Bears defenders defend coordinator

To a man, the Chicago Bears defensive players believe coordinator Mel Tucker has earned the opportunity to return next season, despite this year's historically bad results.

The 2013 Chicago Bears defense was the worst unit in the history of the franchise. They finished 32nd in the league against the run for the first time in the organization's 94-year history, while no other defense since 1920 has allowed more total yards (6,313). In addition, the unit finished 30th in the NFL in yards allowed and points against (29.9).

In Week 7, Chicago's offense scored 41 points, yet the team lost to the Washington Redskins due to the 45 points the defense allowed. The Bears had never before lost a game when scoring 40 or more points.

And when the team needed them most - as they did yesterday during three fourth downs the Packers converted on the game's final drive, all of which Green Bay converted, the last one going for the game-winning score - they buckled.

No matter how you slice it, this year's Bears defense was an absolute mess under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

In Tucker's defense, injuries played a huge part in this team's downfall, with six starters missing significant portions of the campaign. The loss of LB Lance Briggs (seven-time Pro Bowler), CB Charles Tillman (two-time Pro Bowler), DT Henry Melton (Pro Bowler), CB Kelvin Hayden (eight-year veteran), DT Nate Collins and LB D.J. Williams (10-year veteran) was too much for the defense to overcome. As a result, the Bears will not play in the postseason for the sixth time in the past seven years.

"We lost six starters. That's over 50 percent of our defense," Williams said today as players cleaned out their lockers. "You lose two Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame guys like Peanut and Lance and lose two starting D-tackles, we lost Kelvin, we lost me. It's tough."

To Williams, the criticism of Tucker is unwarranted.

"He didn't really get to put out the defense on the field that he thought he was going to have," said Williams. "But I felt he did a great job. It's hard to go out there and compete with teams when you don't have your guys out there."

It's a fair point, although injuries don't explain the on-field confusion on a 4th-down play in a Week 17 game that ultimately cost the Bears a chance at a championship.

"Guys got hurt, but by the same token, I don't think it should be used as an excuse," Collins said. "All teams go through injuries. I feel like, yes, we probably got hit worse than other teams, but at the same time, everyone has backups, everyone has reserves and you're always as strong as your weakest link."

The Bears finished dead last in the league in sacks this year, just like Tucker's 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars defense. Yet still, the players don't feel Tucker should be fired.

"I think he's a great coach," Shea McClellin said. "I think he did an excellent job. You know, just a few things fell out of place. It was unfortunate. But overall, I think he's a great coach. I learned a lot from him."

The problem is that the things these players learned, and the hard work Tucker put in to make them better players, didn't show up on the field.

So now Marc Trestman must decide if Tucker will get a pass for this year due to the injuries, or if he should move on to a more accomplished coordinator.

If it were up the players to decide, Tucker would get a pass.

"I thought Mel did an exceptional job," said Tillman. "We had a lot of injuries on defense. I don't think anyone got hurt on offense. I think he did a really good job despite all the injuries we had."

Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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