Bears

Mullin: No way 9-3 Bears are just lucky

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Mullin: No way 9-3 Bears are just lucky

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Mmmm, maybe not

I don't have a rooting interest one way or the other but I'm not sure I'm buying this.

SI.com's Andrew Perloff, in a segment folded into Peter King's always-enjoyable (if a little heavy on Steelers-Ravens this week) "Monday Morning Quarterback," opines that the Packers will win the NFC North and simply are a better team than the Bears, which Andrew still sees making the playoff and being "dangerous," he said.

Andrew's reasoning: The Packers "have that explosiveness on offense," whereas the Bears are "not making the plays like the Packers are."

He appears to be more fascinated by highlight play like Aaron Rodgers' memorable game-tying pass to Jordy Nelson to force a recent overtime against Atlanta. Andrew sees the "new" Bears as more balanced offensively with the combination of Jay Cutler's passing and Matt Forte's running.

But "when it comes down to it," he concluded, "Rodgers is the MVP and Cutler is just a good player."

You who know me know I am a reporter first and that I had no vested or rooting interest when I pointed out the night of the DenverCutler trade that a restrained reaction might be the call since Cutler had never had a winning season as a starting quarterback since high school.

But right now, he is a very good player, which he was not last season or through the first half of this one aside from isolated situations. I would be concerned about the number of hits Cutler is taking (48 in the last five games, between sacks, QB hits and runs he's made).

But the fact that Cutler is being called a "game manager" (usually a diss of a quarterback) should -- and I think is -- sending a tiny shiver through at least the NFC North. As long as he was just a thrower, even a passer, he could be counted on to error away the moment.

Not any more. The Packers could well win the division but my guess is that it'll be by tiebreaker, in which the Bears, who'll make good my "10 wins or better" prediction for the season, will be the wild-card team absolutely nobody wants to play.

Loud Lovie?
As he has on a number of occasions in the past when he's unhappy with the play of his guys, Lovie Smith let them know about it at halftime Sunday. The particular target was the defense, which was coming in after allowing a third-string quarterback to direct the Detroit offense to 253 first-half yards.

Clipboards did not hit walls, fists did not hit lockers, and players like Julius Peppers seemed to be more stunned by the poor play of the defense than by the Smith equivalent of a hissing match.

But just as players once spoke of "The Look" they dreaded getting from Dick Jauron, they don't like to hear Smith deviate from his fairly constant volume and venom levels.

"He was still mild-mannered but maybe instead of talking at a '5' he's talking at a '9,'" said safety Chris Harris. "Lovie is not a guy who swears. He's still a mild-mannered guy. But when he's angry you know he's angry. His point comes across and gets across to the players the way it should."

Smith's reaction to his reaction was, well, mild-mannered, naturally.

"We weren't happy with how we played the first half," Smith explained. "Guys realized that. As far as the '9,' you media guys know me. I'm a '5' most of the time. I try to be."

Huh?

I'm still amused by some who view the Bears' 2010 results (12 games of them at this point) as "lucky" or "getting the breaks." It calls to mind former Mets and White Sox pitcher Jerry Koosman dismissing former teammate and Hall of Famer Tom Seaver as just "lucky."

"Seaver was just lucky," Koosman said, "because he was always pitching on the day when the other team wasn't hitting."

A few other observations on the whole "lucky" nonsense:

Bear Bryant's legendary proclamation the "Luck follows speed" definitely applies to the Bears, who are a universally fast team.

And my favorite James Bond assessment comes into play: "Once is chance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action." Lucky is once; oh-come-on is twice; 9-3 is not lucky.

Lez chat

I'll be on the Comcast SportsNet set for Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 p.m. (and later rebroadcasts) but then I'll be on CSNChicago.com from 7-8 p.m. for our weekly online chat. Always fun (well, mostly) to noodle over what just happened the day before.

And absolutely, I'll have the Pats-Jets on at the same time.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term (Brett Favre).

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.