It’s not quite the “Lovie Bowl,” but it’s still personal. When Bears coach Marc Trestman peers across the sideline, he won’t be looking at the coach he replaced, but one that he and general manager Phil Emery wanted to keep.
Trestman — with questions now rampant about his offense and play-calling — has to beat a defense run by coordinator Rod Marinelli at Soldier Field on Thursday.
“The way he was in Chicago, nothing’s changed,” said Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton, who spent his first three seasons under Marinelli with the Bears. “He knows how he wants his players to play, and he’s going to get the most out of them.”
Before Mel Tucker was hired, Trestman and Emery wanted Marinelli. Emery’s preference for Marinelli is important, considering it has been reported that it turned off Bruce Arians, who coaches the 9-3 Cardinals.
Either way, it’s easy to see why the Bears wanted to keep Marinelli. He could’ve been the bridge between the Lovie Smith and Trestman eras.
It’s unfair to say that Marinelli’s presence alone would’ve prevented the Bears’ historically bad defense from coming about in 2013. But Marinelli could’ve been the bandages for the wounds created by Smith’s firing.
Marinelli still had the defense’s ears and hearts. He had Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and others in his corner. Perhaps negotiations with Urlacher in 2013 don’t take a salty see-you-later turn with Marinelli still involved.
Marinelli, though, couldn’t be convinced to overlook his loyalty to Smith. So he left.
“I went [to Chicago] because of [Smith],” Marinelli told Dallas reporters after becoming the Cowboys’ defensive-line coach for 2013. “It’s not the right place for me without him.”
Dallas’ defense was Monte Kiffin’s when quarterback Josh McCown pummeled the Cowboys 45-28 on a wintry night at Soldier Field last season. It was all part of a disastrous run that rivaled the Bears’ own defensive demise, and it prompted change.
Marinelli took over this year and has helped transform a defense, which allowed a league-worst 415.3 yards per game in 2013, into something a bit more respectable. And that’s despite losing linebacker Sean Lee to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and the departures of defensive linemen DeMarcus Ware (Broncos) and Jason Hatcher (Redskins).
Dallas has had its struggles recently, but, statistically, its passing defense (286.8 in 2013 to 244.5 to 2014), rushing defense (128.5 to 119.6), yards per play allowed (6.07 to 5.90) and points allowed (27.0 to 22.8) show improvement.
There also are some individual success stories under Marinelli, including Melton’s comeback from a torn ACL and the career revival of linebacker Rolando McClain (the eighth overall pick by the Raiders in 2010).
“He does a great job relating to players, challenging players, helping players be their best,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
“The system that we want to play, he teaches really, really well, and he holds everybody, players and coaches, accountable to doing it the right way. That reflects in how we play defense and the improvements that we’ve made this year.”
Marinelli won’t play up his return to Chicago — “I haven’t heard much from him about it,” Melton said — but he faces the Bears with a much better team on both sides of the ball than what Smith had two weeks ago.
“We just want to get back on track this week,” Marinelli told Dallas reporters this week.
“No panic. Just poise. Keep grinding ahead and believing in these men just like we did in the beginning of the year. Nothing changes with me or with our staff.”
COACHES CORNER: MEL TUCKER TAKES A LOOK AT THE COWBOYS’ OFFENSE
‘‘They’ve done a really nice job in terms of having balance. They’re going to call 30 runs, and they’re going to call 30 passes. They’re extremely committed to running the football. And they do an excellent job from a scheme standpoint.
‘‘[Running back] DeMarco [Murray] does an excellent job of running the football. They have a very, very good offensive line. They work well as a unit, and they’re very talented up front. Their tight ends are very willing in the run game to block, and they use those guys in the run game. They’ve done a fantastic job so far this year running the football and just having balance on the offense. They can do it all.
‘‘You just know that you have to stop the run. And that’s regardless of the situation. Second-and-long, they’ll run the ball. First-and-10, they’ll run the ball. They can be down two scores and still look to run the ball. It makes their play-action very effective. They do an excellent job with that. Also they have really good weapons — the tight end and receiver, with an outstanding quarterback. It puts a lot of pressure on a defense. You must be able to stop the run.
‘‘[Murray’s] got really good speed. He’s got good vision. He’s really patient. He’s a smart player. He understands the blocking schemes. He understands when to cut, how to press the hole, things like that.”
UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT: MARC MARIANI — KR/PR
It has been only two games, but return specialist Marc Mariani has started to win over his new teammates and coaches with his smart aggressiveness.
“That’s a fair assessment,” special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “That was the same thing we saw on film. That’s what he did when he was in Tennessee.”
A Pro Bowl returner for the Titans in 2010, Mariani hasn’t looked too rusty after injuries nearly ruined his career. He has returned three kickoffs for 70 yards, and his 16-yard punt return against the Lions already is the Bears’ second-longest.
Mariani’s judgment was one thing DeCamillis was closely watching after he was signed.
“He’s done a good job of making the decisions,” DeCamillis said. “Hopefully, we can continue to build on it and get some positive things going these next four games.”