Monday, June 13, 2011

In Review-The Coaching Staff

Time to wrap up the reviews today, and I've decided to finish with the unit that typically causes the most controversy, especially among Bears fans: the coaches. Considering at least half (and I think that's an underestimate) of the fanbase started the year off expecting and possibly even rooting for a losing season out of Lovie and Co. so that they'd get fired, this was a unit that had a long way to go to earn any measure of respect. Personally I've never understood the concept of rooting against your own team in hopes that they will then fire a coach in order to replace him with a coach "who will win." I mean, for one, this may be hard to accept, but your rooting interest has absolutely no effect whatsoever on the outcome of games. Secondly, if the guy that's already there wins, why do you need to replace him with a "winner"? Thirdly, if any of you sonsofbitches ever argued for Mr. Four Division Titles in 17 Years Jeff Fisher as future coach of the Chicago Bears, I will personally fight you. So anywho, onto the brains behind the Bears:

Dave Toub, Special Teams Coordinator
I'll admit it- I never saw the value of a special teams coordinator until Dave Toub came around to show us that there really is a big difference between an average unit and a very good one. Obviously Devin Hester's record-breaking talents have earned Dave his share of credit, but that would be shortchanging him considering how good the Bears have been at kicking, punting, returning, and covering. Hell, one of the best things I can say about Dave Toub is how I was so damned shocked that Dez Bryant returned a punt for a TD in week two against he Bears simply because I assumed it could never happen to them under his watch. That's still only the second return for a TD the Bears have allowed in Toubs seven years. I'll take it. Throw in the fact that the Bears lead the NFL by a wide margin in blocking kicks and punts (20 during Toub's tenure) and it's hard to argue that Toub isn't the best in the game at his job. Not surprisingly, the Bears lowballed Toub on a contract extension this offseason and he turned them down. If he has another year this year like he had in 2010 I wouldn't be shocked to see him as a candidate for a John Harbaugh-style leap all the way to a big job somewhere.

Mike Tice, Offensive Line Coach
I'm not going to cover the rest of the individual unit coaches (although I'll mention that Bob Babich sucks. F*&k you, Babich), but I figured Tice was worth mentioning. You'd think a guy who had the worst offensive line in the NFL by a wide margin would have received all kinds of shit this year. Instead, Tice received nothing but (deserved) accolades for managing to scrape together a patchwork that actually managed to hold together for most of the second half of the season. We all knew the Bears offensive line was dogshit going into the season, and yet Tice managed to find a way to move around Chris Williams, Lance Louis, Olin Kreutz, Edwin Williams, Roberto Garza, Kevin Shaffer, and Frank Omiyale to get to a line that went 7-2 after the bye week and allowed the offense to average over 24 PPG in the second half. Matt Forte had the highest yard per carry average of any back in the NFL in that second half, and they allowed 21 sacks in the 9 games after the bye vs. 31 in the first 7 games. None of those numbers are that stellar, but anyone who watched the change knows that Tice did the best he could with a line very, very thin on talent. Hopefully this damnable lockout ends soon and Tice can continue to mold Chris Williams into a guard and gear up Gabe Carimi for his future as a left tackle in the NFL. J'Marcus Webb still has a lot to learn and a lot of talent to work with, and Lance Louis played very well before he was pushed out of the starting lineup through no real fault of his own. Tice's unit should hopefully be the most improved next year.

Rod Marinelli, Defensive Coordinator
We were all pissed when the Bears failed in their search for a new DC and had to settle for promoting Marinelli. We'd heard all offseason the year before about how Marinelli was going to upgrade the Bears defensive line in 2009 and bring them back their 05-06 heyday. He actually did improve their overall numbers, but to nowhere near the extent we were promised and the backlash was pretty powerful. Rod's Lovie's best friend and yes man and everyone knew it, so it seemed like more of the same was in order for this year.

Well, it wasn't. The truth is that the Tampa Two that Lovie brought to Chicago was never broken, the personnel the Bears had to run it was. Marinelli had Julius Peppers and a healthy Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman to work with, along with Chris Harris and the breakout year of Danieal Manning. I'll still give Rod some credit, since his game plans were very stout and he never seemed to be too loyal to his base defense or even some of the zone blitzes that Lovie was fond of overusing last year. All in all, this wasn't the bad hire it seemed to be, and the fact remains that the Bears will have a good defense so long as they can keep the big three of Urlacher, Briggs, and Peppers healthy.

