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Marc Trestman was right about one thing Sunday: The loss in Minnesota wasn't Robbie Gould's fault.
It's entirely the head coach's fault. It's Trestman's fault. Put a microphone in front of any head coach at any level and he'll tell you his primary responsibility is to put his players in an advantageous position. Trestman didn't do that. He coaches as if he doesn't understand the strength of his team is offense. He's coaching as if he doesn't understand the potency of Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and the now unstoppable Alshon Jeffery.
Even with Josh McCown in long relief, this is almost certainly the most explosive and diverse offensive ensemble the Chicago Bears have had in the franchise's modern history. Yet, Trestman, who was hired to field a masterful offense, is playing it safe week after week. Sunday, he sat on 20 points even though the opponent was the Minnesota Vikings' defense, which is among the worst in the NFL. On a day one of his receivers, Jeffery, went for a club-record 245 receiving yards and made Adrian Peterson the second most spectacular player on the field, Trestman twice blew chances to put away a game and instead handed it to the Vikings.
|Marc Trestman's approach late in the overtime loss at Minnesota is something that needs to change for the Bears going forward.|
Playing for a 47-yard field goal in overtime when you have second down is not only the wrong decision, it's playing scared. Surely you heard Trestman's explanation, postgame, when he said there was "no guarantee" the Bears would pick up yards on that second down or third down. "No guarantee," he said.
But making a 47-yard field goal, on the road no less, is guaranteed?
The logic is not only flawed, it demonstrates a fundamental lack of awareness of what the Bears have to do this season if they're to have any prayer of making the playoffs. These aren't Buddy Ryan's Bears, or even Lovie Smith's Bears. They can't, on any sustained level, excel on the defensive side of the ball. They did pretty darned well Sunday, but they can't be asked in today's NFL to hold teams to fewer than 20 points. Not with Lance Briggs and Peanut Tillman and so many important defensive players out with injuries.
Trestman can say whatever he wants publicly, but he has to know his defense stinks and didn't have a prayer of stopping Peterson in the clutch. These Bears -- Trestman's Bears -- have to play pedal to the metal every week. They have to assault defenses, particularly bad ones like the Vikings'. They have to constantly put pressure on defenses, both to score points and to keep their own terrible defense off the field. This isn't hard to figure. You don't have to, as football people would have you believe, have ever "put your hand in the dirt" to know that the Bears' offense should have been in attack mode every time it got the ball Sunday in Minneapolis.
After the crazy Khaseem Greene deflected interception appeared to save the game for the Bears late in the fourth quarter and gave the offense the ball around midfield, and after Forte got 8½ yards on first down, Trestman went Woody Hayes even though he has the best pair of receivers (statistically) in the NFL in Marshall and Jeffery. You're telling me one of those two couldn't get open for a 5-yard pass somewhere in the middle of the field, against the worst defense (statistically) in the NFL? And if not one of them, then Bennett? And if not one of those three, then Forte on something very, very quick and safe that would be good for a first down and eat clock?
So, instead of working the clock down to almost nothing and perhaps kicking a field goal for insurance points, the Bears punted the ball right back to the Vikings. The only thing more scared than that was simply giving away the chance to move the ball closer on second and third downs in OT, so that Gould could attempt the potential game-winner from, say, 35 yards.
You think Sean Payton would have settled for a 47-yard field goal with that talent on offense? You think Pete Carroll would have thought there was "no guarantee" he'd get yards on second and third downs to keep moving toward the end zone? Hell, you think Chip Kelly wouldn't have pressed the issue with two downs and an offense that was chewing up yards on that drive? This ain't 1990s football, boys and girls. With these rules and those players, the Bears have to force the issue!
If you had a shaky trigger man, that's one thing. But McCown has made so few mistakes in his time out of the bullpen; what has he thrown, one pick in relief? I keep thinking McCown was going to reach his expiration date by now because that's what happens with backups. But McCown keeps playing well. There's no reason for his coach not to trust him. With McCown performing at the 100-plus passer rating level, the Bears have more than enough at quarterback to deploy all those weapons. So from there, it's on Trestman. You can't come in as an offensive coach, as a guy who is going to finally bring modern offense to the Bears, make those decisions and be that soft a play caller in such an important game.
I reached out to a very smart man I know, a man who played offense in the NFL for years, to ask if Trestman's philosophy and decision-making so far seemed as lame as I think. And he said to me, "He does have a tendency to go conservative in crunch time, which is silly with all the talent in that offensive huddle. ... But the first time around as head coach [is tough]. ... It's different making the decisions in the big chair."
OK, that's just smart talk. Trestman has to be allowed to grow into the job of head coach just as a quarterback needs time to grow into that gig. Trestman is a particularly bright man and what he's attempting to do, especially with his starting quarterback out, surely isn't easy. I'm impatient with Trestman because he seems to have already blown one game this season, the loss to the Lions a few weeks ago at Soldier Field when Jay Cutler was clearly hurting and Trestman waited way too long to go to McCown, who should have started anyway, in long relief. The Bears could have and should have won that game. They damn sure should have beaten the Vikings. That's 6-6 instead of 8-4 and it's on the head coach.
Clearly, the season isn't over, not when the team you're chasing is the Lions, who are as likely to implode as any team in the NFL. But if Trestman keeps playing for 20 points and field goals late instead of putting this special group of offensive players in position to crush defenses, then he will have had a disappointing rookie season.
If the Bears go down firing and lose 45-42 because the defense is bad and the other team has the ball last, that's relatively easy to live with under the circumstances. But to have their own head coach wave off chances to move the ball in favor of a 47-yard field goal with that ball carrier, those receivers and tight ends, then the man making that decision will have failed miserably.