Based on all the reactions I’ve seen over the past hour or two, and really the last couple months, to Mel Tucker and whether he should remain the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, everyone seems to want him gone. Obviously, when the unit you’re responsible for allows the most rushing yards and third most points in the league, there comes much suspicion to your ability to coach and call plays. Such was the case for Tucker during the 2013 season.
However, I do feel the need to be the one person — and I mean really, like the only person at least that I’ve seen — to come to the defense of the much-maligned DC.
The vast majority of Bears fans blame Tucker for most of the defensive issues over the course of this year. I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true, and that when the Bears announced earlier today that they’d be retaining Tucker on the coaching staff, they weren’t making a mistake to give him a second chance.
Let’s start with what the Bears run on defense. They run the cover-2, as many know. When Tucker was first hired, he kept the scheme essentially the exact same that it was in order to keep the players there happy, who all wanted to continue playing in the 4-3 tampa-2 defense. And really, that’s what their personnel has been set up to run for years. So, anyone who says they should’ve ran a different scheme, because there are some who say that, that was what Tucker was brought to Chicago to do.
Now, what is the key to the cover-2 and it being successful? It’s the ability to stop the run game of the opposing offense and then rush the quarterback with your front four. If you can consistently have success putting pressure on the QB with the defensive line alone, you can drop back the other seven players into coverage and, while keeping everything in front of you, be aggressive and attack the ball, trying to create takeaways.
The real reason the Bears were just awful this year on that side of the ball, you ask? They had the worst front four in the entire NFL.
Once Henry Melton and Nate Collins went down for the season with ACL injuries, their defensive tackle group regressed immensely. At the end positions, Shea McClellin proved how poor of a first-round pick he was for the second-straight year and Julius Peppers took a huge step back, likely due to being 33 years old. Because of the injuries to their two best DTs, Corey Wootton had to move over to tackle, and actually may have been their best player at that position all year. How sad, their best DT was an end. And their best DE on the season? I’d say the most impressive end on their roster this year, when given the opportunity, was seventh-round rookie David Bass — and he wasn’t even that good.
Mix in the fact that veteran linebackers D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs were hurt for most of the year forcing two rookies to step in, and suddenly your entire front seven is just pathetic. Can you honestly sit there and say that the play calling was the biggest issue? No matter what play was called, that horrible group wasn’t going to execute. I don’t care if you’ve got Dick LeBeau in his prime on the sideline, he’s not going to make them a good, or even passable, defense.
And that’s just the front seven! Don’t even get me started on Chris Conte? Oh my gosh, is he horrible. Major Wright? He’s an average strong safety at best. Once Charles Tillman went down with a triceps injury, the only true starting caliber player in their secondary was Tim Jennings.
So, Bears fans and critics alike, how again is it all Mel Tucker’s fault that the Bears’ defense was trash in 2013? I’m not saying he’s an amazing coordinator or anything, I’m just saying that he deserves a second chance because you can’t accurately judge him based on this past season. That’s simply unfair.
If the defense is to improve, it’s up to Phil Emery and him alone to get the right pieces on the team for Tucker to have a chance to prove himself. We’ll see if he can get it done this offseason.
By the way, before Tucker came to Chicago, he was the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. After his first season with the team, the defense ranked 28th in the league. Do you know what they were ranked after his second season? Sixth.