The Chicago Bears had the worst defense in the 94-year history of the organization last season. The gave up the most yards in franchise history (6,313), allowed the most points in franchise history (478) and finished last in rushing defense for the first time in franchise history.
Numerous games were lost due to the defense, including the season finale against the Green Bay Packers, ultimately costing the Bears a chance at the playoffs. All this with one of the best offenses the city has ever seen on the other side of the ball.
“Obviously, we need to improve as a defense,” GM Phil Emery said today. “We had a lot of tough days defensively and we had a tough season. There are no excuses for it. I know our fans are frustrated. I know everybody in this city is frustrated. This team is frustrated. I think Lance Briggs’ comments yesterday I listened to them, sounds like a very frustrated player who loves football and knows that there is a higher level of play that can be attained and is frustrated and angry about it. We share in that frustration and anger.”
That frustration has many calling for the head of coordinator Mel Tucker who, for the second year in a row, led a defense that finished dead last in the NFL in sacks. Yet head coach Marc Trestman today defended his coordinator by pointing out the numerous injuries to befall the defense.
“[Phil and I] spent some time looking at the end of the season and we spent some time and to give us some perspective and taking the emotion out of it, about what happened early on in the season. We all can easily reflect on what happened late, but let me just tell you and reiterate what we both saw as we looked at our defense initially.
“We saw speed on tape. We saw a sense of urgency on tape. We saw disruption at the line of scrimmage on tape. We saw a defense that forced turnovers. We saw a defense that scored. We saw players making plays. We saw 11 turnovers in the first three games of the season. We created 44 the year before. We saw things going in the right direction. I saw Henry Melton disrupting the middle of the line of scrimmage and Nate Collins disrupting the middle of the line of scrimmage. I saw D.J. Williams blowing up piles and running with speed to the ball. I saw Lance Briggs playing at a Pro Bowl level and certainly Charles Tillman not only making plays but the physicality with which he tackled and the sense of urgency with which he played the game. And I saw Tim [Jennings] making plays and scoring touchdowns.
“So I saw something completely different in a lot of ways than I saw at the end of the season. I saw a healthy Stephen Paea making plays and moving the line of scrimmage and running to the football. And I reminded myself that our nickel Kelvin Hayden hadn’t even made it through OTAs.”
When asked about Tucker’s future with the team, Trestman was noncommittal, saying the decision will be made at a later date.
“I don’t want anybody to read into anything into anything that we’re doing. Everything is on the table and we’re going through a very thoughtful and methodical process here,” said Trestman. “We’re evaluating. Everything is on the table. Again, we’re just three days into this. And I’ve said here, all we’ve done is looked at some tape. This is a process. This is going to involve not just myself but all of our coaches. And it’ll be a process where we’ve left everything on the table and we’ll evaluate everything.”
Trestman said the decision may not come in the next few weeks and could drag into February.
“A coach once told me, one I really respect, is decisions will be made when we have to make them,” Trestman said. “There’s certainly enough information out there to see that coaches in all areas at key positions – and this goes again, not to be read into anything because I think that would be inappropriate – there was plenty of hirings in February that were key, key hirings last season. I think Phil would reiterate that as well. We have a process we’re going through and it does involve the coaches.”
Trestman then went on to give his coordinator an extensive vote of confidence.
“The defensive team that started the season was a Mel Tucker-coached defense – a Mel Tucker-coached defense that created havoc on the offenses that we played in the first three games. He really took a backseat to the structure and the defense that was in the year before. That was part of it is his intelligence level, his ability to learn the language of the defense and then to assimilate it and then be able to coach it. That’s not easy to do. If you’re a coordinator and you go into a new situation and you have to put in somebody else’s language and learn theirs, that’s not an easy transition. And what we saw in the first three games was a Mel Tucker defense that looked very similar quite frankly to the tape that I looked at [of] 2012. That’s the facts. That’s what it looked like to me. So No. 1, the transition to the schematics was outstanding and the teaching was very clear, our gap controls, our fits, our ability to disrupt, all those things came into play.
“And I never sensed it a minute, one of the reasons and a big reason why I and we hired Mel went beyond football was his personal skills, his ability to communicate, his high intellect, his ability to relate to all players in what I thought was a very, very difficult transition from an outstanding group, starting with the head coach and the defensive coordinator and the staff that was here a year before. And I thought Mel did an outstanding job. I never felt anything but a positive sense for what was going on in those meetings and the way that Mel related to those players. I think we heard a little bit of that over the last few days. Not stuff written, but stuff said by players. I think that reflects really well. And to maintain the level of consistency and emotional stability throughout a season of adversity also says a lot about Mel.”
Trestman will never throw one of his coaches under the bus publicly, so don’t read too much into his effusive praise of Tucker. There’s still a decent chance Tucker will be fired, it just appears a little less likely after today’s press conference.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.