9 Ways Chicago Bears Can Re-Tool After Firing Lovie Smith (and 1 To Avoid)
We can argue whether this was the right call or not—for what it's worth, I'm split—but it's the call they made, so now, we can look at the aftermath.
Clearly, changes will be made. This is a team with talent on both sides of the ball and is clearly not that far off. It's missing some things, though, and whoever takes over is bound to make some changes.
Some might be radical; some very small. But changes are coming.
As we wait for the hammers to drop, here are some ideas for changes the Bears could make to get better.
They won't all happen—not even close. Some of them I got from you guys on Twitter, and they intrigued me enough to throw them out here. Some are obvious; some are radical.
Let's have a look at the "what ifs," shall we?
Here are nine ways to re-tool the Bears (one for each Lovie Smith year) and one they absolutely should avoid.
Fix the Damned Offensive Line
I've been complaining about the offensive line for months. It seemed to get better at various times through the year, but it never gave Jay Cutler nearly enough time to get the ball off on a regular basis.
Cutler may be a separate issue, but the line is the primary problem—and it has been for years.
Blow it up. There is very little talent there that is irreplaceable. Lance Louis played well before injury, but he isn't a tremendous talent. Roberto Garza isn't a good center; he's serviceable at best. I'd be tempted to hang onto Gabe Carimi and J'Marcus Webb because both are still young and developing, but neither has shown so much they can't be removed.
The problem as I see it is there are a lot of average to below-average players. An offensive line can have average players if they also possess above-average players (Pro Bowlers are nice, but not necessary) who can help support the merely average players.
This is not an easy process, and that's a problem for a new head coach and staff. There aren't a lot of great left tackles floating around free agency each year, and there is a good chance that even if the Bears hit on a top draft pick, it's going to take time to develop.
It's the single most critical change they have to make, and yet it's the one which could take longest.
But it needs to happen, and has for a long time.
Next Firing: Mike Tice
Mike Tice promised an improved offensive line, a "Devin Hester Package," a more prolific offense and more creative play-calling.
Swing and a miss.
I haven't been a fan of his all season long, so I'll go right ahead and admit bias. Maybe Lovie Smith was holding him back, but frankly, he has himself to blame even if that's the case.
The play-calling was uneven and messy. It kept the offense from getting into rhythm, and while it did an excellent job getting the ball to Brandon Marshall, I give credit for that to Cutler as well as the fact that a trained monkey could figure out to do that.
Tice completely misused Matt Forte, had no idea what to do with the tight ends (even if they weren't all that good) and sold everyone on a solution for the offensive line which fell directly on its face.
On top of all that, if you're going to bring in a new head coach, you might as well let him hire his guy for offensive coordinator.
The defense isn't a problem. The offense is. It has been for years.
More on that point next.
Hire an Offensive-Minded Head Coach
The Bears have had a defensive-minded coach for nine years. It worked phenomenally—for the defense.
Meanwhile, the offense languished most years no matter who it added and what new "wrinkle" it tried.
Give the offense some love this time out, OK?
For this to work, the Bears need to make sure they keep the continuity on the defensive side. Try to keep the staff intact, along with as many veterans as possible. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and overall, the defense is solid.
The offense needs some fresh eyes, though, and it starts with the head coach.
Of course, you can't just shove a good offensive coordinator into the head coaching slot and call it a day. The hire has to be a solid one—a guy who can manage both sides of the ball, even if his strength is offense. Someone who knows what he wants and how to manage people to get it.
He has to spend some extra time getting this offense right, but he can't just focus on that. He has to be able to work with the defense as well.
But for goodness sake, someone who can manage Matt Forte in a way that makes sense will help build an offense which takes advantage of what Cutler has to offer and find a way to keep him from getting killed.
I'm intrigued by Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who did a great job managing quarterbacks as different as Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning, as well as cobbling together a solid offensive line. He also had success helping turn Willis McGahee's career around and finally got something out of perennial bust Knowshon Moreno.
McCoy is due a head coaching opportunity. If Chicago gave him the keys, he could be an excellent direction to go in.
Get Some Better Tight Ends
I had high hopes for Kellen Davis in this offense, but it never happened. Part of that was on Mike Tice (see Slide 2), but more of it is on Davis.
He's just not that good. Matt Spaeth isn't exactly Tony Gonzalez, either.
When you look at some of the successful teams in the league, you see some great tight ends. The Patriots have Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski; the Texans have Owen Daniels; the Falcons have the aforementioned Gonzalez.
You need other pieces to take advantage of those players to the fullest, but in a league where tight ends have become a huge factor, the Bears are lacking.
Athletic tight ends are hard to come by, though the Bears can likely find someone in the draft. However, they might want to take a look at Dustin Keller, who will be a free agent now that the Jets have run their season into the ground.
He didn't have a great 2012 due to injury and a bad case of Mark Sanchez, but Keller has been terribly underutilized by the Jets for years and can be a very dynamic player.
Is he an elite player in the making? Probably not, but he could be a huge weapon for Cutler and add a dimension that this offense has lacked for a long time.
There are other ways to go, but the point remains the same: The league uses athletic tight ends. Chicago doesn't have one, so it should go get one.
Reader/Twitter Contribution: Get Rid of Jay Cutler
OK, so hang onto your Bears caps for a minute and stay with me.
This one comes from you guys on Twitter, and at first, I scoffed, but the more I think about it, the more it's a good question.
Is Cutler the guy to take this team to the promised land?
I've become a much bigger supporter of Cutler throughout the season, so it's not an idea I thought of when Smith's firing was announced.
What was pointed out to me was that while Cutler does indeed have a poor offensive line, so does Aaron Rodgers, who manages to do far more than the Bears quarterback.
