Bears' defense must reclaim identity under next staff

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In the Chicago Bears’ final embarrassment of the 2014 season, a 13-9 loss to Minnesota, cornerback Tim Jennings lined up against receiver Adam Thielen.

When Thielen took off down the sideline, Jennings, thinking the defense was in Cover 2, passed him off to nobody as the rest of the Bears were playing a different coverage.

Thielen turned it into an easy 44-yard touchdown, the only one for either team. It was a play the Bears have perfected the last two years, as this defense has made a mockery of the one thing the Bears have traditionally done well as a franchise: play defense.

“We kind of got away from what we are as the Chicago Bears,” Jennings said. “We kind of got away from the style of defense that we play. It was more of a transition from defense to offense. I don't know. We all thought it would be a good thing. We've got all the weapons; we've got all the tools. It kind of got away from the tradition of what the Chicago Bears are known for.”

Jennings said the failures of the last two years are on the players, not defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and his staff.

“It’s always players,” he said. “We’re out there playing the game. We’re out there executing the plays. Coaches make the calls and we execute them. It’s never on a coach when things go wrong on the field. I’d never put that on a coach.”

Jennings' accountability aside, everyone should share the blame. That’s why general manager Phil Emery got fired, along with head coach Marc Trestman.

The downfall of the Bears' defense wasn't as buzzworthy as Jay Cutler's struggles, but it didn't give this team a chance to be even mediocre.

The Bears gave up 442 points (all but 21 were on offensive touchdowns or field goals), the second-most in the NFL, a year after giving up a franchise-record 478. In Lovie Smith’s final season, the Bears gave up 277 points.

Ex-Bears have worked the cell phones of reporters and players alike the past two years, wondering what is going on. Jennings claimed he didn’t have anything to tell them.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m the same way, just as lost as you guys are. We’re still trying to figure it out. Just one of those rough years. As players we didn’t make plays.”

With injuries piling up each year, there wasn’t depth or talent to offset the losses.

The Bears gave up 6,033 yards after allowing a franchise-record 6,313 in 2013.

Those back-to-back games giving up 50-plus points to New England and Green Bay (14 points were on defensive touchdowns) likely sealed this group’s fate. That hadn’t happened in the NFL since 1923, the year of Virginia McCaskey’s birth.

Jennings had a bad year after signing an extension in January that guarantees him just under $12 million. He carries a cap hit of $4.5 million next year.

Does he want to see a defensive-minded coach like Rex Ryan come in? Sure. But whomever it is has to bring in their own defense and get players to buy in.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “I’m all for anybody who comes in here. Hopefully the next guy who comes in here has his foundation all planned out.”

The notion that Tucker could blend with Smith’s old defense, an idea championed by too many people, backfired fantastically.

“You have to go back to having a foundation,” Jennings said. “What’s your foundation? What can you build on?”

That’s the big question for the Bears’ brain trust to answer.