Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Cardinals (11.08.09)

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They say that repetition breeds familiarity and there is nowhere where that is more true than with the current state of the Bears.

Nearly two months ago, following the Bears’ 17-14 victory over the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers, I wrote that this Bears defense “is at best an average unit right now.” I received a little bit of flack for criticizing the defense after the team picked up such a big victory.

The following week after the Bears squeezed past the Seahawks, I continued to harp on the defense, and pointed out the following:

“Tommie Harris is no longer a name. He’s just a number to me. And No. 91 is no good. Not only is he not a factor in the defense, but he’s becoming a detriment to the defense.”

Harris was ejected from the Cardinals game for “slugging a player in the head” after the fourth play of the game. I’d say that’s a detriment to the defense.

One week after the victory over the Seahawks, at halftime of the Lions game, I just about exploded that the Bears were tied with a woeful team. One thing I wrote:

“It’s only the fourth game of the season and I’ve had about all I can handle of this Bears defense, specifically against the pass.”

And all those comments came during the Bears’ 3-game win streak! I’ll spare you my diatribes about the defense during their three previous losses.

The point is that while watching the Cardinals game from the beginning, I wasn’t yelling at the TV screen or fuming about the breakdown. I was calm — yet still upset — because the performance looked all too familiar, and it’s because it’s been far too repetitive for way too long.

The confounding ways the Bears have lost this season have left fans and analysts alike searching for answers for why this team is playing as poorly as it has been.

Don’t ask Lovie Smith for the answers. “I don’t have a lot of reasons to give you on why we played that way,” Smith said after the loss Sunday.

But when asked if those problems could be fixed, Smith didn’t hesitate. “Sure we can fix it.”

I’d like to know how Smith intends on fixing this defense when he doesn’t know why it’s performing the way it has.

Is it the scheme? Is it the coaching? Is it the players? The answer to each of those questions is an emphatic yes.

There is no one problem to why the Bears got gashed for 182 rushing yards by the worst run team in the league. Or how they allowed two carries of 20-plus yards to the only NFL team that didn’t have one of those runs all season. Or how it was even possible to give up 31 first-half points for the second time in three weeks and allowing the offense to move the ball at will without punting in the first half.

This performance doesn’t happen to good defenses once in a season, let alone twice in such a short time span. It happened to the Bears because they’re just not a good football team. They have an average offense and a bad defense.

The Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh, with whom I rarely agree about anything, said it best in an article today when he wrote that it’s up to Lovie Smith to fix the problems. He’s paid well to do so and he needs to stop hiding behind his clichés and coach-speak.

Lovie’s sunny disposition is actually rubbing people the wrong way. We are familiar with his antics because they’ve become so repetitive. He seems to be the only man in Chicago who doesn’t recognize there is a big problem. Or, maybe he does but won’t admit as much in interviews.

The players certainly admit there are problems.

“We’ve got to have a sense of urgency, and we don’t have that right now,” said defensive end Alex Brown. “This is the eighth game of the season, and I know a lot of people like to think that we’re better than 4-4. But hell, our record is 4-4. So that’s what we are.

Everybody that doesn’t feel bad after that shouldn’t be here. That’s horrible. We stunk up the place. It was pretty bad.”

That’s a player who recognizes there’s a problem and is willing to admit it publicly.

The problem at this point is that the Bears are in a difficult position. They have no chance to win the division because the Vikings are up three games and are one of the three best teams in football. The Bears have lost too many conference games to their direct competition for the wild card spots, so playoffs look out of the realm. Even though they remain mathematically in the playoff chase, they haven’t played well enough to be considered an average team, let alone one bound for the postseason.

The Bears are a team that will likely fall in the range of 7-9 to 9-7… an average team. They’ll miss out on the postseason for the third straight year after their Super Bowl season and they’ll have gotten worse after acquiring a Pro Bowl quarterback when such a situation would normally result in improvement. They have traded their 2010 first and second round draft picks and with Jerry Angelo’s history of failed draft picks, I don’t think it’s possible he can draft enough impact players in Rounds 3 through 7 next year to make the Bears better. They’ll have to bring in some veteran free agents if they want to make a playoff run in the Lovie Smith era, but the organization has generally not been big spenders.

I hate to say it, but Lovie Smith looks like a lame duck coach right now. I’d be shocked if the Bears fired him at the end of this season and eat $10 million of his remaining contract. I’d still be surprised if they canned him at the end of next year. So, he’ll remain head coach and continue to push his principles whereas the Bears will be in rebuilding mode for the next two years. How does that help the Bears long term? It doesn’t. If Angelo continues to draft players over the next two years to fit Lovie’s “system,” then those players will become worthless if and when the new head coach steps in two years later and changes everything.

What’s next for the Bears is a quick turnaround and a cross-country trip to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Thursday night. It’s a prime time, nationally-televised game where the nation will get another chance to see how far these Bears have fallen since 2006. If they can’t put together a respectable outing, I’m going to be awfully curious to hear what Jerry Angelo has to say about the state of the team following that.

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