The Tribune's Brad Biggs tackles readers' questions.
Seriously, how does Mel Tucker still have a job? -- @klaramee2 from Twitter
I get the angst over the performance of the defense in the loss to the Packers but this was a complete loss across the board. The Bears offense scored on its first three possessions and failed to do so again the rest of the game. The defense didn’t get any takeaways and the offense had a pair of turnovers.
The effort of the defense wasn’t good enough and the problems started up front with the line, in my opinion. The Bears were without two starters up front in Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff, and they were overwhelmed in the passing game by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offensive line. This was the root of the problem.
That is where I have a problem holding Tucker responsible for the poor effort. This was a rotation of four players being beaten in the trenches. I think you’ve got to start with the players. This wasn’t Mike McCarthy coming in with an X’s and O’s scheme that just crippled the Bears. The defense did a solid job of bottling up Eddie Lacy and the run defense has showed signs of improving.
Firing Tucker right now might give the public some level of satisfaction that the powers that be in Halas Hall recognize the defense isn’t playing at a level necessary to excel. But the Bears are 2-2, not 0-4, and canning Tucker doesn’t look like a road to improvement in Week 5 to me. It just doesn’t. He wasn’t dominated coming off the edge. He didn’t fail to get an interior push. Are these really scheme issues?
It was easy to pin the target on Lovie Smith’s offensive coordinator back in the day. Blame was frequently placed. Unfortunately, the changes never fixed the issue. The questions can keep coming about in-season changes to Marc Trestman’s coaching staff, but I don’t see it happening. Not right now.
How are the Bears with regards to the salary cap? Any plans to bolster a bad defense with trade or free-agent signings? -- @Shimmyfab from Twitter
The latest numbers I looked at showed the Bears with a little more than $3.5 million in available salary cap space for this season. At this point, any player on the street is going to pretty much sign a contract for the minimum, so cap space (at least as it relates to the Bears) is a non-issue.
Keep in mind cap space is a constantly moving target and the team could always create space if it needed. Space isn’t the problem. Available quality players is the issue. I don’t know of teams dangling starting quality players in trade right now either. Just doesn’t happen a lot in the NFL.
I have a tough time understanding what teams mean when they say a player has a “mild” concussion, but judging by the fact Jeremiah Ratliff has missed 2 1/2 games now, it seems that Ratliff has what might be called a “severe” concussion. Can you shed some light on why Ratliff's concussion has forced him out for this much time and when we might see him back on the field? – Vik A., from email
I personally have not heard anyone refer to Ratliff’s concussion as mild. If it happened, I missed it. That is the kind of diagnosis you used to get on occasion when players had head injuries but that has changed since the NFL has become more vigilant about concussion protocol.
Mild, severe or whatever, a player will not be cleared to return to action until he has passed all of the measures in place. Ratliff obviously didn’t get clearance before Sunday’s game against the Packers and he was originally hurt at San Francisco Sept. 14.
Ratliff has been sidelined with a concussion at least one other time in his career in 2008 with the Cowboys. I will say it was a positive sign that he made the trip for the road game against the Jets last week. That was positive because sometimes when players are feeling the effects of a concussion, they will not be permitted to travel with the club. We’ll see if he makes progress this week.
Why did all sports media people in Chicago endlessly say or imply that coach Mike Tice was an excellent offensive line coach when year after year the Bears offensive line was poor to sometimes horrendous in pass protection? When two starters went down on the same play opening day the line provided better pass protection to Jay Cutler than he typically got all during Tice's tenure. As line coach and then coordinator, the results speak for themselves. This is meant as a navel-gazing question for journalists as I think part of the answer is they liked Tice. The result was journalistic malpractice. -- Bob, Muskego, Ill.
Tice is a guy who has gotten high marks for his work as an offensive line coach for a long time in the NFL. He’s also served as a tight ends coach. That isn’t a storyline that was created by Chicago media when he arrived in 2010.
Tice was asked to work with failed first-round draft picks like Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi. He had other players like Lance Louis, Edwin Williams, Chilo Rachal, Kevin Shaffer and a host of other journeymen. The Bears signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod to the largest contract for an offensive lineman in club history the year after Tice left. They drafted a pair of linemen and Kyle Long went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. They also made a shrewd addition in Matt Slauson and have since rewarded him with a contract extension.
