forte is not known to fumble the football, and he was having an absolutely spectacular game on Sunday. The decision to take the ball out of one of your best player’s hands because you like the odds of making a 47-yard field goal (Gould has made 72% of the field goals of between 40 and 49 yards that he has attempted in his career) is a bad move, and one that Trestman deserves to be criticized for.
Overall, Trestman’s performance this season has been solid, and he has shown that he definitely has a good touch when it comes to designing an offense. When it comes to in-game decisionmaking lately though, he has been lacking, and he has got to do a better job of choosing his spots to gamble and spots to be conservative as the season enters its final stretch, or we could see more “wide-right” moments in the coming weeks.