"We're talking about a choke of epic proportions [the blown coverage on 4th-and-8 against the Packers in the NFC North title game]," Steve Rosenbloom, a contributer to the Chicago Tribune's "Rosenblog," said in a recent article. "Which is saying something for this year's monumentally pathetic defense. Ask yourself this: who has gotten better under Tucker's coaching this season? Waiting. Wait. Ing."
That's pretty much the consensus in Chicago regarding first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker following the disastrous defensive effort of the 2013 Bears campaign. Some fans are taking it pretty bad, so bad that they created FireMelTucker.com and have tweeted that the former Jaguars coordinator and Chris Conte should stand in front of a firing range.
Bad defense? Haven't heard that about Chicago in a long, long time.
The question remains this offseason: should Tucker get axed for the embarrassment of a defense that was on the field this year? The squad was No. 30 in the league in points allowed and easily the worst rush defense. They also tied the '08 winless Lions for consecutive 100-yard rushers, allowing six in a row.
Yeah, that's pretty bad. But does he deserve all the blame?
The Bears have seen many starters on defense miss at least one game: Nate Collins, Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman to name some. Briggs, a seven-time Pro-Bowler who was destined to fill the void left by longtime Bear Brian Urlacher, was sidelined for months despite leading the league in tackles before sustaining his injury against the Redskins early in the season.
Sure, injuries were a factor, but Tucker deserves most of the blame. Brought in by head coach Marc Trestman after serving as defensive coordinator for the Jaguars for four years, Tucker retained the 4-3 and defensive signals instead of incorporating his own, a warning flag that some thought was a lack of confidence in his own scheme. However, Chicago's personnel didn't fit with the constant blitz packages Tucker was dialing up on the sideline and resulted in countless missed tackles and assignments.
Let's not forget the dreaded blunder fumble when Julius Peppers stripped Aaron Rodgers in the division title game only to let Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin scoop it up for an easy score. Play until the whistle blows, guys.
A former Bears player went to Twitter to vent his frustration.
@hthill (Hunter Hillenmeyer) Dec. 29: "I run the gamut of emotions on that play, but guess what: that would NEVER happen to a Lovie Smith coached defense. #Bears"
Even Urlacher had something negative to say about the poor defense.
"The thing is, when Lovie was there, we didn't make mistakes," Urlacher said according to Dan Pompei's column on Sports on Earth. "We didn't run through wrong gaps. We did our walk-throughs every day and we knew where we needed to fit, we knew what we needed to do every single play. I'm not sure what's going on right now, but there are some big-ass gaps."
As bad as it all sounds, the players are standing by him.
"I thought Mel did an exceptional job," Tillman said. "I think he did a really good job despite all the injuries we had."
Tillman combined with Briggs to miss 15 games. To put it in perspective, the duo only missed 10 matchups in the previous eight years.
"I think he's a great coach," defensive lineman Shea McClellin said. "Just a few things fell out of place. It was unfortunate. But overall, I think he's a great coach. I learned a lot from him."
The NFL is a difficult business; I am personally surprised he survived the notorious "Black Monday" when five head coaches in the league were terminated. Unless general manager Phil Emery steps in, I highly doubt Tucker will be asked to leave by Trestman.
Regardless who is calling the plays in 2014, it is obvious that the Bears need long-term help on D. Free-agent signings and smart draft picks will be the key to remaining competitive in a healthy 2014 NFC North.