I warned you on the 29th that I might have more to say about the Bears this year. So, in no particular order…
The Chicago Syndrome
It’s no secret that there’s no better place to be a professional athlete than Chicago…when your team is winning. Unfortunately, it’s the worst place to be when you’re struggling. Chicago fans are endlessly loyal, but they’re also impossibly demanding and insidiously ruthless. Anything less than the ’85 Bears or the ’95-96 Bulls is considered abject failure for which jobs will be lost and heads will roll. The unrealistic expectations and the unfair treatment is my least favorite part of being a Bears fan.
I bring this up now because it’s been a frustrating season, and – call me a hypocrite if you want to – I’ve fallen victim to the Chicago Syndrome on many a Sunday afternoon this year. And I’m probably going to be battling it here. My apologies in advance.
So, let me get this straight…
Lovie Smith gets fired after leading the Bears to a 10-6 record in 2012 (only 2 seasons removed from a trip to the NFC Title game, no less) while Marc Trestman goes 8-8 with a superior team and is still considered the savior? No denying that Lovie Smith’s 2012 squad suffered a disappointing second-half slump after starting 7-1, but they won the games they needed to win down the stretch in order to make the playoffs. They were ultimately kept out of the postseason when Minnesota pulled off an upset over Green Bay. To paraphrase Mike Ditka, you’re telling me that if the Packers play better then Lovie Smith deserves to keep his job?
Meanwhile, Marc Trestman inherits a team with virtually identical defensive talent and an infinitely improved offense (more on that shortly) only to let them limp to a .500 record. Much more telling is the fact that the Bears were handed multiple late-season gifts but went out of their way to not make the playoffs, getting pummeled by the Eagles and suffering a fourth-quarter meltdown against the Packers.
In short, Marc Trestman did less with more. All while the Bears organization paid a winning head coach with a Super Bowl on his resume 5 million dollars to sit on his couch for a year.
I know I’m beating a dead horse here…and kicking the poor man while he’s down…but I can’t help myself. I’ll try (try!) to keep it short, and then I’ll let it go.
I’ll freely admit that I was impressed by Tucker’s willingness to adapt when he took over as the Bears’ D-coordinator, adopting the existing schemes and lingo in order to take advantage of the veteran talent he inherited. It was a failed experiment, however, and one that comes with a built-in failsafe. Tucker just might be able to buy himself another year under the pretense of finally running *his* defense instead of Lovie Smith’s and Rod Marinelli’s. And if the Bears buy that reasoning, Tucker probably ends up getting two seasons out of the deal, the first to transition to his defense and a second to get the right personnel to run it. By then, he might have brought the Bears’ defense back up to average (about where his defenses in Cleveland and Jacksonville peaked). Or the whole regime could already be on its way out the door. If Marc Trestman cares about his own job security, it would probably be in his best interests to cut ties with Tucker now.
The Importance of Leadership
Coaching issues aside, it was obvious this year that the Bears lacked leadership on the field and in the locker room. Brian Urlacher was the face of the franchise and the pulse of the team for over a decade, and no one stepped up to adequately fill the void left by his retirement. He would have been a steadying influence and a voice of accountability that the team desperately needed this year. And even on the downside of his career…
He would have been better than Jon Bostic
Granted, both Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene should have been learning from the sideline this season (both started because of injuries to veteran linebackers). But that doesn’t excuse Bostic for routinely filling the wrong gaps, taking on blocks with the wrong shoulder, and misreading run/pass/play-action. Frankly, I would expect better out of a high school freshman. The only play I can remember from this year where Bostic looked like a true cover-2 middle linebacker was his interception against the Ravens in November. Hopefully that’s an indicator of great things to come, but the bulk of the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
On the other
hand side of the ball…
That offense. God bless that offense. It is a frakking monster. Right now the Bears have the best quarterback(s) they’ve had in decades, arguably the best running-back they’ve ever had not named Payton, their best tight end since Mike Ditka, and the two best wide receivers they’ve ever had – period.
But don’t forget the big dogs
Often overlooked in the annals of Chicago sports history is the fact that during their miraculous 2005 playoff season (led by fourth-round rookie quarterback Kyle Orton!) and 2006 Super Bowl run, the Bears had one of the best offensive lines in football. As is always the case for offensive linemen, though, nobody notices them when they’re playing well. Make a serious run at most sacks allowed in a season, however…
You get the idea.
All of the firepower the Bears have in Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, et al wouldn’t mean anything without a front five that can consistently open holes and keep their quarterback off the ground. Even in spite of starting two rookies (Kyle Long and Jordan Mills), this year’s O-line was the best the Bears have had in years. No accident that their offensive production was some of the best in franchise history.
The Unavoidable Question
Before we watched the Packers game the other night, my wife asked me if I thought the Bears should re-sign Jay Cutler this year (it’s sweet when she humors me). I stopped and thought about it…and I realized for the first time that I genuinely have no opinion either way. Here’s how I see it:
He’s high risk/high reward. He does things with the ball that no other quarterback can. And because he knows that, he also throws at least one horrific interception each game. I would hate to lose the circus touchdown throws, but I’d love to be rid of the jackass mistakes.
He’s unflappable. No matter how good or bad the game, his expression never seems to change. Quarterbacks need that kind of unshakeable confidence. Unfortunately, his default face is an infuriating blend of smugness and apathy. The Chicago sports media has been puzzling for five years over whether that’s really who he is or not. And we still don’t really know.
If Cutler stays, we know what we’re getting (for better or for worse). If he leaves? Maybe the Bears keep Josh McCown for a year or two as a stopgap while they groom a high draft pick. But there’s no telling how long McCown can stay hot, even as good as he was in relief of Jay Cutler this year. And any draft pick is a gamble, now matter how promising.
I’ll hang my hat on this: There’s only been one time in his tenure with the Bears that Cutler had the same offensive coordinator for two seasons in a row. Running Mike Martz’s offense in 2011, Cutler was finally playing like an elite quarterback before his season was cut short by injury. Hopefully with another off-season to learn the Marc Trestman/Aaron Kromer offense and to continue developing chemistry with his receivers, he’ll start living up to his own hype again. If he can stay healthy this time.
Speaking of Josh McCown
He’s not the answer, and he’s not the future. And, contrary to popular belief, I doubt he’s going to be lured away by huge contract offers. He’s a 34-year-old journeyman who’s spent multiple seasons out of the NFL. A team would have to be desperate to offer him a starting job and/or big money. He played some outstanding games starting in place of an injured Jay Cutler this season, but did it by being smart and conservative with the ball against some so-so defenses. In other words, he played like a more-than-capable career backup. No denying what a vital asset that is in the NFL, but it’s an asset that the Bears should have no problem retaining. And if/when they do re-sign him, we’ll all breath easier in anticipation of next season.
With All That Said…
The 2014 season kicks off in just over eight months. No matter what, I’ll be dressed in navy and orange and I’ll be glued to my TV. Go Bears!
Any Bears fans out there? What are your thoughts about the 2013 campaign? I’d love to hear from you.
As always, thanks for reading.