Cutler is good, but he's prone to some very bad decisions at times and very clearly gets rattled and falls apart. He doesn't often rise to the occasion the way Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning so often do.
If you're going whole hog on rebuilding the team, one of the places to start is the quarterback position.
Now, for the opposite side of the argument.
First of all, it's all well and good to strive for Rodgers/Brady, but the reality is that those guys are few and far between.
You won't win Super Bowls with a schlub at quarterback; we know that. However, you don't need one of the top three quarterbacks in the league either. Eli Manning outdueled Tom Brady twice. Ben Roethlisberger won twice. Hell, Tampa Bay won with Brad Johnson at the helm.
Cutler is more than good enough to play for a championship in my opinion, and half of his issues come from a poor offensive line and lack of weapons.
He finally has some weapons in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett, as well as a good running game in Matt Forte.
Give him an offensive line he can rely on, and you may see improvement everywhere. He's not Aaron Rodgers, but he's a very good option.
The second issue with dumping Cutler is this: Who are you getting to replace him? Do you try and trade for unproven Matt Flynn? Try and pry Kirk Cousins from Washington? Take a shot on a guy like Matt Moore?
You aren't drafting a better quarterback this year; that's for sure.
So who do you replace Cutler with?
Ultimately, I could see the Bears going a different direction and starting over. However, with the right coach, I believe Cutler can take the Bears to the Super Bowl and win it.
It's not a change I would make, but it certainly would shake things up for Chicago.
Get Young at Linebacker
It's safe to wonder how much longer Brian Urlacher will be with the team. He's old and beat up, and his play has slowly deteriorated.
In fact, the entire linebacker corps is beginning to age, and the replacements in Nick Roach, Geno Hayes, Blake Costanzo and Dom DeCicco aren't going to step into Urlacher and Lance Briggs' shoes as effectively as you'd like.
It's not a disaster by any means, but it should be a growing concern.
This defense generates turnovers in part because of the tremendous pressure up front. Now, the adjustments Urlacher makes every game aren't something every middle linebacker does as well as he does. That said, finding a new stud interior linebacker who can handle that is critical.
A pass-rusher off the edge to eventually replace Briggs is also vital to the continued dominance of this defense. Even if Briggs can play for three or four more seasons (which is stretching it), having a second player on the other side can only be good.
While Julius Peppers is getting old at defensive end, the Bears did an excellent job getting Shea McClellin as an eventual replacement.
They need to start that process at linebacker as well.
Get Back To Using Matt Forte in the Pass Game
While Matt Forte carried the ball for the third-highest total of carries in his career (the highest since his second season as a starter in 2009), he saw a career low in targets and catches.
It's a huge waste of a talented back.
What's really baffling is that this happened in a year where the receivers were wracked with injury and the healthy ones (aside from Brandon Marshall) were often ineffective.
Yet the Bears didn't think to target Forte more?
A lot of this falls in Mike Tice's lap, though Lovie Smith certainly gets a share of the blame. While Forte was banged up at times, he was still there to be used.
Tice/Smith really botched the running backs this year (more on that in a minute), and whoever comes in next has to see how much more Forte can do for this team and how big a help he'd be for Cutler, especially as the offensive line is rebuilt.
Forte could line up as a receiver, can catch out of the backfield—heck, you don't have any dynamic tight ends, so line him up as a tight end.
He could be doing much more in the passing game, and it's nuts that he didn't.
Figure out the Backfield
While Michael Bush was brought in largely to take away bargaining position from Matt Forte's contract talks, he also was supposed to be a huge factor in the backfield.
Not so much, huh?
Sure, he was hurt a bunch and ended up on injured reserve, but even that was handled oddly. One minute, he's a game-time decision; the next, he's done for the season.
This backfield should have been a hugely productive aspect of the offense, and it was really a dud. Once again, Forte got the majority of the work, even when Bush was healthy.
Bush is making a lot of cash, so the choices are either cut him or find a way to use him and Forte together, like you promised last August.
As I said a minute ago, Forte should be used more in the pass game. You could ultimately have both players in the backfield at the same time or line Forte up as a receiver and Bush in the backfield.
The choices are really endless, but the point is this: The backfield was woefully mismanaged this season, and the team needs to figure out how to manage two very good, potentially dangerous running backs.
It shouldn't be that hard, but this year, it seemed to be too much for them.
Chalk this up as another issue I have with Mike Tice.
End the Hester Experiment
Devin Hester was so upset at the dismissal of Lovie Smith that he might retire. I've already given my opinion on this, but ultimately, this just needs to stop.
Hester is never going to be a decent wide receiver. He may still be a decent kick and punt returner, but he will never become a reliable weapon for the offense. All he does is take up space that should be used by another player.
There were a few moments where we thought that he was finally showing progress, but he very quickly regressed again.
It's time to finish this experiment, and with the departure of Lovie Smith, there has never been a better moment.
Whether Hester retires or not, he is not worth having as a wide receiver. He can return kicks, he can return punts—there is no reason to have him as a wide receiver, weighing down an already streaky offense and a new head coach.
And One Thing They Shouldn't Do: Change the Defensive Scheme
The inclination of a new coach is to get his guys in to coach the way he wants things to be. To put his footprint on the team in such a way as to make it truly "his."
Whoever comes to the Bears needs to shelve that impulse.
This is a team which contends as it is, mostly because of the fantastic play of the defensive squad. Changing it would be change for the sake of change, and that's never a good idea.
It's better if the new head coach and team leave the defense the way it is, keep the schemes and play virtually the same and concentrate on improving the offensive side so that it plays on par with the defense.
There's no reason to do all that much on the defensive side of the ball, and in fact, tinkering much will just make things worse and set the franchise back.
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