Let's cut to the chase...Why are the Bears where they are? Is it lack of talent, inability to develop existing talent, inadequate leadership, or an inability to find talent? Let's do a little CSI-type forensics on the 2008 Chicago Bears.
I'd like to make a case for simplicity. When everything goes wrong and we look for reasons or fall guys, it's easy to get lost in the minutia. Why don't we try and prioritize the issues that faced the Bears prior to training camp in 2008?
The most publicized issue in training camp was not the quarterback, but the lack of talent on the field to catch the ball. If you watched the season as it developed, you know that no wide receiver made a significant impact. This was predictable before the first snap of the regular season.
OK, Devin Hester made strides as a wideout, but seriously, wouldn't the Bears have fared better had Hester been the return Messiah he'd been in '06 and '07 instead of the OK receiver who had no one to divert attention from him?
The next issue entering training camp was at running back. The Bears jettisoned a troublesome Cedric Benson after jettisoning a much better Thomas Jones and were counting on a rookie from the great ground-game factory, Tulane. Who felt comfortable about that in August?
We thought Jerry Angelo did address another major issue with our aging offensive line when he drafted a left tackle out of Vanderbilt. Who would have thought he'd be a non-factor prior to game one?
All these issues were printed or discussed ad nauseam on sports talk radio and frankly there was quite a bit of hand wringing going on prior to the opener. Now we see a number of scribes reminding us that our expectations weren't that high prior to game one...So don't worry, be happy? No way.
In retrospect, why aren't the Bears playing this weekend? In two words...the defense. Who saw it coming? I wrote a previous article about the demise of Brian Urlacher, but I will not insult your intelligence and tell you Urlacher is the reason the Bears scattered cross country to go play golf in warm locations.
What did the Bears in this year was simply the inability to pressure the opposing QB. Lovie Smith's Tampa-Two success is predicated on turnovers. He prevents the big play and accepts the check down and then expects his defenders to strip the ball.
Unfortunately, when NFL quarterbacks can settle in the pocket and step into their throws, the underneath routes that Lovie accepts become the over the top routes that chew up yardage and score points. We saw it all year and frankly that's why we are alone with our thoughts this weekend.
So what to do? A solid leader once told me you can't just point out problems without providing solutions. If I were Jerry Angelo, my first priority would be to find a difference maker on the defensive line.
Tommy Harris was supposed to be that guy, but he's damaged goods and unfortunately for the Bears, he looks to be a less-respected Mike Brown in a bigger uniform.
It's not only about the players though. Bob Babich had his chance and we've seen the results. Put Babich in the same lineup as Toub and Turner, and he looks like the dumb guy in the smart row. Lovie Smith said we have to trust him. We did. Now we can't.
When and only when the coaching and D-line issues are solved should Angelo begin to upgrade his receivers. One of the issues haunting the Bears is their inability to recognize talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Is Earl Bennett a talent or not? Mike Haas? We all know Anquan Boldin is. Is Boldin a legitimate possibility?
A couple of days ago, in his postseason press conference, Jerry Angelo alluded that the QB position is a top priority and is still unsettled.
Jerry Angelo is haunted by his reputation as a solid evaluator of defensive talent and a weak evaluator of the offense. He is clouded by his need to find and develop the QB that has eluded him his entire career.
Unfortunately for the Bears, his exorcising his personal demons won't exorcise the Bears' demons in 2009. Stick with what you know Jerry. It's what is needed.