Why Marc Trestman Deserves Another Year With the Chicago Bears
A year ago, Marc Trestman was the offensive mastermind behind making Josh McCown look good. Fast forward a year, and Trestman’s job as the head coach of the Chicago Bears is in jeopardy.
We now have two different samples of Trestman as a head coach. One took half a season of McCown, half a season of Jay Cutler and a bad defense to an 8-8 record. The other has taken a full year of Cutler and a bad defense to a 5-7 record through 12 games.
Whichever side of the stay or go argument for Trestman you fall on, there’s no denying the Bears have regressed on both sides of the ball from last season. Being worse than the previous year is rarely an indication of a job done well, but Chicago’s step back may not be all on the shoulders of Trestman.
Defense and Game Scripts
Last season, Chicago had the 26th ranked defense overall by Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP). Most of that was due to the worst run defense in the league by a wide margin. However, the Bears ranked 12th against the pass last year. Because running the ball creates fewer Net Expected Points than passing, the deficiency in the Bears defense did not automatically preclude them from competing in games. Despite the 26th-ranked defense, the Bears were only outscored by 33 points in 2013.
This year, the Bears have fully collapsed on defense and have struggled executing simple Cover-2 concepts. Injuries to players like Kyle Fuller and Charles Tillman have taken a toll on the secondary, and so has having Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte as the starting safeties. The defensive lapses, including the lack of a consistent pass rush, falls more on defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
Many will still point to Chicago’s effectiveness on offense as the reason the Bears were able to keep games close last season. That’s true to an extent, but there’s a reason the offense was in a position to score all of those points. Less often last season did games get out of hand on the defensive side of the ball, forcing Chicago out of their offensive game plan.
That’s what’s been happening this season with the balance in Chicago. The Bears defense ranks 27th overall in Adjusted NEP, 26th against the pass and 23rd against the run. Due in part to falling behind in games, the Bears currently have the second-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league, behind only the Oakland Raiders. That’s not the ideal game plan when Matt Forte is the team’s running back. Last season, the Bears had the 11th-highest pass-to-run ratio, a much healthier pass-heavy approach. There’s a difference between asking Jay Cutler to throw frequently to exploit matchups and asking Jay Cutler to throw frequently because the team needs to catch up. 2014 has been a lot of the latter.
Aggressiveness and Game Management
Through his two seasons, Trestman has been one of the more analytical-minded head coaches in the league. Even coming from a metrics-driven site such as this one, just embracing the idea of analytics doesn't make someone qualified to continue being the head coach of an NFL team. It certainly doesn’t hurt, though, especially with the Mike Smiths of the league costing his team chances to win games with conservative game management.
No team in 2014 has gone for it on more fourth down this season than the Chicago Bears (17 attempts), per ProFootballReference.com. While some of that is due to the game scripts previously discussed, the Bears have three more fourth down attempts than the next highest team. Teams with similar point differentials to the Bears, such as Washington and Tampa Bay, each have 10 fourth down attempts this season.
Trestman and the Bears have also not left many potential fourth down attempts on the field this season. Using the inexact science of going through the New York Times’ 4th Down Bot archives, which measures the win expectancy and expected points of fourth down decisions, there was just one instance when the Bot has a major disagreement with a Trestman decision. That was on a 4th-and-1 from Chicago’s 47 with 11:25 remaining in the first quarter. The bot also notes coaches will go for it just 27 percent of the time in that situation.
This will certainly mean more when the Bears are driving in close games, but it's a positive sign for when the Bears get to those situations. If one of a head coach’s biggest duties is to put his team in the best position to win, Trestman’s aggressiveness will be a step in the right direction.
What’s Most Likely to Happen
Tucker will likely be the fall guy for Chicago’s struggles, as Trestman gets at least another year to lead the team with the possibility of a healthier and improved defense. The problem, then, will be trying to find a new defensive coordinator willing to come onto the staff with the head coach possibly starting the following season on the hot seat. It could be a coach who just needs one year of recuperation as a coordinator, or a coach looking for a short coordinator stint as a launching pad for a head coaching job.
Both of those factors could make Rex Ryan an interesting defensive coordinator candidate. Ryan could benefit from a year of focusing on defense, something he’s done well in his previous work as a coordinator and for most of his time as head coach of the Jets. The addition would give Trestman and the Bears less vanilla schemes on defense, which could in turn increase Trestman’s strength of game planning on offense.
Even if Chicago doesn’t go the Ryan route, the Bears should allow Trestman a third season to bring the Bears closer to the initial expectations. Especially with retread coaches like Jim Caldwell and Ken Whisenhunt getting second opportunities as head coaches, Chicago could have it much worse.