2009 Chicago Bears: What Went Wrong...and How To Fix It
There's five weeks of football still to play, yet the Bears are already finished. After suffering four losses in a row (on top of going 1-6 in the last seven weeks), the Chicago Bears can officially begin their off-season.
But what do they fix?
First, you must figure out what went wrong. Then work from there.
Here's some suggestions for the Chicago Bears...
Problem #1: The Offensive Line
In the long list of "what's wrongs", we'll start here.
The integral part of a well-fueled offense is its offensive line. No protection = no time to throw a football. No blocking = no running lanes for running backs. And quite simply: The Bears O-line failed in every department.
They've allowed Cutler to get sacked 24 times (15th in the NFL), allowed Forte to only rush for 543 yards (worst by a starting running back in the NFL), and they've allowed Cutler to get hit 58 times (12th most in the NFL).
If you sit back and watch game film, you'd realize that they're opening up no running lanes for Forte to break free, and speeding up Cutler's mental clock every time he snaps the ball. Typically, a quarterback has five seconds to get rid of the ball after he snaps it before a defensive linemen is there to smack him in the mouth, or disrupt a pass.
Cutler is working with three seconds on most of his passing plays. Because of this, the receivers aren't getting enough time to come free, and Jay is forcing bad throws simply to avoid sacks and hits.
Orlando Pace has been a complete bust as a Chicagoan, and Olin Kreutz seems to be losing his touch. Chris Williams, in his first full season, can't seem to match-up against such guys as Jared Allen all season.
How to Fix It: The Offensive Line
Well, the short-term solution is to change-up the game plan. Get Cutler to roll out of the pocket more, which gives him more time to find the open receiver. And historically, Cutler performs best when throwing out-of-the-pocket.
Granted that won't always work, but when you're season is already over it's worth a try.
Besides, we're speaking long-term here.
First: Get rid of Orlando Pace.
His false start on 4th and 1 in Atlanta cost us a win. Most of his errors have caused Cutler to get hit and sacked so many times. It's time to cut ties with the 12-year veteran. Get to work on Chris Williams and make him that Pro Bowl left tackle you anticipated he'd be when you drafted him. Also, either trade or draft another tackle as insurance.
Second: Begin shopping for Olin Kreutz's replacement.
Now, I'm not saying he needs to leave Chicago immediately, but he should at least be on his way out. Yes, Kreutz is a perennial Pro Bowler. Yes, Kreutz is the anchor to the offensive line. But I think it's time to start finding a replacement.
From looking at game film, it seems to me that he's a big reason why the running game has sputtered this season. It's hard for him to create lanes like he used to, and it seems that he's slower to get off the ball. He's not as fast as he used to be when transitioning from the snap to the block.
I say it's time to bring in a new center immediately so they can learn from Kreutz, then slowly bring the new center into the game plan as we prepare for Kreutz's departure.
Third: Re-vamp the entire right side of the line.
Don't care how you do it, but do it. Keep Roberto Garza, but get rid of Frank Omiyale and Josh Beekman. Find replacements somehow, and get on it FAST.
Problem #2: The Defensive Line
Exactly like the offensive line, the defensive line is the anchor of the defense. And this season, the Bears have been terrible in that department.
They've gotten 22 sacks this season (21st in the NFL), allowed 339.8 yards per game (18th in the NFL), and forced 18 fumbles (10th in the NFL).
By hiring Rod Marinelli, we were supposed to "become a more fierce pass-rush squad." Boy has that failed. And we can't say we don't have enough talent because with guys like Brown, Anderson, Ogunleye, and Harris, we're pretty well off. But we're not creating enough disruption when it comes to pass-rush and run-stoppage.
How to Fix It: The Defensive Line
The simple solution is to bring in new talent. GM Jerry Angelo made an interesting move earlier in the year when he brought in Gaines Adams, but he's been a complete non-factor. How about trying to pick up a defensive lineman in free agency?
Or how about entertaining the idea of trading Urlacher for a 4-or-5-star caliber defensive lineman?
I'm sure there are some teams out there that would love to entertain the idea of having Urlacher for two or three seasons.
However, the only way I see a drastic change is if there's a drastic change in coaching.
I like Marinelli as the defensive line coach, but someone (other than Lovie Smith or Bob Babich) needs to run the defense. No questions asked.
Problem #3: The Defensive Secondary
"Mr. Angelo, explain to me again why you traded Mike Brown?"
I'm sure he'd tell you that Brown was injury prone, which he was.
But this season, Brown has started all 12 games in Kansas City, has two interceptions, 62 tackles, and two sacks. That's more than what any one of our secondary players has.
