Monday Night Football. National audience. Overtime. Bears win. Against the division leading Vikings. If there's any team Bears fans hate, assuming its not a game against the Packers, its the Vikings. And in Bret Favre you even have the Packers covered. Who could ask for more.
Then why am I so unhappy?
I am not exactly a huge sports fan. I don't spend much time watching sporting events on TV. I'd rather be doing than watching. Even thought in recent years the doing hasn't been much. Laziness and middle age. Still. Its the principle of the thing.
Used to think I was a basketball fan, but when Jordan finally retired for good I just stopped watching. So much for that theory. Was a huge hockey fan growing up in Latvia, but five years in Israel (no ice, therefore no hockey) and then the rest in Chicago where the brilliant owner of the Hawks at the time thought that showing games on broadcast TV hurts the fans (and where did he think new fans would come from?) took care of that itch. Tried baseball for a couple of years. Sorry. Too slow. Too boring. Not a criticism (well, maybe just a little). Grew up on soccer and couldn't really get into it either. Too slow. Too boring.
But football? Love football. Loved playing it. Love watching it. Okay. So I still need the home team to be playing for that emotional thrill, but its as close as I come to being a hardcore sports fan. I started following the Bears around 1978. Had missed maybe a handful games in all of the years since. That even includes preseason.
Saw a lot of good football. Saw Sweetness give 100% and run over the opposition no matter against whom and no matter the score. Saw Danimal and Mongo. The punky QB. Mama's boy Otis. Da Coach. The 85 Bears. Still have Super bowl XX on VHS. Then in more recent years there was the Ultraback and Urlacher.
Saw a lot of mediocre football. Saw Fencik and Plank so bored in a losing effort against Tampa Bay that they actually started a contest between themselves to see who could be the first to knock a Buc out of a game. I believe Plank won with his hit on Jimmie Giles. Saw Jim Harbaugh staring at his receivers. Saw Cade McNown bust. Salam. Enis. Colombo. Its a long list. There was the game where the Bears had to list Payton as an emergency QB. Would still be better than Rusty.
Went through quite a few head coaches. Neill Armstrong. Mike Ditka. Wanny. Dick Jauron. Same as the team. There was good and bad in coaching as with the team. Saw Da Coach bring back pride. Then saw Da Coach implode and self destruct. There's only so many times you can run the draw play to Denis Gentry on 3rd and long before it stops working. Heard Wanny tell us that all the pieces are in place and then wondered which team he was watching. Nothing memorable about Dick Jauron, but I think that's the point.
Good or bad I still watched. But even in the bad years at least the Bears were entertaining. And there was always next year. Of course as Da Coach once said: only cowards and losers live in the past.
Present day. Lovie Smith's Bears. Lovie is a nice guy. Maybe even a saint. I don't want anyone to lose their jobs under any circumstance. But Lovie has to go. I've seen bad football. I've seen bad teams. I've seen bad coaching. Will again I am sure. But this year for me has been about as bad as it gets. Lovie is like a combination of Wanny and Jauron. Jauron's personality minus Wanny's mustache.
I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I am just a fan. My football credentials are as follows:
- No high school or college football
- Lots of no equipment street ball on the lakefront. Being slightly faster and stronger than the average pretty much could do what I wanted against most opponents. Defense. Offense. Didn't matter. Give me the ball and I'll get you some yards. Put me on the other side and I'll get to the guy with the ball. Even played against some of the guys on Northwestern's football team once. The bad. Very, very bad period of Northwestern football.
- A couple of seasons on various flag/touch football. Mixed results. Not so good when you take the violence out of the equation. But held my own even if I didn't exactly excel.
3/4 of a season of semi-semi pro football. Heh ... Did great during training camp playing center. Pretty much did what I wanted against our linebackers and DB's. Held my own against the D line. Then came the season opener against the Robert Taylor Homes team. First play from scrimmage. The nose guard glares at me. I glare at him. The quarterback yells out the snap count. I snap and ... I watch the nose guard run over me from my comfortable position of being flat on my back. He sacks the QB. The QB fumbles. They recover. So ends my first play from scrimmage. I improve as the season goes on, but not by much. Finished it playing defensive tackle. The highlight of the season was our game against the Pontiac State Prison team. We weren't very good, but maybe that's a post for a different day. If nothing else it just reinforced what they say about there being a tangible difference between high school, college, and the pros. The talent level increases by an incredible factor at each level. It really does. Trust me.
- 30 plus years of watching the Bears and the occasional Super bowl
- I made it to the championship game (and lost) of my Fantasy Football league this year
So with the above in mind and taking into account that there's plenty of blame to go around (if Jerry Angelo leaves I won't be heart broken; if the McCaskey's want to sell I'll pitch in a few bucks) here are all of the things that are wrong with the 2009 Chicago Bears. Its the Coaching. Its the Coaching. Its the Coaching. And its the Coaching. The Head Coach specifically.
Its been a rough year for Lovie. You lose your star linebacker in the first game. Your secondary goes through more injuries than a trauma center. The defensive line has underachieved for years. The offensive line is old. Your star receiver is a former defensive back. Your GM hasn't exactly given you much talent to work with. Not many studs on the bench. Even fewer on your practice squad. You have a fairly good, if not special, running back, but there's that questionable offensive line. The GM gave you a big name QB in Jay Cutler, but there's that questionable offensive line again. And did I mention that your star receiver is a former defensive back. I know a lot of people were excited about the Cutler trade and were expecting great things from the Bears, but I wondered what team they were watching. Not denying that Cutler was an upgrade at QB, but this team had so many holes to fill and so many question marks that the price paid for Cutler could have been better used elsewhere.
