Injuries make evaluating John Fox’s second season difficult
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The Packers weren’t blowing out the Bears yet. It still was a two-score game early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Matt Barkley rifled a throw down the seam at receiver Josh Bellamy.
As it turned out, Barkley’s throw hit safety Micah Hyde in his back. Bellamy wasn’t open. But the real problem is that the Bears have Matt Barkley throwing to Josh Bellamy.
The Bears have been ravaged by injuries. Every single position group has been affected, and it only got worse Thursday night. Against the Packers, the Bears turned to their No. 3 quarterback, their fourth and fifth receivers, their fifth and sixth cornerbacks and two reserve offensive linemen.
“Nobody comes to rescue you,” coach John Fox said.
It’s a message he often delivers to his team in these down days, but injuries might turn out to rescue him.
From quarterback Jay Cutler to receiver Kevin White to outside linebacker Lamarr Houston to running back Jeremy Langford to defensive tackle Eddie Goldman to left guard Josh Sitton to receiver Eddie Royal to any of the other players who have missed games, injuries are a huge reason for the Bears’ demise. The sheer number should temper any criticism.
This isn’t meant to suggest that Fox deserves a free pass. He deserves to be scrutinized over the Bears’ 1-6 start. He has failed to deliver a second-year turnaround as he did with the Panthers and Broncos. His overarching conservative philosophy didn’t help matters against the Colts or Jaguars. Overall, his mode of operation hasn’t reversed the Bears’ troubles.
Good coaches with good plans can overcome injuries. The Packers just did it. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw 56 times because the Packers were forced to use receivers at running back with Eddie Lacy and James Starks out.
The Vikings are off to a 5-0 start despite losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and star running back Adrian Peterson.
With Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, the Patriots started 3-1 despite the four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady and the ailing hamstring of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The difference is the Bears aren’t constructed to overcome injuries. Not even close. They are in a different stage of their evolution with general manager Ryan Pace implementing an overdue youth movement.
The Bears can’t turn to an Aaron Rodgers to carry them. The Vikings have the NFL’s best defense and brought in Sam Bradford, a No. 1 overall pick, and not Brian Hoyer, a career journeyman.
It’s unfair to compare any team to the Patriots because of Bill Belichick’s long-term success. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have been in their roles since 2012.
The only continuity the Bears have had is change. And their game plans have suffered because of it. Just ask their coordinators.
“It has an impact on everything, for sure,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “You always got to know who you’re playing with and what they can and can’t do, and how they match up who you’re playing with.”
The NFL is a next-man-up world, but it takes time to coach up young guys. Developing those young players means everything this season, but they’ve been hurt, too.
“It offers a unique challenge as a coaching staff to make sure you know what your guys can do,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “The quarterback position, obviously, is dramatic because each guy’s skill set is different. You’ve got to put those guys in position to succeed and let them do what they do well.”
Again, that doesn’t mean Fox is exempt from criticism. But the injury situation has made evaluating what he is doing this season into a long-division problem as opposed to simple addition and subtraction.