Nathan Vasher is a shell of what he used to be. Al Alfalava has been hurt, but Charles Tillman continues to play like a beast (despite nagging injuries). However, they've been blowing coverages left-and-right, and never seem to be in the right place at the right time.
How to Fix It: The Defensive Secondary
This one falls on two things: Injury (which can't be controlled) and coaching.
I'll get to this in more detail later, but how can you have a team who has a defensive coordinator, that's not actually the team's defensive coordinator? They're not being coached properly whatsoever. They're missing assignments, blowing coverages, and are simply being out-played.
It seems to me that they're just completely unprepared for every team they've played this season.
Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, and, heck, even Matthew Stafford have exposed some major problems with our secondary throwing multi-touchdown passing games.
It's time we bring in a REAL defensive coordinator.
Problem #4: Injuries at the Linebacking Core
You can't control injuries, yes. But you can control who to start at linebacker according to how injury prone they are.
Throughout the season: Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Pisa Tinoisamoa, and Hunter Hillenmeyer have all gone down with injuries at some point. This has caused complete chaos and confusing at the linebacker position, as the defense has had to adjust to a different player's playing style nearly every week.
How to Fix It: Injuries at the Linebacking Core
I love Brian Urlacher. He's actually the only Bears player where I own one of his jerseys in White, Blue, and Orange. But I think it's just about time we say good bye to old number 54.
As I said in a previous slide, Urlacher still has some fairly high trade value where we can get someone (or some good draft picks) in return. Which could be a great asset when you don't have a 1st or 2nd round pick this year.
First: Aside from injuries to his back, wrist, hamstring, and whatever else since the 2006 season, Urlacher's numbers have been drastically declining as well. Trading Brian would allow for Briggs (who is a better linebacker if you ask me) to switch to middle linebacker, and Tinoisamoa could take Brigg's spot as outside linebacker. You could then bring in another linebacker (perhaps a free agent veteran or a hot-commodity rookie) to fill in the other outside linebacker gap.
I would be devastated to see him go, but if done wisely, trading Urlacher could actually be of more help than harm to the Bears.
Problem #5: Inexperience at the Wide Receiver Position
Jonny Knox? Who?
C'mon, I wasn't the only one scratching my head when Angelo announced Knox as one of our late-round draft picks. I was more excited about drafting Juaquin Iglesias. But boy did I change my mind quickly.
Aside from David Terrell, I can't remember a rookie wide receiver that was this explosive. (Granted Terrell turned out to be a bust). But even with the explosiveness of Knox and sometimes Hester, they've had their share of problems.
Missing routes, falling down, not catching balls, etc. have all been problems for the rookie Knox, and the third-year wideout Hester.
In fact, they're to blame for a small majority of Cutler's interceptions this season. But how do we fix their little problems to make them more of the explosive receivers we need?
How to Fix It: Inexperience at the Wide Receiver Position
This one is simple: Just work with them.
Hester is slowly working his way up to being a good wide receiver. He's shown drastic improvement year after year as being a dependable receiver. With work, both Knox and Hester will hit their stride and become dangerous targets for Cutler in the future.
They're young, and need to be taught. But who will teach them?
Problem #6: The Defensive Coordinator (or Lack Thereof)
Following the end of last season, Lovie Smith announced that he will be taking over the defensive play-calling to "get a more hands-on approach to helping our defense to get back to where they were."
Well, what happens to Bob Babich?
I'm not even sure what he's doing here, especially after the Bears hired Rod Marinelli who could easily do a fine job as a defensive coordinator. All I've noticed poor Babich do all season is pace around the sidelines, yelling at people, making it look like he's actually doing something.
Now, it's not even Bob's fault. He was brought in as the replacement to Ron Rivera (who was an incredible defensive coordinator), and took the Bears defense to 16-16 since taking over the coordinating position. So, why was it necessary for Lovie to be the play-caller? Oh yeah, that's right. Because Babich was Lovie's scapegoat for missing the playoffs last season after watching Andre Johnson catch all over the Bears' defense in the last game...which just happened to be the game that determined if the Bears made or missed the playoffs.
He's even expressed that Lovie will not differ from his highly-flawed Tampa-2 defensive scheme into Babich's more rudimentary 4-3 "pressure" scheme.
How to Fix It: The Defensive Coordinator (or Lack Thereof)
You have three options:
1. Give Bob Babich his play-calling duties back.
2. Fire Bob Babich and make Rod Marinelli the defensive coordinator.
3. Fire Bob Babich. Hire a new defensive coordinator, and make him the play-caller.
It's that simple. Lovie Smith cannot be both the Head Coach, and the defensive play-caller...it doesn't work. If he won three Super Bowls doing that, I'd go much easier on Lovie, but not when his team is getting worse and worse since their Super Bowl season.