And despite all of the above. Sorry. Lovie must go. Its the head coach that needs to bear the burden and pay the price. Coaches often get too much of the blame and far too much of the credit when teams lose or win. And still. Its the head coach. Consider this. What is the head coach ultimately responsible for? Basically the following:
- Coaching: Making sure that a team has the best game plan in place for a given opponent and that the players understand that game plan
- Discipline: Making sure that a team executes that game plan on game day
- Personnel: Making sure that the right players are in the right positions and on the field at the right time and that they develop over the course of their careers
If you consider the above to be as important as I do then I don't see how anyone can justify keeping Lovie as head coach.
Let's start with Coaching.
Lovie took over the defensive coordinating this season. So there is no Bob Babich to blame. No Ron Rivera. The scheme gets a lot of blame, but you know what? Its not the cover 2. Other teams use the cover 2 with good effect. The problem is that the cover 2 doesn't work with the personnel the Bears have in place. The cover 2 works when you have a good to above average defensive line. The linebackers and the DBs split up the field in zones. It gives you flexibility to be a little more creative with your blitzes and stunts and coverages. You can bring up DBs to play the run and drop linebackers back into coverage. Its as good as any scheme. Perhaps better than some. The Bears certainly have some linebackers who can cover. Speed as they say kills. The Bears have some DBs who can hit. On paper it sounds good. Really good. Its like having 12 players on the field. One problem. Its all predicated on that defensive line applying pressure. As long as the defensive line applies pressure at the initial point of attack it works. It frees up the linebackers to do what they need to do and it frees up the DBs to do what they need to do. If it doesn't you have serious problems. You give any NFL quarterback and receivers the time and they'll find the holes in the zones. Its how zones work by definition. You give them time and they'll kill you. No matter how great your DBs and linebackers. You allow the offensive line to control the line scrimmage and there will be holes there that you and I could run through. And we aren't Adrian Peterson. Guess what the weakest part of the Bears defense is? Sorry Alex Brown.
Is it all Lovies fault? Is it his fault that Tommy Harris has been injured and not playing at 100%? Did he draft Marcus Harrison who had one good season and then just disappeared’? Well, maybe partially, but more on the disappearing later. Did he sign Adewale Ogunleye? Again, don't know how much input he had on that. Either way, doesn't matter. Anyone who has watched the Bears the last three years has watched the same underachieving defensive line I have. Whatever the reasons, whatever the excuses, doesn't matter. Good coaches adjust. Lovie is not the first coach to fall in love with a scheme and stuck with it no matter what. Good coaches adjust and play the hand that's dealt them. Rather than continue down the same proven unworkable path.
Okay. I guess we could blame Ron Turner and I am sure he will be the fall guy come season's end. We could blame Angelo and the Bears draft failures. But the head coach is the boss come game time. He watched the same guys we watched. He was there in preseason. He was there during training camp. He was even there during the OTAs. I wasn't. Don't know. Maybe he saw the same things we did. An aging offensive line. Lack of quality receivers. No true stud running back. Maybe he said something. Maybe no one listened. Maybe. No difference. Simple as it sounds, he is the Head coach. If no one listens to the head coach then that's a problem with the head coach. It has to do with being the Head part.
On to discipline.
Best way to judge discipline is penalties. As of December 19th the Bears were sixth in the NFL in team penalties. Sixth in bad way. Not in a good way.
Another good way is to see how the team performs through out the game. How many games this season have you seen the Bears perform throughout the entire game. Whether its falling so far behind that no one could ever come back or falling apart when the game is online?
How does the team play in big games? Whether against division arch rivals, on national TV or when the game really really matters? Do they put it all on the line or do they just show up. I think we all watched the same games this season. Sometimes it didn't even look like they showed up. Season opener Green Bay 21. Bears 15. Bears at Bengals. Bengals 45. Bears 10. This after the Bears lost to a good Falcons team. Record 3-3. They win against an awful Cleveland Browns team. The 30-6 score far better than they played. Then get demolished by the Cardinals 41-21. And so on.
No team can win every game. There are 32 teams in the NFL and only 12 of them make it to the playoffs. Life's not fair. For a team to win another has to lose. Its the nature of the beast. I still have scars on my psyche from watching the greatest Bears team ever (the 85 Bears) lose to Miami on Monday night.
Still. This Bears team is Jekyll and Hyde. Mostly Jekyll. In the football world Hyde would be good. The rage at least. Guess who is responsible to even it out? Bringing out the Hyde. Suppressing the Jekyll. None other than the head coach.
Last but not least, personnel. Blame Angelo. Blame Ted Phillips. Blame the scouting department.
Just for the Angelo tenure alone.
Bears Draft picks since 2001:
Not very impressive. A few diamonds in the rough in the later rounds, but every team has those. The first three? Some average players. The rest? Not good. And if you don't see what's coming by now I'll say it anyway. Doesn't matter. It happens to every team. Its back to my semi-semi pro experience. Its a different game. A different level in the NFL. Its hard to predict who will make it in the pros. A lot of college can't miss studs turn out to be complete busts at the next level. Some guys who no one gave a chance come out of the blue and become stars. While not exactly throwing darts while blindfolded a great deal of luck is needed when making your picks. Good coaches find ways to make do with what they have. Great coaches make what they have better. The Bears of recent years? Sorry. No better example than Rex Grossman who showed great promise and then got worse every year.
There's more, but this post is long enough. Never thought my longest post to date would be on the Bears, but life never turns out the way you plan.
Its nothing personal and I'd hate to be in his shoes, but please, please, can the Bears put Lovie out of this misery and me out of mine? A change of scenery might do him, and me, some good. Look what it did for Wanny and Pitt.