To get ready for Sunday's game, I exchanged five questions with Windy City Gridiron, SB Nation's Chicago Bears blog. My answers to their questions can be found over at WCG this weekend, and their answers to my questions are below.
1. The Bears have gone 2-5 since starting the season 7-1. Is this a product of the schedule getting a lot tougher or have the Bears just not been as good as they were at the start of the season?
A little bit of both. Obviously, the Bears beat up on some teams early in the season, but that's what you're supposed to do. The problem is, they didn't get better during that stretch, so they ran into the difficulties that people expected they might, and they folded a little bit.
To be honest, it really sort of mirrors what's happened to the Lions this season. Of the six Chicago losses, four have been by 8 or fewer points, and that's what's most frustrating. If they had played just a little bit better in any of those games, we wouldn't be sitting on the outside watching the Vikings, of all teams, control our fate. When you're in the bottom quarter of the league in offensive ranking, though, it is to be expected. Most of it really falls on the offense, which we get to a little bit more in question No. 4.
2. Although the Bears are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, there has been a lot of talk that Lovie Smith is on his way out in Chicago. Are fans ready for a change to be made, and do you think the Bears will actually shake things up and bring the Smith era to an end (barring a big playoff run)?
Here's the thing. Lovie Smith isn't a bad coach. He's got the respect of his locker room, his guys buy into his philosophy and with the help of a couple really good seasons and a lot of middling around .500, he has a winning record. He's a good coach. The problem is, he isn't a great coach. He's demonstrated a lack of ability to make the crucial adjustments needed, and the general agreement is that he's exceptionally hands-off when it comes to offense. This probably completely explains why Mike Tice is OC, but furthermore, in today's NFL, to not be able to produce a competent offense is going to get you a pink slip sooner than later.
I do think, at this point, fans are ready to accept the departure of Smith. You'll have the meatballs who say, "He doesn't have fire, or passion, or yell on the sidelines" or whatever. Personally, I don't really care what the coach looks like on the sidelines, as long as I'm confident in the ability of the team he's putting on the field. The problems we're seeing now are the same thing we see from Lovie Smith teams year in and year out, fading down the backstretch, getting themselves into must-win games that they can't seem to win. Win either the Vikings or Seahawks game and I'm doing a small dance about the fact that we locked up a playoff spot.
Do I expect them to fire him? Maybe if they miss the playoffs entirely. If they make the playoffs and don't lose their playoff game in embarrassing fashion, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets to come back for next year. He's scheduled to make a lot of money. Ownership likes him. There are enough injuries for him to possibly sneak another year out of it because of that. If, God forbid, they somehow win the Super Bowl this year (perhaps all NFC playoff teams come down with Dysentery), expect Lovie to get a 20-year contract extension.
3. Perhaps this is getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but if Smith is canned, who would you like to see take over as Bears head coach?
One of our writers, Kay Paradiso, wrote a really great article looking at the different types of coaches and which ones could be great for replacing Lovie. Any of those could be possibly good choices, though I'm not particularly sold on Chip Kelly's shots in the NFL.
One name that isn't on the list, that I'd like to see the Bears at least talk to, is Mike McCoy, the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos. Over just his last two seasons, he's shown that he's enormously flexible with regards to adapting to the talent available on his team. (Wouldn't we all love to go from Tim Tebow to Peyton Freakin Manning?) I think he's got the ability to field a consistent winner, and working with Phil Emery, bring in enough offensive talent that I might not have to cringe every time I watch the offense take the field.
4. What is your assessment of how the Bears offense has done this season?
I'm not 100 percent certain what your language guidelines are at POD, so I'll self-censor: pretty sh*tty. The numbers really speak for themselves, and to be the 28th ranked offense doesn't reflect well on a team. I've always thought that yards/game wasn't the best way to rank a team, especially a team that has historically started with pretty decent field position, but I can't warp that number enough to pretend like the Bears are good on offense.
The irritating thing is that they show flashes of it. Every week there's typically one drive where you finally think, "Hey, they're getting it. Now we've got something." You watch Marshall make some of those double-coverage catches, and you get excited.
The thought when Marshall showed up was that there was finally a real receiver on the team. His presence was to open up the opportunities for all the other receivers, and a competent offense would just sort of develop. We weren't looking for top five. Just top 20. However, nobody else seems willing to catch the ball on a consistent basis. This feeds a cycle of Marshall continuing to make tougher and tougher catches because Jay can't trust anybody else to catch the ball when he puts it in their hands.
Not to take some of the blame away from Jay. He's been up and down all season, and more consistency from his position would have helped tremendously. He's been playing through some injuries, too, but some of his overthrows are enough to make you shake your head. And the offensive line ... well ... you've seen it. I'm not even going to talk about it, or the fact that there have been so many different variations of the lineup this season that I can't name them. At one point we had a 6-foot-7 first-round tackle playing guard. That sentence tells you exactly how bad the offensive line is.
And Matt Forte. There's an example of why you don't give running backs money.
5. What one matchup must the Bears win on Sunday if they want to beat the Lions at Ford Field?
I'd say block the defensive line. I'll give Roger Goodell credit -- backloading the schedules with division games was a great idea, because I think it really gives even the teams that are out of it something to play for. I expect the Lions to throw everything on the table on Sunday, and if the Bears are going to make the playoffs and try to win three straight road games, they need to show an ability to not look like children on the field.
Subset, I'm going to say limit Calvin Johnson. Dude gives me nightmares.
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