Consequence of Blown Leads: Poles, Warren Face Risky Decisions at Coach, Quarterback

| December 26th, 2023

On Sunday, against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bears were exactly who they have been since Montez Sweat arrived in the middle of the 2023 season. They play terrific defense, at least for most of the game. Their quarterback is one of the most electric runners in the league, and also a mediocrity at every other element of the position. (Even Mark Sanchez was frustrated at the speed at which Fields processed the action.) Their head coach looks primed to let every big lead slip away, but this Sunday the opponent simply wasn’t up to the task. In a league where most teams reside in the middle of the pack, so do these Chicago Bears, and that was most everyone’s preseason expectation.

So why does this season feel like a disappointment?

The answers are simple: Denver, Detroit, Cleveland.

If the Chicago Bears, and their defensive head coach, simply held on to those three double-digit, fourth quarter leads in games where they were clearly the superior team, their record would be 9-6. They would be firmly in the postseason, threatening the Cowboys for the fifth seed and keeping the Lions honest at the top of the division. They would have overcome their embarrassing start to the season, a disaster on and off the field. They would have weathered a multigame stretch with a backup quarterback whose last start was against the Colorado School of Mines. To quote The Great British Bake Off‘s Prue Leith, this season would have been a “triumph.”

But it’s not. Now Ryan Poles and Kevin Warren have decisions to make, and those decisions will come down to a fundamental question: do they believe the coach and quarterback are capable of improvement? Objectively speaking, neither has been good enough in 2023 to warrant confidence in them moving forward. Confidence in them moving forward would require a belief in their potential, and both men have done enough to suggest they are capable of being winning assets for the franchise.

But is that a risk worth taking when you have the first pick in a QB-friendly draft? Is that a risk worth taking when Jim Harbaugh is refusing to sign a $100 million plus extension at Michigan because it requires him not flirting with the NFL this offseason?

The Bears could easily run it back in 2024, with raised, do-or-die expectations for Fields and Flus. That decision would be met with resistance from some quarters of the fan base, but with their draft capital and capital capital, they would be able to fix their three signature flaws – pass rush, interior OL, wide receiver – with capital to spare. Imagine this team with the additions of Marvin Harrison Jr., Bryce Huff, and an early-round center. The 2024 roster around these two men would be one of the best this franchise has had in recent memory. It would be difficult to imagine them not in the playoffs come January 2025.

But would that success come despite the flaws of the coach and quarterback? And would the limitations of Fields and Flus, if they don’t display significant improvement, limit the team’s championship potential?

It is easy to pretend the decisions facing Poles and Warren are easy ones. FIRE HIM! TRADE HIM! MOVE ON! But there is a case to be made for believing in the program, and believing in the progress that has been displayed. It may lead to moving on from Fields and Flus at the end of a disappointing 2024, but it also might produce the first stable coach/quarterback relationship the franchise has witnessed in the Super Bowl era.

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