Among the many disappointments of this Bears season, coach John Fox stands out. Never considered a coach of incomparable brilliance, Fox was nonetheless thought of as a dignified, competent team-builder capable of near-greatness — a sort of Bill Belichick for the losing set.
A defensive-minded guy who could spot an offensive guru at any distance in fog at night, Fox hired future NFL head coaches to run his offense the last two times he selected a coordinator. Players loved him.
Six weeks into a disastrous second season with the Bears you can’t help but wonder if the coach has taken on one rebuild too many. Is he still what he once was? Can he turn the tide of a horrendous start and grasp mediocrity from abject failure?
Fox’s credibility was once the main reason for hope, but that has reached a sudden stop like a once-graceful diver performing a painful and embarrassing belly flop. Doubt it? Consider the wretched fourth-quarter play-calling against the Jaguars as the Bears blew leads of 13 and nine points.
The Bears ran only four times in the final quarter — two by Ka’Deem Carey, one on an end-around by Josh Bellamy and one by Jordan Howard. Those plays covered 0, 7, 3 and 8 yards.
The last of them was an 8-yard run by Carey on first down with just under five minutes to play. The next down was an aborted play on a fumbled snap from quarterback Brian Hoyer that resulted in a 4-yard loss. The Bears failed on third-and-7 before the Jaguars scored a touchdown. And on the ensuing possession, the Bears threw nine passes to finish things out.
You can criticize the play-calling of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains or the play of Hoyer all you want, but it’s difficult to forget Fox’s assurances when Adam Gase left and Loggains was promoted.
“Our systems are our systems, they’re not any individuals,” Fox said. “Our systems aren’t changing.”
The old adage in the NFL is that you throw to score and you run to win. Points are created by the downfield passing game and leads are protected by running the football, eating up clock and keeping your defense off the field.
Fox is rumored to favor the running game. Where is it when you need it to grind out a victory against a mediocre team, even one geared to stop the run?
Sadly, the Bears are not scoring. Despite ranking seventh in the NFL in offense with 375.2 yards a game, they are ponderous in the red zone and tied with the Jaguars for 29th in the NFL with just 101 points. Only the Jets and Buccaneers are worse. Those four teams have six wins between them through six weeks of the season.
Those numbers underscore how misleading statistics can be in the NFL. For instance, according to the NFL Network’s research for Thursday night’s game between the Bears and Packers, combining his time with the Texans and Bears, Hoyer has completed more passes (63.4 percent to 58.6), thrown for more yards per game (262 to 226.8) and boasts a better TD/INT ratio (20-5 to 20-9) with a better passer rating 94.1 to 83.3) over his last 12 starts than Aaron Rodgers.
Who would you rather have as your starter? Fox is rumored to prefer Hoyer to Jay Cutler. The job is reportedly Hoyer’s to lose, and lose it he may if he can’t figure out how to score points. It’s not the only job that could be lost.
It would be madness to fire Fox after two seasons of rebuild to start another rebuild. You run the danger of turning into the Browns if you keep changing out general managers and coaches.
Of course, the Bears aren’t so far from the winless Browns now. Is it Fox’s fault this team has no continuity with an injury list that just keeps growing? Maybe not, but clearly many of his systems are failing. Fox has been a disappointment in Chicago. Here’s hoping he realizes his seat is getting hotter.
Chicago Tribune special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts “The Mully and Hanley Show” weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.