Bears head coach Lovie Smith has been catching a lot of flak this week about deferring the coin toss against the Green Bay Packers and allowing them to receive the ball to start the game.
The overwhelming criticism about the decision is the rhetorical question, “Why would you give the best offense in the league the ball first?”
In fact, Pro Football Weekly publisher and editor Hub Arkush said on WSCR 670 The Score this week, “One team you don’t want to defer to is Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. You’re almost certain to be trailing, 7-0.”
My response to Hub, and to all those who wonder why Smith deferred, is simply this: “What makes you think the Bears offense would have marched down the field on the opening drive and put points on the board — on the road, nonetheless — when they hadn’t been able to move the ball effectively in the previous four games?”
If Hub and others were so convinced that the Packers were going to score on their first drive, what difference does it make if it were at the 15-minute mark to open the game, or, say, the 12-minute mark after a Bears stalled drive?
If the Packers were going to score, they were going to score. It was the correct move for Smith to send out his best unit, a defense that was playing its best football of the season in the absence of Cutler, to try to get an early stop and some momentum. There were two other reasons for Smith’s decision: field position and receiving the ball to start the second half.
If the Bears received the opening kickoff and were not able to drive the ball down the field, they would have suffered poor field position from the beginning. They would have had to punt the ball away and the Packers offense would have started from near midfield. That’s much worse than kicking off to start the game and pinning the Packers back by their own end zone, is it not? And if the Bears were able to stop the Packers on the opening drive, it would have worked out to their advantage by getting the ball and an extra possession to start the second half.
Smith made the same decision last year in the NFC championship by deferring to the Packers, but circumstances were different then. The Bears had homefield advantage and a healthy Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. With the offense in bad shape on Christmas Day, Smith made the correct choice this time around.
The blame goes to the defense, folks, for not stopping the Packers offense. It does not go to Smith for making a smart, sound football decision.