It was always going to be tough for the Chicago Bears to make the playoffs, and their loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday all but eliminated them from contention.
While there’s plenty of blame to go around — lots of players didn’t execute their jobs well — and credit should be given to the Browns’ top-ranked defense, it was poor coaching on both sides of the ball that did the Bears in.
Yes, it’s true that the wide receivers had a case of the drops, especially on an early deep pass to Robert Tunyan and the game-ending Hail Mary that Darnell Mooney failed to corral. Yes, the offensive line struggled to both run and pass block, especially after Teven Jenkins left with a concussion. The secondary dropped two sure picks. And while quarterback Justin Fields wasn’t a huge problem, he also was unable to use his athleticism to create headaches for the Cleveland defense.
All that said, odd coaching choices hurt the Bears.
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy once again got too cute in short-yardage situations, calling plays that were easily blown up by Cleveland’s defense instead of simply counting on a physical running game. He also called a deep dropback on second and seven late in the game when the Bears were trying to salt things away. The Bears couldn’t block it and Fields was sacked for an 11-yard loss.
Similarly, Getsy called too many pass plays as the team tried to bleed the clock. Of course, some throws fell incomplete, stopping the clock.
Head coach Matt Eberflus is also working as the active defensive coordinator, and while the defense has generally been playing well, it once again fell apart late in a game, and Eberflus bears some blame. The pass rush had been annoying Browns quarterback Joe Flacco early in the game, with Montez Sweat being particularly noticeable. But as the Bears nursed the lead, it appeared he started rushing only four. Then, on a key 3rd and 15, he called for a blitz. While there’s a logical argument for blitzing in that scenario, this particular play left a defensive lineman covering a tight end. Flacco evaded the blitz by dropping back an extra step and tossed the ball right over the pass rushers’ heads to his tight end, David Njoku, who used some after-the-catch moves to set up the game-winning field goal.
Yes, the players failed to execute on Sunday. Fields missed some throws, receivers dropped some passes, defenders missed some tackles, and the offensive line missed way too many blocks. But the coaching strayed from a simple formula.
When you lead late, especially on the road, you don’t give up on running the ball, even if you’ve struggled to do so earlier in the game. You bleed the clock, wear down the defense, keep the pass rush honest, and set up play-action.
The Chicago Bears are often put in a bad position due to poor play calling from their coaches, and that was the case Sunday.
Oh, and on short yardage, you keep it simple and either let your line out-physical your opponent or use your running quarterback’s legs. To be fair, the Browns did stop one short yardage play on a tremendous tackle after a missed block. On the other hand, a fly sweep was blown up on a different short-yardage play — why not just run up the gut?
Defensively, if you run Cover 2 like the Bears often do, you do what you can to keep the play in front of you, whether you’re blitzing or not. That’s especially on third and long when the opponent is not yet in field-goal range.
Poor play hurt the Bears. So did strong play from an outstanding Cleveland defense and a veteran who still has the arm to go with experience. But despite all that, the Bears had a chance to win and instead of the coaching putting them in the best position to do so, the coaching made things more difficult.
If that doesn’t change, there will be jobs open at Halas Hall in January.