John Fox arrived in Chicago with the reputation of a coach who can quickly turn around down-trodden franchises.
After all, he coached the Carolina Panthers to their first Super Bowl appearance and led the Denver Broncos out of the mess created by Josh McDaniels before turning his attention towards the Bears, a team that took significant steps backward in the two years Marc Trestman was in charge.
But three years into his four-year deal with Chicago, Fox’s teams look nothing like what his previous turn-around jobs.
One reason the Bears look to be taking a step backwards in a second straight season is because of an explosion of penalties – many of which have been silly, unnecessary, or flat-out stupid. Indeed, according to The Football Database, the Bears have committed the 12th most penalties in football in 2017. Wonderful.
And make no mistake, the Bears’ undisciplined play has been costly and frequent. The Bears’ five false starts this season rank 12th most in the NFL, while the team’s seven offensive holding penalties are tied for the third most. Defensive holding has also been a bug-a-boo for the Bears, as their eight such penalties are tied for the second most in the league.
Worse, this seems to be a continuation of a problem from 2016.
The 2016 Bears also committed the 12th most penalties in the NFL. They had the ninth most false starts, called for the third most for offensive holding, dinged the 11th most times for defensive pass interference, and flagged for the most roughing the passer and illegal contact penalties. As a point of comparison, the 2015 Bears (Fox’s first season) committed the seventh fewest penalties in football (so clearly this is trending in the wrong direction).
And it’s these sort of shooting-yourself-in-the-foot mistakes that make the actual team problems stand out even more. In other word, we all know accruing penalties is bad, but piling them up to this extent really compounds problems for a team with an already thin margin for error …
… And it might even give off the vibe of a coach losing his team. Couple the explosion in penalties with Marcus Cooper’s recent mental gaffe and the outspokenness of some players asking for change, and it won’t be long before it’s asked whether or not Fox has lost control of his locker room.
If there is one simple way for the Bears to make Mitch Trubisky’s transition into life as a starter easier, it would be to clean up the undisciplined play that has plagued this team for the last 20 games or so. If Fox can right the ship in this one area – something that feels at least somewhat within his control – it could go a long way toward making the necessary improvements.