As soon as the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers and ended their season, fans started the “Fire Mel Tucker” rant.
When Tucker took over as defensive coordinator, he decided that he would not change the defense. It would be run the same way as previous coordinator Rod Marinelli, down to the same signals called. He did not want to make waves right off the bat, and figured he did not have to fix what was not broken. Well, the defense is broken now.
This was a defense that was just torched all season long, ranking 30th in total defense, and 31st in points allowed. Fans were treated with missed assignments, missed tackles, and watching third-string running backs have 100-yard games.
Since Tucker is the coordinator, he has received the brunt of the blame. The torches and pitchforks have been out, and calls for his head are ruling the airwaves. The problems are not all because of him, however.
This team suffered through a great deal of injuries. For some reason, just about all of the injuries came on the defensive side of the ball. Henry Melton, a Pro Bowler last year, missed almost the entire season. Charles Tillman, another Pro Bowler, missed half the season. Yet another Pro Bowler, Lance Briggs, missed the majority of the season. DJ Williams, who came in to replace the great Brian Urlacher, was another victim of the injury bug. It got so bad that the backups to the backups had to be used at some positions.
That brings me to another reason for the defense’s demise. Some of those backups that had to play just did not play well enough. There were rookies in some positions that probably were not expected to play as many snaps as they did. The depth on defense was sorely lacking.
Recently, GM Phil Emery took the brunt of the blame for the defense. “There was a dramatic dropoff,” Emery said. “I have to look at did we have enough depth to win football games? The answer is no, okay? From a personnel perspective and from my perspective, I had not done enough to provide enough depth.”
The Bears defense, while excellent last year, is aging. Briggs and Julius Peppers are 33 years old, while Tillman is 32. These are guys who have been through the wars, and may start to break down. Peppers, while not missing games, had a drop in production this season. Is this season’s production the beginning of the end, or is it just an aberration?
Emery addressed the age question as well. “I will just tell you we’re going to be a younger defense. The draft will be focused in that area…Defensively, it was not about, is it D-line, linebacker, safety, it’s about finding the best playmakers, the guys that can make a dynamic difference to our defense.”
Yes, Tucker has to take some of the blame for the bad defense. He was not able to change things up when things started to go bad. Next season, though, he will have better players and have more flexibility in running schemes.
This season just was not a true barometer of how well Tucker will do in Chicago. The Bears have the market to attract players, and a GM who will be on a mission to what it takes to get those players. Let’s put away our pitchforks and put out our torches long enough to give Mel Tucker a chance to show what he can do.