Bears

The Lovie Smith firing: A downward spiraling timeline

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The Lovie Smith firing: A downward spiraling timeline

The 2012 season and its fall from 7-1 to out of the playoffs was the proximate cause of Lovie Smiths dismissal. Smiths tenure was marked with its share of highlights but also with some significant disappointments:
2004 5-11After negotiations break down to land Nick Saban, Smith is chosen over Russ Grimm to succeed Dick Jauron. He hires Terry Shea as offensive coordinator and inherits a dismal quarterback situation involving Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn.In an ominous foreshadowing, 2003 No. 1 pick and anticipated starting quarterback Rex Grossman is injured and lost for the season a week after beating the Packers and Brett Favre in Green Bay. The Bears arguably never adequately solve their quarterback situation through Smiths tenure.
2005 11-5Smith replaces Shea with Ron Turner as offensive coordinator, who ran the Bears offense under Dave Wannstedt before leaving to coach Illinois in 1997. Grossman goes down with a broken ankle in preseason and Turner goes to fourth-round rookie Kyle Orton.Bears hit bottom at 1-3 after loss in Cleveland, then win eight straight with suffocating defense under Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher. Drafting Cedric Benson spurs Thomas Jones to 1,335-yard rushing season. Grossman returns from his leg injury late in the year but season ends with first-round home loss to Carolina.
2006 13-3Bears reach the playoffs for the second time in Smiths first three seasons. Defense again dominates and Grossman has seven games of 100-plus passer ratings, Benson and Jones each average 4.1 yards per carry and the Bears post their only 400-point season (427) under Smith. Breakdowns on offense and defense doom Bears against Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.Ron Rivera is let go as defensive coordinator after philosophical differences with Smith, and Bob Babich takes over as defensive coordinator.
2007 7-9Smith receives a contract extension for four years and 22 million that moves him into the upper (5 million-plus) tier for head-coach salaries.But the quarterback maelstrom returns. Grossman starts the first three games (1-2), Brian Griese starts the next six (3-3), Grossman the next four (1-3) and finally Orton for the final three (2-1).
2008 9-7Bears go to Houston and lose to 7-8 Texans to finish 9-7 when a victory would have allowed them to leapfrog 9-6-1 Philadelphia into the playoffs. In the aftermath, Kyle Orton and two No. 1 draft choices are traded to Denver for Jay Cutler.
2009 7-9Brian Urlacher is lost for the year with a wrist injury in the first half of the first game but the Bears still start 3-1 before a spiral of six losses in seven games dooms the season.The decision is made to keep Smith as head coach before a 31-7 crushing in Baltimore on Dec. 20. The decision stands after the Bears win their final two but Turner and most of the offensive staff are fired post-season after differences with Cutler widen. Mike Martz is hired as offensive coordinator after Bears lose out on several top college candidates because of scheduling and recruiting.
2010 11-5A game-16 loss to Green Bay will haunt Smith and the organization. With playoff position clinched, veterans are rested and the Packers slip past New York and Tampa Bay for the No. 6 seed. Bears get past 7-9 Seattle in the divisional round but Cutler suffers knee injury and is out for the second half. Green Bay goes to the Super Bowl after Bears mistakes on offense (B.J. Raji TD interception, failed third-down conversions) finishPerhaps most fateful: Caleb Hanie relieves Todd Collins and does enough for Mike Martz and the organization to move forward with him as Cutlers backup in 2011.
2011 8-8After Smith orders the offense to return to balance mindset with Mike Tices role again expanded, Bears reach 7-3 with a run of five straight wins. Cutler fractures his right thumb in game 10, Bears lose five straight and miss the postseason.Low points are reached with 3 points scored against the Kansas City Chiefs and in Denver when Marion Barber runs out of bounds to help the Broncos tie in regulation and then fumbles in overtime, leading to winning field goal.Jerry Angelo is fired as general manager, replaced by former Bears scout and Kansas City college scouting director Phil Emery.
2012 10-6Addressing the passing offense, Emery trades for Cutler favorite Brandon Marshall, OKs hiring Jeremy Bates as QB position coach and drafts Alshon Jeffery in the second round. Smith states during the NFL Scouting Combine that the offensive line, with promising rookie Gabe Carimi back from injury, and JMarcus Webb are sufficient at left tackle and that Kellen Davis is capable of top-shelf play at tight end. The offense is a disaster area.A 7-1 start evaporates in a succession of inept offensive performances. Defensive stumbles against San Francisco and Seattle against inexperienced quarterbacks raise eyebrows and red flags. Then the Bears cannot get past Minnesota and Green Bay in the final weeks.

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

The first two years of the Matt Nagy era can be boiled down to this: First, a tremendously fun year in which the Bears blew past expectations; and second, a tremendously un-fun year in which the Bears fell short of expectations.

So what will 2020 be closer to: The unbridled joy of 2018 (until the last kick of the wild card round), or the numbing disappointment of 2019 (despite still winning eight games)?

To answer that question, we should start by laying out some expectations for 2020. Broadly: The Bears should compete for a spot in an expanded seven-team playoff field. More narrowly: The Bears’ offense should be, at worst, league-average – about where it was in 2018. And the defense, led by a mauling pass rush, should be one of the best in the NFL even without Eddie Goldman.

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But how do the Bears get 2020 to feel more like 2018 than 2019? Here are three key factors:

The tight end question

Trey Burton did not miss a game in 2018’s regular season, and the Bears’ offense was better because of it. While Burton’s numbers weren’t eye-popping (54 catches, 569 yards, 6 TDs) his steadiness at the “U” tight end spot allowed the Bears’ offense to create mismatches, especially with Tarik Cohen.