Plus, we had a fantastic defensive coordinator in Ron Rivera, but he was ridden out of town by Lovie, only to be replaced by "a great friend of mine" Bob Babich. I'm sorry Lovie, but if you are replacing a coordinator who's skill level is about a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10, and replace him with a guy who's skill level is about a 2 or 3...it's not going to work. I don't care if it's Ronald McDonald playing the defensive coordinator...if he doesn't work...get rid of him. If he works...settle your differences, get over it, and win some Super Bowls.
Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan hated one another. But they stuck it out for one more season and won Super Bowl XX. Granted, they split up the next season and neither of them ever won another Super Bowl (HINT HINT!), but nobody can deny how great they were together.
Problem #7: The Offensive Coordinator
If anyone should have been fired after the Super Bowl season, it should have been Ron Turner. Not Ron Rivera.
His play-calling ability is absolutely atrocious. (Calling a Jet Sweep on 3rd and long!? Are you kidding me!?) That offensive line is getting worse, Hester (though showing improvement) is taking forever to become a wide receiver, Cutler is looking horrible in your offensive scheme, and Matt Forte can't run to save his life.
But this didn't just start now. Let's go back even to the "magical" 2006 season. They had literally three plays in the offensive play-book.
Play 1: Run Thomas Jones off-tackle or up-the-gut, and watch him go.
Play 2: Play-action pass to Desmond Clark.
Play 3: Hail-Mary (not out of the shotgun I might add) and watch Bernard Berrian or Muhsin Muhammad go up and get it.
We lost most of our games (and the Super Bowl) because teams figured out how to eventually stop Thomas Jones, and force Rex Grossman to throw bad balls.
And now, teams have figured out how to beat Cutler...pressure him.
It's time for a change at offensive coordinator, no questions asked.
How to Fix It: The Offensive Coordinator
Hire someone else. But who?
Mike Martz is a decent suggestion. He took the Rams to a Super Bowl, and helped create "The Greatest Show on Turf." Plus, he's worked with Lovie Smith before and has said he'd be glad to work with him again (although we don't even know for sure if Lovie will even be here after this year).
Another suggestion is Charlie Weis. Now, we all know this guy wants to be an NFL head coach. But I for one don't think it's going to happen. Weis was a superb offensive coordinator with the Patriots, and will likely assume the same offensive coordinator role with an NFL squad. Perhaps the Bears? Who knows. But I wouldn't mind him as my coordinator...just not as my Head Coach.
Here's another name no-one has been throwing around in a long time: Marty Schottenheimer. I think he'd make an excellent offensive coordinator, and the Bears could really use his play-calling and offensive genius. But would he be willing to both A) come back to the NFL and B) settle for just a coordinating position? Maybe. Again, we'll see.
Nonetheless, Ron Turner must go. Sorry buddy.
Problem #8: Jerry Angelo
Let me make something very clear: Jerry Angelo will not be fired at the end of the season. So there is no "fixing" going on here.
Now that we've got that understanding, allow me to explain why he's a major problem.
First and foremost: He's a horrible early-round drafter. Sure, he's produced some fantastic gems in late rounds (Devin Hester, Matt Forte, Jonny Knox to name a few). But it's the Dusty Dvoracek's, the Michael Hayne's, the Mark Colombo's that have hurt him.
Second: He overpays and underpays players. Brian Urlacher was once the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, without ever winning a playoff game or playing more than three seasons in the NFL. In the mean time, he low-balls players such as Bernard Berrian allowing them to go to other teams.
Third: He gave up too much for Cutler. Why was it really necessary to give up Orton for Cutler? Orton is a great BACKUP quarterback. Now, god forbid Cutler goes down, we have to depend on Caleb Hanie. Great.
Fourth: He makes brainless pickups. Trading for Gaines Adams, just so he can take up space on the bench? Letting go of Tank Johnson for no reason? Letting Thomas Jones go? Signing Adam Archuleta and Cato June? C'Mon Angelo, get some REAL signings going here, and get this team back to dominance.
Problem #9: Lovie Smith
It's time we let Lovie go. He's just not getting the same amount out of his players as he used to. His record is falling, and at this time, there's just too many other great coaches available.
Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden (both Super Bowl winners) have both expressed interest in joining the Bears as Head Coach.
It's exactly what the Bears need right now, a kick in the pants. Lovie's coaching style has always been very stoic, very calm, in a sort of father-like demeanor. Both Gruden and Cowher would "whip these boys into shape" and get them playing mean, Chicago-style football.
At this point, Lovie still has two years left on his $22-million contact, so it seems the Bears' owners won't let him go, because they would have to buy out his contract. But please, PLEASE, if you decide to stick with Lovie, at least make some drastic changes.