Mike Martz, Offensive Coordinator
Oh, Mike Martz. What a long, strange trip it's been. I love the art of offensive strategy in football. The Coryell offense that Martz runs is one of my favorite schemes of all time, if not my all time favorite. Granted, I'm more of a fan of the more balanced attack run that Dick Vermeil and Al Saunders ran in Kansas City, but the fact remains that, schematically, the deep passing of this offense makes it one of the more exciting and difficult to defend offenses in football. That's good, considering what Bears fans have had to deal with in the past with the monotonous Ron Turner, the sham that was Terry Shea's "Coryell" style attack, and the Run'N'Punt of John Shoop.

Of course, the problem is that we've only seen glimpses of the true Mike Martz offense. Cutler hasn't had the protection necessary for the kind of seven step drops and deep dig routes that were Martz's staple in St. Louis. Lord knows Martz tried, and the results were disastrous. You could see him chomping at the bit in the second half while he had to reign things in and play small ball, but he managed to do it well, and eventually things reached a point where he was able to dabble a bit with some of his old favorites, which led to some interesting explosions like the Eagles game, the 40-14 demolishing of the Vikings, and the wild comeback win over the Jets that showed what this offense can be if it can get consistent blocking up front.

I'd have to give Mike a B- for the year if I was giving out grades. On the one hand, he managed to right the ship and gameplan around some serious deficiencies up front in order to do just enough to win 11 games. On the other hand, a lot of his problems were self inflicted. He should have known better than to attempt seven step drops against the front of the New York Giants. He should never have ignored Matt Forte's ability to run the ball until it took a rumored closed door meeting during the bye week to get Matt some more carries. He attempted to run "his" offense against the Packers in week 17 and he missed the chance to knock the Packers out of the playoffs while exposing Cutler to an unnecessary beating and, most damning of all, he tried to run the same god damn offense out there in the NFC Championship Game. When Mike's "genius" was needed the most, he failed to adapt. Cutler should have been in the shotgun early and often in those games, Forte should have been given more than 15 carries, and you DO NOT CALL A REVERSE ON 3rd AND FUCKING THREE.

Sorry. Every now and then I remember that I hate Mike Martz as a person, and that sort of taints my view of him as a coach. I think Mike has earned his reputation in this league, both for good and bad. We saw plenty of both this year. It's easy to say that Mike's offense will do better next year with a better offensive front, but that still leaves the burden on him to remember to give Forte the rock, to protect Cutler at all costs, and to just plain be able to admit when something isn't working. I really hope he can do that.

Lovie Smith, Head Coach
The Lovie Smith experience for me is all about perspective. Last year I jumped on the Fire Lovie bandwagon late, as three years of frustration can have a deadly effect on a man. I think Lovie's an imperfect coach. He has some of the same flaws as his predecessor Jauron in that he can sometimes be too loyal to an assistant (Bob Babich, anyone?) and that he has a tendency to shut things down and pucker late in close games. He's also a bit of a dictator behind the scenes, considering he ran Ron Rivera out of town over a very minor difference in philosophy. His struggles with challenges are infamous, even though statistics say he's about average in that category. I'm also pretty sure that he'd draft seven safeties a year if it was entirely up to him. He's also, however, a pretty good football coach.

That's as controversial a statement as I can make, but the results tend to bear me out. Lovie's now 63-49 (.563%) as coach of the Bears with four winning seasons, three playoff appearances, and a conference championship in seven years. The Bears are a top ten team in this decade with regard to wins and playoff appearances. They're not where we want them to be with regards to championships and consistency, but there's still something to be said for Lovie's ability to turn around a franchise that went 75-101 (.426%) under his two predecessors.

We know what Lovie's faults are as far as on-field coaching goes. He can get too conservative on offense. He will live and die by the Tampa Two, even when you lose three of the four guys who made it so effective in Chicago in the first place (Mike Brown, Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, and Lance Briggs). He'll occasionally do some really, really stupid shit. But if he can get healthy players that fit his system, he wins ballgames. When Lovie has 16 games of Brian Urlacher, he's 51-29 with three playoff appearances in five years. I still don't blame him for 2004, since he wasn't the one that put Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel on the roster. 07-09 sucked, and Lovie bears his share of the blame, but again, the biggest problem in that time period was a roster based upon big contracts given to Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher, and Charles Tillman when those four all missed parts, most, or all of entire seasons with injuries. It sucked to watch a Superbowl contender disappear over night, but it's hard to blame Lovie for being as mystified as the rest of us when most of his best players simply weren't the same guys anymore.

I think this team is on the cusp of ending the ups and downs of the past few years and turning into a perennial contender. There's a great corps of young skill players on offense with Cutler, Forte, Knox, Olsen, Hester, and Bennett that are only going to get better if they can find five guys up front to allow them to go to work. The defense is aging but the performance it gave this year gives me hope that they'll stick around long enough to allow their replacements to start filtering in over the next couple of years. I think the simple truth is that the Chicago Bears are going to have the same head coach for a while, and for once it might not just be the result of ownership being too cheap to fire him.