Burton never was healthy last year, playing poorly in eight games before landing on injured reserve. The Bears didn’t have quality depth behind Burton, and the “Y” spot was a disaster. The lack of any good tight end play wasn’t the only reason why the Bears’ offense cratered in 2019, but it might’ve been the biggest reason.

The starting point to the Bears’ offense in 2020 is, certainly, figuring out who’s playing quarterback. But the Bears need Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Demetrius Harris to be the fixes their tight end room sorely needs. Just average play from those guys will help the Bears’ offense be closer to what it was in 2018 (which, again, was merely good enough), if not better.

MORE: Where Cole Kmet stands as Bears get to know their rookies

And if the tight end room is a disaster again? It might not matter who starts at quarterback.

Good luck and/or good depth

The 2018 Bears were incredibly lucky in dodging significant injuries early on. Adam Shaheen began the year on IR but returned in November; Kyle Long went on IR after Week 8 and came back Week 17. Depth pieces like Sam Acho and Dion Sims were lost, sure, but the Bears did well to make their absences footnotes to the season.

Even when slot corner Bryce Callahan was injured in Week 14, veteran special teamer Sherrick McManis did incredibly well in his place. Eddie Jackson’s season-ending injury in Week 15 was the most costly, as the Bears missed him in that wild card game against Foles and the Eagles.

But overall, the Bears were both lucky in terms of staying healthy and good in terms of replacing those injured guys in 2018.

The Bears saw some depth shine in 2019 – specifically defensive lineman Nick Williams and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski – but even still, the defense struggled to dominate without Hicks on the field. And the aforementioned tight end position was a disaster without a healthy Burton. Long never was right, and the offensive line without him (or veteran backup Ted Larsen) never was either. Taylor Gabriel’s off-and-on availability due to multiple concussions hampered the offense, too.

2020 inevitably will be a year of attrition not only for the Bears, but for the entire NFL. In addition to avoiding football injuries before and during the season, teams will have to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities. Training and personal responsibility can go a long way in avoiding injuries and illness, but it’ll take a lot of luck, too, for teams to stay mostly healthy.

MORE: Fragility of 2020 season constantly on Bears players' minds

The teams with the best depth will have the best chance of making the playoffs. Will the Bears be among that group? Maybe. But a shortage of draft picks in recent years might be costly. We’ll see.

Betting on pressure

The Bears had one of the best defenses of the last decade in 2018 because of, first and foremost, outstanding coverage from its secondary. The ability of Fuller/Jackson/Callahan/Adrian Amos/Prince Amukamara to disguise their coverages confused most opposing offenses, who by the way also had to deal with Hicks pushing the pocket and Mack marauding off the edge. Hicks and Goldman opened up gaps for Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith to snuff out any attempt at establishing the run. It was a perfect formula.

The 2019 Bears’ defense took a step back not only because Vic Fangio (and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell) left for Denver, but because of player attrition, too. Last year’s defense was good, but not great.

The formula for the 2020 Bears’ defense won’t be the same as it was in 2018, though. The signing of Robert Quinn, coupled with jettisoning Leonard Floyd, hints at a defense predicated on a dominant pass rush. Holes in the secondary were addressed on the cheap, be it with Jaylon Johnson or Tashaun Gipson.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A trio of Mack/Hicks/Quinn seems impossible to contain. If the Bears’ defense re-emerges as one of the best in the NFL, it’ll be because those three guys lead the way in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  

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Mtich Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mtich Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mitch Trubisky's tenure in Chicago since being the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft hasn't been great. It hasn't been terrible, either. It's been a blend of good and bad which has led to an incomplete picture of who he is as a quarterback entering his fourth year in the league. It's the main reason why the Bears traded for Nick Foles; Trubisky can't be trusted (yet) to be the unquestioned starter for a team that on paper has playoff potential.

The fact that Trubisky can't be trusted contributes to the narrative that he's the team's biggest liability. Even if he wins the Bears' quarterback competition, will he really have the unconditional confidence of his coaches and teammates? Will Bears fans have the kind of faith in Trubisky that fans of other contenders have in their quarterbacks? Probably not. There's no reason why they should. Trubisky hasn't been consistent enough through nearly three seasons as a starter to deserve that level of trust.

According to a recent breakdown of every team's biggest liability, it was Trubisky, of course, who took the title for the Bears.

If new Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles can beat out Mitchell Trubisky and play well in 2020, the Bears might be a playoff team. If he cannot, Chicago might be looking at a lost season.

While the Bears roster is very talented, Trubisky has been anything but a steady presence under center. He has struggled to push the ball down the field—he averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt in 2019—and has limited what head coach Matt Nagy is able—or perhaps, willing—to do on offense.

Chicago ranked 29th in passing yardage last year and declined Trubisky's fifth-year option this offseason.

If the Bears are again one-dimensional, they're going to find it difficult to be relevant in the tough NFC North.

I ran a poll on Twitter that asked Bears fans who they prefer as the starting quarterback with just over one month to go before the season kicks off. The results were predictably close, but the nod went to Foles (56%). It feels safe to assume a big reason why fans hope Foles ends up QB1 is because of his proven track record in big moments. Even if he's a boring player with a limited regular-season ceiling, he has ice in his veins during the game's biggest moments. He's steady. He's consistent. He's pretty much the anti-Trubisky.

Is it fair to say Trubisky is a liability? Of course, it is. If he fails, the Bears will be set back for several seasons. Even if Foles salvages the team's short-term outlook, the long-term success of the franchise depends on Trubisky living up to his scouting report and becoming a franchise quarterback. And there just isn't enough evidence to prove he's capable of doing that.

If we don't know by now whether Trubisky can turn the corner and be a top-tier starting quarterback in the NFL, it's probably safe to say he can't. 

 

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