There isn’t an awful lot to review from Sunday’s 37-23 victory over the Lions, but that’s an inevitability when the Bears are cleaning out their lockers on a Monday morning in January instead of preparing for an upcoming playoff opponent.
The question being asked the most seems to be why did the Bears’ offense, which looked so good against the Vikings and Lions, wait until the final two weeks of the season to show its potential? To which, my response is that it’s not as if they intentionally did that. I don’t think Ron Turner’s said to his guys: “Let’s wait until we’re out of the playoff race and my job is in jeopardy before we start executing the offense.”
The performance against Detroit was to be expected. The Lions had the worst pass defense in the NFL and one of the worst defenses against the run. Bad players make up the bad defenses that often leave receivers wide open and allow big lanes for running backs. But it was still incumbent upon the offensive line to help create those openings and give its quarterback sufficient protection, and the linemen achieved their objective.
The victory over the Vikings was more of a head-scratcher, though. If I were to offer a guess as to why the Bears pulled off the upset I’d have to say that a dome team was outplayed for a little more than 60 minutes by a hungrier football team in cold weather. The Bears wanted it more, which is why they jumped out to a 16-0 lead by halftime, and it was clear that the weather did not affect them as much as it did the Vikings.
There are a lot of factors that go into such a poor season for the Bears, but most of it has to do with player personnel. There isn’t a lot wrong with the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. They have the right guys in place but don’t appear to have much talent with which to work. The only alterations pertaining to coaching that the Bears need to make on that side of the ball are hiring a defensive coordinator so that Lovie Smith can return to his head coaching duties and also making modifications to the system the Bears run defensively. Most other problems we’ve witnessed on defense this season can be attributed to not having the right pieces of the puzzle on the field to execute the game plan.
On the other of the ball, there figures to be an overhaul to the offensive coaching staff much like the one that occurred to the defensive staff after last season. The Bears will not be addressing the media today as they’re holed up in an office holding meetings about Smith, his staff, and the roster. The overwhelming feeling around Chicago is that Smith will be retained but offensive coordinator Ron Turner and some or all of his position coaches will be the fall guys, which was the speculation for much of the season.
Of course, coaching and coordination weren’t the only problems on offense. Jay Cutler underperformed, Greg Olsen underwhelmed, and Matt Forte flopped. Because the offense all starts up front with the linemen, it’s fair to say that the aforementioned three guys failed to achieve expectations due to an inconsistent, and often bad offensive line. Ironically, the wide receivers made up the most consistent position on the field after being the undeniably biggest question mark and arguably the most pressing concern in training camp.
General manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith — Public Enemy Nos. 1 and 2, or vice versa, among Bears fans — figure to address the media Tuesday after their day of meetings and interviews with players today. Assuming both still have their jobs — which seems a safe assumption — they’ll undoubtedly discuss their displeasure with the season and claim that, although they need to bring in a few pieces to the puzzle, they have their core in place and feel good about their chances of making the playoffs next year. They’ll probably also address the offensive coaching vacancies and take questions from reporters asking about a guy like Mike Martz. About whom, Lovie will speak of his respect and offer praise but go only as far to say that they’ll be examining all options and will do their due diligence.
If the Bears do get a new offensive coordinator, I expect he’ll be brought in quickly so that the players can start learning from him and get to work right away. Minicamps and OTAs will probably be held early again this year just as they were last year and the Bears will do everything in their power to make sure they’re not behind the learning curve by training camp.
If Smith is returning as head coach, I’m sure he’ll have a playoffs-or-bust mandate presented to him. Angelo will do everything in his power, and will delve as deep into the pockets of the McCaskey family as Ted Phillips will allow him, to give Smith the pieces he needs to get them back to the playoffs. It won’t be easy, of course, because the Bears have no first or second round draft pick and the free agency class is said to be weak due to the collective bargaining agreement mess. Just know that Angelo will feel the heat, too, and won’t sit back and do nothing.
Rest assured, every person in the Bears organization knows the anger and frustration that Bears fans are feeling because they all feel it, too. And not one person in the organization will accept another season like the one that just concluded, nor will they accept anything less than a postseason appearance next year.