[NFL Preview] The Chicago Bears This Season (or “Audible Sigh”)
And here we go again…
Most Bears fans begin each season the same as all other iterations of NFL fans, believing their team will be successful. This is a particularly acute condition of Bears fans (and possibly Eagles fans) primarily because of how rapidly it devolves into complete despair and frustration over the fact that, no, the Bears will not be competitive in “name a year” season. And that is entirely true for the approaching 2015–16 season soon to start.
There are those few outliers, like the ’85 team every old Bill Swerski’s Super Fans-esque neighborhood bar patron will wax nostalgic about, but by and large the Bears are great at casting a pall on even the most successful seasons with some embarrassing antic that mars, to lesser or greater extent, said success (i.e. the infamous Super Bowl Shuffle and Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan butting egos to the point that Ryan left for Philly following the ’85 Super Bowl, or the 2006 team’s disastrous play in all but handing over of the Lombardi Trophy to Peyton Manning during the forgettable Super Bowl XLI, which was much more lopsided than the 29–17 final score might lead you to believe).
Bears fans, like Cubs fans, are among pro football’s most masochistic. Indeed, few fan bases could be as rapturous about the acquisition of the only coach on the losing end of a more embarrassing and one-sided Super Bowl in the last ten years than the Bears, i.e., John Fox and the 2013 shellacking his Broncos endured at the hands of the Seahawks. And then call that a coaching upgrade.
What’s more amazing is, given the ludicrous stupidity of the Bears’ ownership and front office (which has seemed to be true almost up to the very moment the McCaskey family inherited ownership of the team from the venerable George “Papa Bear” Halas, barring that ’85 team anomaly I mentioned and Bears fans will continue to mention, forever, until their team wins again), John Fox IS an upgrade over Marc Trestman, very identifiably the worst among the several candidates interviewed to take on the role post-Lovie Smith (for example, the Bears could have hired Bruce Arians, the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year who has led the Arizona Cardinals to back-to-back 10-plus win seasons).
But don’t kid yourselves, Bears fans, there’s no reason to think John Fox is capable of saving this team. That’s in large part because our quarterback for at least the next couple of season will be Jay Cutler. I’ve tried to defend Cutler in the past. It was kind of like trying to defend a friend who constantly fucks up and doesn’t seem terribly sorry about it, but you attribute his or her mistakes to immaturity until they hit thirty and are still making the same bad choices they made when they were fifteen. And you feel like, fool me a million times what the hell is the matter with me, why do I seek out these abusive relationships with people who only mean me harm? But that’s a whole different story.
Jay Cutler, despite his talents, has proven that he won’t stop being Jay Cutler, the man of many talents and the man who permanently appears to hate every minute he’s on a football field, whether that’s true or not (perception matters, folks). His blase expressions have rightly become the stuff of memes and any pretense that it wasn’t affecting the players around him went out the window with Brandon Marshall’s summary trade very early on in the off-season.
Marshall, who has his own baggage to be sure, was regarded by many as the only one who could speak honestly to Cutler, or, at least, up until recently. Apparently that sort of honesty is only allowed to a certain extent, and then your frankness is about as welcome as it would be to Kim Jong-un. So Brandon Marshall will be receiving passes from some mediocre New York Jets quarterback, instead of the one in Chicago.
And when I say Jay Cutler is mediocre I hope you’ll understand I’m not referring to his level of talent. He’s got a cannon for an arm and is capable of making spectacular plays with consistency. No, his mediocrity seems to lie in something more intangible (but something completely unrelated to his body language). It’s his ability to always seem to make the wrong choice when it’s necessary for him to make a big play. He is, for all intents and purposes, the bizarro Aaron Rodgers, a player whose football senses make it seem like he has eyes covering every inch of the football field. Cutler appears to have eyes covering the best interior defensive lineman to hurriedly chuck a pass toward.
