In 2013, the Chicago Bears amassed just 88 total penalties, seventh fewest in the NFL. In Marc Trestman’s first year at the helm, mental mistakes were minimized, which was refreshing coming off a Mike Martz/Mike Tice era that was littered with errors between the ears.
Yet in 2014, the 5-11 Bears were much sloppier, finishing 20th in the NFL with 113 penalties, 25 more than the previous year. The 113 penalties cost them 997 yards, 7th most in the league and 289 yards more than the club’s 2013 total (708).
That in itself says a lot about Chicago’s failed campaign. When your club tacks on nearly 300 more yards in penalties from the season before, you’re basically playing with one hand tied behind your back.Good teams can overcome penalties. The Seattle Seahawks – who finished 12-4 and earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – were penalized 130 times this year, more than any team in the NFL.
For lesser teams like the Bears, such a high volume of penalties is a recipe for disaster. Chicago’s penalties this year, particularly those on offense, were back-breakers. Time and time again, a false start or holding penalty would kill a drive, no matter the momentum the offense had built to that point.
Yet penalty totals alone don’t tell the whole story of the 2014 Bears. The types of penalties they incurred is even more revealing.
Chicago had 42 pre-snap penalties, sixth most in the NFL. They led the league in unnecessary roughness calls (11) and had the second most false start penalties (27).
These are the penalties that show a serious lack of mental focus.
The false starts are especially disturbing. The Bears finished 2013 with just nine false start penalties, second fewest in the league, yet tripled that number this year.
A team that is focused and prepared, one that has had discipline drilled into them during practice, doesn’t commit that many penalties before the ball is even snapped.
In 2014, the dysfunction in Chicago’s locker room carried over to the game field. The penalties indicate a coaching staff that failed to get through to its players and there was not enough veteran leadership to overcome the team-wide lack of focus and desire.
The Bears must learn a lesson from the disorder of the past season. In the search for Trestman’s replacement, accountability must be a top priority. If the inmates are again allowed to run the asylum, penalties will continue to plague the team under the next regime.
The next head coach must have the ability to control his locker room and set boundaries for his players. If expectations aren’t met and mental mistakes make a mess of game day, players need to sit, regardless of the size of their contract.
Only when the Bears clean up their act, both on and off the field, can they truly get back on the right path.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.