Chicago Bears: 5 Reasons the Disastrous Season Is Still Lovie Smith's Fault
If Smith still led the team (then 7-3) to the playoffs and beyond, he would surely be lauded as coaching genius.
And if the team failed to miss the playoffs, surely he couldn't be blamed for it since he was without his starting QB and RB.
For Smith, it's a win-win situation.
Indeed, the Bears proceeded to spiral into a five-game losing streak, and finding someone who blames Smith is harder than finding diversity at Abercrombie & Fitch.
The many Lovie critics are quiet. Except for this one.
If you look more closely, the blood for the Bears' disastrous season still is primarily on Smith's hands.
Let's see the ways in which Smith ruined another Bears season.
1. Sticking with Caleb Hanie Too Long
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Many Bears fans got giddy over quarterback Caleb Hanie's 2010 NFC Championship Game performance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and thought he could be a quality backup QB for the team.
There was even conjecture about his worthiness over Jay Cutler.
But I wasn't buying it.
While Hanie had some measure of success in that NFC Championship Game, he played mostly against a prevent defense and still threw two picks, including one that was returned for a TD.
This year, when Cutler went down again with a second straight season-ending injury, Hanie stepped in and stunk up the field.
In his first game, he hit only half of his passes (18-for-36) with two TDs and three interceptions (a 56.9 rating) in a 25-20 loss to Oakland. He didn't even know how to spike the ball.
And it got worse from there.
Zero TDs and three picks (23.8 rating) in his next game against Kansas City.
Lovie Smith should have pulled the plug on Hanie after this horrific performance. The Bears were now in a two-game losing streak, dropped to 7-5, and (thanks to losses by other wild-card contenders) were barely clinging to the fifth playoff seed in the NFC. The Bears could not afford more losses.
But Smith kept the faith in Hanie.
The result? Another game with zero TDs (although zero picks this time) and only 115 yards and 79.9 rating in the following game, a loss to Denver. Marion Barber's errors (one mental, one fumble) diverted all the attention away from yet another dud QB performance. This third loss in a row now dropped the Bears out of the NFC Wild Card spots by one game.
In a legit must-win game, Smith started Hanie yet again, against Seattle. Hanie threw one TD and three more picks (33.3 rating) in a mind-numbing 38-14 loss. The Bears were all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Smith finally benched Hanie for the Packers game, but it was too late.
2. Injuries Are No Excuse
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Injuries are no excuse for the team's slide into oblivion after a 7-3 start, even if the injuries are to key players like starting quarterback and starting running back.
The Houston Texans were without RB Arian Foster to start the season, lost WR Andre Johnson in Week 4, and lost starting QB Matt Schaub since Week 10.
They already clinched their division.
With third-stringer T.J. Yates at QB. And Bears-like WRs.
The Oakland Raiders saw starting QB Jason Campbell break his collarbone in Week 6, then lost starting RB Darren McFadden the following week. (And before you mock Campbell, know that his 2011 rating was about the same as Jay Cutler's.)
The Raiders are still in the wild-card race. With former retiree Carson Palmer at QB.
Teams can overcome injuries.
Except Lovie Smith's team.
3. The Bears Weren't Contenders Even Before Injuries
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While the Bears were sitting pretty at 7-3 before Cutler and Forte went down, their record was deceptive.
The goal for the Bears is to reach, if not win, the Super Bowl, not just make the playoffs. And to make the Super Bowl, the Bears have to be the class of the NFC.
But they weren't.
They were hammered 30-13 by the Saints.
They were soundly beaten 27-17 at home to the Packers.
And yes, the Bears had Cutler and Forte when they lost to those playoff-bound teams earlier this season, so they were at full strength.
When it came to playing with the big boys, the Bears couldn't execute. They were sloppy with penalties and unprepared, resulting in big plays allowed. The Bears' offensive game plans were not very smart.
And that was before the five-game losing streak.
All of those factors are the head coach's responsibility.
4. Smith's Defense Stinks
The Bears defense—Smith's alleged specialty—was bad.
And it continued to be exposed during the five-game losing streak despite no significant injuries on the defensive side of the ball.
The embarrassment of Smith's vaunted Cover-2 defense culminated in Week 16 with five TD passes allowed to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While Kansas City figured out the Packers offense just a week prior, Smith made no adjustments as Rodgers picked on cornerback Zack Bowman all game long.
Aside from Rodgers, the Bears didn't face any elite QBs/offenses during the losing streak.
Tarvaris Jackson? Tyler Palko? Carson Palmer? Tim Tebow?
Opposing defenses ate up Caleb Hanie and the Bears offense, getting an astounding 12 turnovers in those four games. But the Bears supposedly superior defense couldn't take advantage of weak opposing offenses, gaining only five turnovers.
A lot of this season's disastrous results were due to Smith's overrated defense.
5. Poor Talent Evaluator
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Sure, GM Jerry Angelo is to blame for the type of talent he gives Lovie Smith.
But when it comes to judging the talent Angelo has given him, Smith appears to be blind in both eyes.
Wide receiver Roy Williams came to town and was pronounced a starter in training camp. And he still is the starter over Johnny Knox.
Smith continues to start Devin Hester at WR over Earl Bennett, a far superior route-runner.
When Matt Forte was injured, Smith started Marion Barber over Kahlil Bell, even though Bell's running style matches Forte's much more than Barber.
Smith cut safety Chris Harris despite Chris Conte, Major Wright, Brandon Meriweather and Craig Steltz all being not much better.
Last year, Smith insisted Todd Collins was a fine backup QB.
And we've already discussed Hanie.
Most Bears fans and media members see what Smith does not. And Smith's inability to distinguish which players are better is another reason this season is up in smoke.
Smith's Postseason Failures
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Despite the injuries, the sins of this disastrous season still bear Lovie Smith's fingerprints.
But what's even more disappointing is that this frustrating season is the norm in Lovie Smith's Bears tenure.
Smith's teams have now missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.
(And last season's playoff team was a fluke. They would have missed the playoffs that year too had the Calvin Johnson call been ruled a TD; they feasted on an array of opponents with 3rd-string quarterbacks; and then in the first round faced the worst playoff entry in history.)
Yet Smith will be back on the sidelines next year after nary a call for his dismissal this offseason.