Monday, October 31, 2011

The Bears at the Bye, Part III- The Coaches

We reach the final part of my (naturally) wordy and exhaustive breakdown of the state of the Chicago Bears during their bye week. I conclude now with the coaching staff:

Dave Toub, Special Teams Coordinator:
Is there anything negative to say about Dave? I keep thinking a John Harbaugh-esque leap from ST coordinator to head coach is possible for him. You have to give Hester a lot of credit as the greatest returner of all time, but it's still a testament to Dave's excellence that the return unit has been dangerous over the years whether Hester, Knox, Rashied Davis, Earl Bennett, or Danieal Manning has been the returner. The Knox TD in the Packer game that was nullified by the weakest holding call I've ever seen in my life was, to paraphrase Aaron Rodgers, one of the most amazing plays I've ever seen. It's too bad he'll have to keep that one in his back pocket for awhile. Not much else to say, here, other than I'm glad Dave is still a Bear.

Rod Marinelli, Defensive Coordinator:
I really don't know how important Rod Marinelli is. His specialty, the defensive line, has been awesome in four games and non-existent in three. You can probably figure out which ones I mean. As for his playcalling as a coordinator? Does it matter? You know what the Bears are going to do on defense. It's a common retort when fans rail against coaches that the most important thing is the execution by the players on the field. Sometimes that too easy of an answer, but in the case of Lovie and Rod and the defense they run it's especially accurate.

If you look at the difference between this year's defense and last year's, the big plays they've surrendered, none of the problems have come from poor playcalling. Major Wright just wasn't where he was supposed to be in New Orleans. Brandon Meriweather's never been where he was supposed to be, and Chris Harris' obviously got a reprimand for his poor discipline. The last two games have been especially promising in that the shoddy run defense has improved. That's step one. If that trend continues, we'll look back at Rod as a good defensive coordinator at the end of the year. If not? None of us will be that upset to say goodbye to him, since, again, no one really knows how important he is anyway.

Mike Martz, Offensive Coordinator:
Give Mike Martz his due: he knows how to get the most out of me, whether positive or negative. My vacillation between the depths of despair and guarded optimism regarding his hiring two years ago resulted in some of the most hilarious number-crunching in the history of this site, as I somehow managed to prove that Mike Martz was the single worst possible thing for Jay Cutler while also possibly the key to Jay's improvement. I give him credit for improving Jay Cutler's footwork and his mechanics. Jay's unfortunately had to rush some throws this year thanks to the shoddy protection, but I feel at this point that his worst days are behind him. If the team around him melts down we'll probably still see plenty of errant throws like we saw against New Orleans and Green Bay, but I think the days of streaking passes to guys like DeAngelo Hall are long gone. True to his reputation, he's probably made Jay Cutler a better player.

However, there's another side of the coin. It's a good thing that Mike has helped Jay improve his mechanics and pocket presence, because he's needed it while dodging the free blitzers that Martz's scheme doesn't even dream of accounting for. His decision to ignore Matt Forte in back to back games against New Orleans and Green Bay put the team in a hole that they're still trying to crawl out of. I think at this point Forte's done well enough that even Mike can't deny that the offense needs to go through him. What we've seen the last two games are gameplans indicating a changed individual. We've seen 25+ rushing attempts, 6, 7, and even 8 man protections, play action passes, bootlegs, and back shoulder throws. It's been nice, and it's allowed the two most important players, Forte and Cutler, to do what they do best.

The question, however, is what this means for Mike Martz's future. If even Mike Martz himself has given up on running "The Mike Martz Offense" with capital Ms, is he worth keeping around to run "the mike martz offense"? Can't someone who specializes in this West Coast-style offense be brought in who actually Wants to run it, not a guy who has been browbeaten into what I'm sure he considers a bastardization of his offense? I don't mean to make too much of the overblown Cutler footage. I honestly think Jay just wanted to take a shot at the end zone and was disappointed that the ball was taken out of his hands, but I think it's obvious that something there isn't clicking. It doesn't mean Cutler lacks leadership, as Pompei or Telander or one of the other braindead columnists opined after the incident, and it doesn't mean that he even necessarily dislikes Mike Martz or doesn't buy in. It just seems to be a case where you don't have the guy who can maximize the talent of a valuable asset. Why not move on?

Lovie Smith, Head Coach
Lovie's a tragically misunderstood figure. He's often depicted as a boring, listless dunce who coddles his players. So far this year he's been anything but boring. He hasn't hesitated to shake up the lineup on offense and defense when things aren't working well. Remember that he gave Chris Harris his walking papers the next time someone tries to tell you that Lovie never cuts one of "his guys." He's also made the usual number of batshit crazy 4th down calls and poor challenges. Make of that what you will, but the job of a head coach really doesn't boil down to what they actually do on the sidelines. Yeah, his 4th down decisions and the challenges are terrible, but he's actually not that far from league average on any of them and they very rarely end up having that much of an effect on the outcome of the game. I don't judge Lovie on those.

When I judge Lovie, I look at his record, and I look at what he gets from the players he has. I think he's a much better coach than he's given credit for. I personally haven't forgotten what a mess this franchise was before he got here and how quickly he turned it around. His players play hard for him, and I think he's generally coaxed more out of his teams than he should be able to. That 2005 Bears team had a quarterback in Kyle Orton who posted one of (there is no hyperbole in this statement, this is scientific fact) the worst passing seasons in modern NFL history. They won 11 games. I still don't blame him for the 2007 Bears. The combination of the fall of Rex Grossman, the major injuries to Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher, Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher, and Mike Brown wiped out the talented core of that team's defense, and some of them never recovered. I actually think Lovie did a hell of a job getting nine wins out of a 2008 team that, frankly, wasn't that talented, and that hurt him in the long run because we all (me included) then thought that the 2009 Bears were a hell of a lot closer to contending than they actually were. He's always been a stabilizing influence and his ability to ride out a rough first half really looked smart when things came together in the second half last year. He was a touchdown away from a second Superbowl appearance for a franchise that made 2 Playoff appearances in the 12 years before he arrived. Why that always seems to be forgotten, I don't know.

All that said, if Lovie can't get this crew into the playoffs this year, he needs to go. Not in a "it's all his fault" way, but in a "it's just time to go" way. There's a time limit on these things, or else you end up in a Jeff Fisher situation, where the Titans first window (1999-2003) closed and you spend forever trying to open a new one and it gets harder and harder each year. If Lovie finds a way to win now, and they can keep rebuild while sustaining playoff appearances, great. If he fails? You're not going to be able to rebuild with him in the middle of all of the anger and rage of the fanbase and the organization. We're all worried about how Lovie's going to deal with losing bulwarks like Briggs and Urlacher down the road. If he can't win it's best to let someone without those attachments or those memories make the tough calls. That doesn't mean I won't appreciate what he did, though.

That wraps it up. It's hard to get a gauge on this team. By all accounts (the 2 game win streak, the improvement on both sides of the ball, the return of guys like Bennett and Carimi, the bye week rest) this team's arrow is pointing up, but I have a hard time recovering the enthusiasm I had before the deflating games against the Saints, Packers, and Lions. I look at the remaining schedule and can still forecast anywhere from 9-12 wins for this team, but it's shaky ground I stand on making that prediction. Oh, fuck it. They're going to make the playoffs. Go Bears.