Across The Middle: Tightening Pace’s Leash

| November 29th, 2017

The Bears could’ve had the best coaches in the history of football and they still would’ve lost to the Eagles by 20 points.

Say what you will about John Fox and company — and it’s probably all fair — but the hard truth is that the Bears don’t have enough good players. A lot of that is due to injury. Losing their top two receivers and all four starting linebackers is a tough blow. But still, they should be able to put up a fight!

Let’s look at who was available Sunday against Philadelphia:

  • Markus Wheaton is paid like a starter.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski should be a starter at this point anyway. Christian Jones has played like one.
  • Deiondre Hall, Deon Bush and Hroniss Grasu should all be starters.
  • Jon Bullard was drafted to be a major piece. He shouldn’t be warming the bench behind a journeyman at this point.
  • Pernell McPhee has turned into a ghost.

I like Ryan Pace. Most fans do. I’d argue his plus decisions far outweigh his minuses but nowhere near as much as the losses outweigh the wins.

The Bears are at a crossroads.

They will, and I still believe should, allow Pace to hire the next coach. But what if they’re 3-8 next year too? Do they just hit the reset button again? How long can they reasonably expect this loyal fan base to be patient? They are currently suffering through one of the worst four-year stretches in team history.

I’ve long said the primary reason I wouldn’t want to hire Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels is because they’d want to be Pace’s boss too, but I’m no longer sure that should stop the Bears. New England, Seattle, Kansas City, New Orleans all have their coaches in charge of the rosters. If Jim Harbaugh calls up George McCaskey and says he wants to the keys to the franchise, has Pace done enough for the Bears to justify saying no? Even if you look at first time head coaches the last two years, two of the big fishes were handed the keys to their franchises in Miami and San Francisco. That doesn’t include Sean McDermott, who was given what he asked for after a month or so on the job.

We have months to debate the coaching pedigrees of Harbaugh, McDaniels and everyone else, including whether or not they deserve such power. That’s not the point. The point is, how can we be so sure that Pace does? To be clear, this isn’t a call to fire Pace. I think he’s shown that he has an eye for talent. I just hope the Bears don’t let a great football mind out the door simply because Pace has a solid draft record.

Hopefully the problem is simple as needing a new coach and another off-season to build depth. I’m just not entirely sure that’s true. This is Year Three, the Bears should be much further along. Blame Fox all you want, but Pace has blood on his hands too. Here’s to hoping he can get it cleaned up.

Getting Punked

The best thing Pace has done is build the Bears from the inside out at the line of scrimmage. But there’s no excuse for them getting punked on Sunday. None.

Josh Sitton and Kyle Long are two of the highest paid guards in the league and Cody Whitehair is one of the highest-drafted centers. How the hell did they only manage six rushing yards with a stud like Jordan Howard running with the ball?

On the flip side, Akiem Hicks is one of the highest-paid 3-4 defensive linemen in the league and Eddie Goldman was a high second-round pick. How did the defense get smoked so badly?

That demolition had nothing to do with the coaching. It was trench warfare and the Bears got smoked. There’s an old saying, it’s not what plays, but who plays. The Bears should be able to control the line of scrimmage every week. The Eagles have some good players and they’ve invested in their roster the same way the Bears have. They’ve apparently just done a much better job of it.

Secondary Concerns

With Lenny Floyd out, the Bears are going to have to blitz to create pressure. One would hope their secondary is good enough to hold up for more than a 1/2 second. Sunday, it wasn’t. Against a middle-of-the-pack group of receivers, every member of the secondary failed at least once. Vic Fangio did a great job with what he dialed up and the pressure was getting there about as much as anyone could reasonably expect. But the secondary just didn’t hold up.

They didn’t just get smoked. They didn’t make the plays they should’ve made. Whether it was Cre’von LeBlanc completely whiffing on Carson Wentz in the open field or the numerous dropped interceptions, the secondary just didn’t get the job done.

It’s easy to be a defensive back when the front seven gets after the quarterback like the Bears’ have most of this season. If Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are going to get contract extensions, now is when they have to earn it.

Bring On The 9ers

It’s almost like playing what could’ve been.

Had the Bears fired John Fox last year, they could’ve hired Kyle Shanahan. They could have traded for Jimmy Garoppolo and drafted Solomon Thomas. They wanted to draft DeForest Buckner. Of course, none of those moves have worked out yet for the 49ers.

Despite constant praise in the offseason, the 49ers are 1-10 and look like locks to have one of the top two picks in the draft. The general expectation is that Garoppolo is going to get his first start Sunday and that could really turn things around for them, but they still have issues pretty much everywhere else on the roster including a group of receivers that just might be worse than what the Bears have.

The 49ers defense is bad across the board. If Dowell Loggains deserves to keep his job, this is a good week for him to prove it.

On paper, there’s no way the Bears should lose this game. But if they play like they did in two of their last three games, there’s almost no way they’ll win.

I expect the Bears to be angry and I expect them to win. In Year Three of a regime, we should be able to expect them to beat a 1-10 team.

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