The previous front office didn’t properly address the offensive line and that is why general manager Phil Emery was put in a position where he had to find four new starters a year ago. It’s not like the Bears have made it work with players that didn’t work for Tice. If that was the case, then I think Tice’s acumen and level of success as a coach could be questioned. You also need to consider the elements of the Mike Martz system when Tice was in charge of the offensive line. That created issues for the team. That’s what you call taking a look at the big picture.
I don’t know there is a movement afoot for that after Sunday’s loss to the Packers. Young didn’t get a whole lot accomplished playing right end for the majority of the game. Houston hasn’t made a big impact as a left end or inside at tackle, where he has been playing in the sub package. The Bears need more out of Houston.
Marshall didn’t take a detour around the team’s medical staff to get on the field last week. It was a medical decision for him to get clearance to play, and if he wasn’t healthy enough to go he wouldn’t have been out there. The ankle issue also had nothing to do with the 18-yard hook route or hook-and-go that led to an interception.
Jeffery looks fine to me after suffering a hamstring injury in the opener. There are a lot of players that suit up and go on Sundays even when they are not 100 percent. Marshall has been one of them.
My guess is the Bears won’t have much cap space next year, but the recent Adam Schefter piece mentions Chicago as a Ndamukong Suh landing spot. Is this a pipe dream? -- @Tommy_Dobbs from Twitter
The Bears are going to have plenty of salary cap room to accomplish whatever they want after this season. The latest projection I looked at showed the Bears have committed $105.6 million to 32 players for the 2015 season. That means there are a lot of additions that will need to be made but the Bears, like a lot of clubs, have been filling out the roster the past couple seasons with one-year contracts.
GM Phil Emery has made splash moves to upgrade the roster every year. He traded for Brandon Marshall and has paid big money for additions like Jermon Bushrod, Martellus Bennett, Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston.
Before Emery, the Bears were aggressive at times under Jerry Angelo and the Julius Peppers signing is the best example. So, could the Bears be a major player in 2015 free agency? I wouldn’t rule anything out. Will Suh definitely leave the Lions? It’s probably premature to say but his contract will void after this season. The Lions have been terrific on defense through the first four games and surely will desire to keep him.
Emery has spent big money on the defensive line at the end position. He’d have to make Suh the highest-paid player on the defense to sign him. Eventually, the Bears want to be able to give big contracts to their own draft picks and not have to pay the premium (or overpay) to bolster the roster with talent via free agency.
It’s way premature at this point to put together a free-agent shopping list. It’s hard to be a big hitter in free agency every single year, and as we’ve pointed out before, the winner in free agency is rarely a winner in January. That being said, if a special and elite talent hits the market, it’s always worth a serious discussion or two.
There are eight players signed through at least 2015 with a cap figure north of $5 million for next season. The list:
Jay Cutler $16.5 million
Jared Allen $12.5 million
Brandon Marshall $9.575 million
Matt Forte $8.8 million
Jermon Bushrod $8.05 million
Lamarr Houston $6.99 million
Martellus Bennett $6.125 million
Tim Jennings $5.25 million
I’ve seen an early mock draft for 2015 with Chicago taking a cornerback with its first pick. I think that is not likely. What is your opinion? -- @skinny2354 from Twitter
I think it’s early. Really early. But defense might be a good place to look.
Why hasn't Mel Tucker at least tried to make an adjustment and maybe play more man with press coverage and blitzes? -- @Mist3rT33 from Twitter
This was a popular question this week with several readers basically asking the same thing. I counted 10 pressures by the Bears in 33 dropbacks by Aaron Rodgers (including plays with penalties). The first four blitzes in the first half were successful. There were three incompletions and a 3-yard reception for Randall Cobb.
The fifth blitz did not work. The Bears pressured Rodgers on third-and-7 from their 22-yard line near the end of the second quarter and he connected with Cobb, who got away from nickel cornerback Isaiah Frey off the line of scrimmage, for a touchdown.
Cobb’s second touchdown reception also came against a blitz. It would be inaccurate to say the Bears sat back in a zone and didn’t try to pressure Rodgers. They tried a little bit of both without enough success either way.
Are they going to leave Isaiah Frey in the nickel? Haven’t seen him make a play at all. Demontre Hurst must be bad if he can't take his spot. -- @B_Y_Crazy from Twitter
Frey hasn’t shined the last two weeks. I didn’t think he played particularly well versus the Jets and he didn’t make any plays that stood out against the Packers. I don’t know if a move will be made there but the Bears might take a look at it. It’s not an easy position to fill and unfortunately there aren’t high-quality nickel cornerbacks thumbing through the job ads right now.
If Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson come back healthy, do the Bears have trade assets with an apparent surplus of capable offensive line talent? -- @marcheiden from Twitter
What happens if there is another offensive line injury? You can’t make demands for improved depth at a position and at the same time encourage the team to peddle players via trade.
Take a look at what happened to the Falcons this past Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. They lost three starting offensive linemen in the game and were forced to use tight end Levine Toilolo as a right tackle to finish the game.
Atlanta only dressed seven linemen on the 46-man gameday roster, as most teams do, and they were in a jam. Plus, the Bears’ seventh or eighth lineman probably isn’t going to bring a whole lot in return. Let’s be realistic here.
In watching replays of the final play of the first half Sunday it seemed to me the play was blown dead with about three or four seconds left on the clock. Does the clock displayed on screen differ from the actual game clock or was this an oversight? Seems to me the Bears should have gotten one more play from the half-yard line. Am I wrong? – Jordan K., Chicago, from email
Tight end Martellus Bennett is tackled to the ground with three seconds on the clock but the Bears were out of timeouts and had no means to stop the clock at that point. There also wasn’t enough time to unpile the players, get lined up, snap the ball and have quarterback Jay Cutler spike it to stop the clock.
The error here was two-fold. Bennett needed to carry his route into the end zone, not stop short of the goalline like he did, and Cutler needed to throw the ball into the end zone. There was no oversight here by the officials. They reviewed the play after time expired, as they should have. It was either a touchdown or the final play of the half and the replay was inconclusive so no score. The mistake cost the Bears three points.
After last year’s prodigious offensive output it seemed likely to expect similar results this year. Obviously, to this point the offense has not come near expectations, especially in scoring. Beyond Martellus Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, the receiving corps is lackluster to say the least. I know Marquess Wilson is injured, but let’s not forget he's a seventh-round pick and is very much an unproven commodity.
I see the contract Baltimore gave Steve Smith -- three years, $11 million. This definitely seems like it would have been a bargain for the Bears considering his output thus far and that the Bears don't have a true Z or speed receiver/deep threat/slot receiver in my estimation. Can you imagine if the Bears had Marshall playing the X and Jeffery Z and Smith playing the Y?
If Phil Emery's hindsight had been 20/20, is it a fair criticism that he overplayed his hand and should have considered signing Smith? Or drafting a wide receiver in an early round? Especially considering the injuries to Marshall and Jeffery not to mention the lack of overall depth the Bears find themselves in at receiver? -- William K., Evanston, from email
I’ve gotten numerous emails with similar suggestions since the offseason. The common thinking is the Bears didn’t do enough to address depth at the wide receiver position. I’ve disagreed every step of the way.
For starters, is the team 2-2 right now because production from the wide receiver position has not been adequate? I say no. I think the tendency is for people to play fantasy football, especially when it comes to skill positions, but the reality is they can’t pay every player at a position big dollars. Marshall got a big extension. Jeffery’s contract will be an issue for the Bears in 2015 or 2016 and you’re talking about paying effectively starter money (for an aging vet) to Smith.
Stop for a moment and ask yourself if Smith would have wanted to sign with the Bears? I say it's doubtful. Why? Where is the chance for him to be a go-to guy? Smith very much desires to be out in front and playing behind Marshall and Jeffery would have limited that opportunity. That wouldn’t make sense from his perspective.
Investing in another receiver like Smith would clearly take opportunities away from Bennett. Marshall is hobbled a little bit right now. You’re right, Wilson is an unproven commodity. I think the Bears need to see what they have in Wilson and not push him into the background by bringing in another pricey receiver. Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan need to do more and Bennett has stepped up in the passing game.
There are areas where I think you can make fair critiques of the way Emery has constructed the roster or at least have questions about why Emery did what he did versus another avenue. That’s natural with every roster -- comes with the territory and Emery gets that. But to take after the Bears for not having a more accomplished player as a third receiver is to miss the mark in my estimation. I think Holmes or Morgan can fill that role as well or better than Earl Bennett did and I’m curious to see if Wilson can get into action later in the season.
Keep in mind you can’t clamor for player development and also push hard for free agents across the board.