The difference in each’s turnover ratio is by itself enough to validate this notion. In 2014, Cutler threw over three times as many interceptions as Rodgers, eighteen and five respectively. Heck, Cutler’s eighteen interceptions last season equal almost as many as Rodgers has thrown in the last three seasons, nineteen. Decision making is key as a quarterback, and comparing Rodgers, the league’s current gold standard of qb efficiency (his quarterback rating last season was 112 and Cutler’s was 88; one of these players was a touchdown away from going to their second career Super Bowl), to Cutler provides clear testimony to that. But how dare I compare a Bears player to one on the hated Packers, right? (Because we should be embarrassed that Green Bay’s organization is massively superior to our own, guys. That’s why.)
Preseason games are always fun for Bears fans, because they allow for the same kind of unbridled optimism that is generally a fundamental part of a Bears fan’s ethos until the season is fully underway. Even if the Bears don’t win games, there will always be a reason to get excited. Perhaps some underdog player is emerging out of nowhere and might help the team in unexpected ways like journeyman and oft-injured tight end Zach Miller inspired last preseason until he was again placed on injured reserve.
The Bears are 2–0 presently in the 2015 preseason, games that literally don’t matter in any quantifiable way to the regular season standings or making the playoffs, and already the cheering has commenced. At least the Chicago Tribune gets it. This is no time to get excited. Especially when there’s evidence that the pass-defense might be at least as bad as it was last season, a huge liability for the team (especially in a division that features Rodgers and Calvin Johnson).
I already know what the meatball Bears fans will say about me when / if they read this article. They’ll call me names, tell me in some manner of speaking that my negativity isn’t wanted and I’m a “fairweather fan” — the favorite aspersion of meatballs everywhere. No, guys, I’ve been like you. I swear. In 2007, when the media was rightly picking apart the flaws in the Bears’ offensive line, I was leading the vanguard in saying those journalists didn’t know what they were talking about (the Bears’ offensive line in 2007 was atrocious, giving up 43 sacks that year, after allowing only 25 the season before). I was wrong.
I’ve apologized for Cutler as vehemently as anyone, but at a certain point, as I’m sure you’ll agree, we can’t keep creating excuses for why he has performed poorly (the defense was bad, the offensive line was too porous, he didn’t have enough receiving weapons). C’mon, anyone who says the Bears didn’t have a way better wide receiving core than the Packers in 2014 is probably crazy or a homer of massive proportions. Alshon Jeffrey and Marshall, along with Martellus “Black Unicorn” Bennett and the Marshall Faulk-esque receiving threat that running back Matt Forte provides, were head and shoulders above whatever you might have found imposing about Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and, really, not much else, Packers fans. (I’m all the more curious to see how Rodgers does without Nelson (who recently tore his ACL and is out indefinitely), but evidence suggests he’ll be just fine, as always.) But just think of what Rodgers could do with the Bears’ 2014 receiving core.
I might have considered former New Orleans Director of Player Personnel, Ryan Pace, the youthful general manager the Bears hired in place of Phil Emery, an intriguing and maybe inspired choice to fill the position. That is, it hadn’t been for his willingness to sign noted domestic-violence-committer Ray McDonald during the past off-season. As current Bears Chairman George McCaskey told the Chicago Sun-Times regarding McDonald’s signing, “‘In the end, she [his mother Virginia McCaskey, principal owner of the Bears] put her trust in me,” he said, “and I’m putting my trust in Ryan [Pace].” McDonald was cut less than three months later, following another domestic-violence related arrest.
Couple that with the fact that Pace’s draft picks have gotten off to an inauspicious start, and it feels like deja-vu all over again for the Bears’ front office.
System-wide ineptitude, this has become a hallmark of the Bears organization over the past 35 seasons or so. In many ways Jay Cutler might be emblematic of the Bears’ failures — both player and organization alike possessing much talent but always finding ways to sabotage themselves to the point in which mediocrity is the standard. Maybe, the Bears and Jay Cutler deserve each other.
Perhaps I’ve jinxed things and will be eating crow by season’s end, so is the delirious optimism of even this jaded cynic of a Bears fan.