Marshall right on the money
After the Chicago Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers yesterday, a visibly distraught Brandon Marshall was able to answer just four questions during his post-game press conference. It was at that point Marshall, holding back tears, walked off the podium.
Yet during his brief presser, Marshall said one thing that resonated strongly regarding the current state of the Bears.
"Everybody involved in the offense should be held accountable, even if that means jobs," said Marshall. "It's been this way all year. It's the same thing every single game. There's no excuse."
Chicago mustered just 190 yards against a Green Bay defense that came into the contest ranked 17th overall. The lack of production on offense was masked earlier in the season due to an opportunistic defense that scored seven touchdowns through the first eight weeks. Since then, the defensive scores have dried up and the Bears' offense has not been able to pick up the slack.
Over the last six games, Chicago has averaged 14.1 points per contest, resulting in a 1-5 record during that span. Penalties, missed opportunities and poor play at crucial moments have killed the Bears during this skid. On Sunday, drives were stalled by illegal snaps (Roberto Garza), holding calls (Gabe Carimi) and three offensive pass interference calls by Alshon Jeffery, one of which nullified a touchdown.
"Offensively, we need more production. We need more points," Lovie Smith said today. "When you're inside of the 10-yard line in the red zone you need touchdowns in those situations. That was really big. The penalties hurt us on the offensive side of the ball also. We were able to run the ball early on, but didn't get any points off of it. The third down penalty really hurt us with that. So we did a lot of things to really stop momentum that we had."
Marshall's comments are right on, as something definitely needs to change on offense. If coaches or players need to be replaced, so be it, but the Bears will never win a championship with an offense ranked as one of the worst in the NFL.
Offensive line feng shui
Until the invention of the magnetic compass, feng shui, an ancient Chinese system of geomancy, relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe. And so it is with coordinator Mike Tice and Chicago's offensive line. Without rhyme or reason, Tice continues to search for a serviceable front five.
Against the Packers, Tice used five different offensive-line combinations, rotating James Brown, Edwin Williams and Chris Spencer at left guard, Gabe Carimi and Spencer at right guard, and Jonathan Scott and Carimi at right tackle. It's been an ongoing shuffle that reached new heights of insanity on Sunday.
The common belief about NFL offensive lines is that continuity, built when a front five has the opportunity to play next to each other for an extended period of time, is the key to success in the trenches. Yet according to Chicago's players, Tice's feng shui in yesterday's game was not a hindrance.
"It's not a problem at all," Scott said after the game. "We work well together, we talk, we communicate. [The coaches] have faith enough in us to dress seven linemen. All seven linemen have to be accountable. Not an issue."
Center Roberto Garza said guys are prepared to move around each game.
"It's part of the game. Things happen, guys get hurt," said Garza. "It seems like the last couple of years we've had to make a lot of adjustments on the offensive line throughout the season and during games. Those guys have done a great job of getting prepared for games and preparing like starters. They've been able to go in there and help us."
In reality though, it's going to be impossible for Chicago's offense to take a step forward for as long as this endless rotation of mediocre linemen is allowed to continue.
Not finishing strong
Lovie Smith constantly talks about "finishing strong", whether that be for an individual game or the season as a whole. Yet the past three years, Smiths' teams have folded in the "fourth quarter" of the campaign. Since 2009, the Bears are 4-9 in December and January regular season games. In contrast, the Packers are 10-3 in those games.
Since 2004, only eight NFL teams have better records than Smith's 79-63 tally. Yet only eight teams have a worse record than Lovie's 15-19 tally in the final quarter of the season.
Is Smith's time up?
I will never advocate the firing of anyone, no matter the industry, business or company. We're all human beings, with families. We all need to eat. Yet Smith's time in the Windy City may soon be coming to a close.
The Bears sit at 8-6, the same record as the Minnesota Vikings and three NFC East teams. Tiebreakers start with head-to-head matchups. The only 8-6 team Chicago has played is the Vikings, and they split the series. So next on the tiebreaker order is divisional record. The Bears have a 2-3 record in the division; Minnesota has a 3-2 record in the NFC North.
Next down the line is record in common games but we don't need to go that far. For our purposes in deciphering Chicago's playoff hopes, all you need to know is the Bears do not control their own destiny and will need help to make the postseason. It's still very possible, assuming Chicago wins its final two games, but yesterday's loss puts the Bears in a serious hole.
If the club cannot make it to the postseason, that would give them just one trip to the playoffs in the past six seasons. In today's world of professional sports, and especially in the NFL, that is nowhere near good enough. Smith is a good coach, one that has brought the Bears to the NFC Championship game twice since 2006, yet he may have hit his ceiling with this team. If they freefall out of the playoffs for the second season in a row, there is no doubt in my mind he will be gone.
And if they make the playoffs but get blown out in the first round? I believe Smith will still be fired. I'm not saying it's the right move, those are just my predictions for Lovie's future based on what happens over the next few weeks of football.
In both 2011 and 2012, the Bears started the season with identical 7-3 records. Last season, a thumb injury to Jay Cutler de-railed the campaign, with the Bears losing five of their final six games. This year, the Bears are in an eerily similar spot. Coming off a 7-3 start, they have won just one game and are on the precipice of another second-half collapse.
Yet there is no injury to Cutler on which to blame this season. Sure, injuries are piling up on the defensive side of the ball, but what NFL team doesn't have hurt players at this time of year? Two seasons ago, the Packers won a Super Bowl with half their roster on injured reserve.
Therein lies the biggest difference between the Bears and their rivals to the north: preparation. Green Bay keeps the pipelines full of talent – so as to weather the inevitable waves of injuries all teams deal with during an NFL season – by drafting quality young players.
You can't say the same for Chicago, which has had as many draft failures as successes the past 10 years. Until the front office starts drafting with purpose – bringing in players with proven track records, instead of taking risks on "high-upside" athletes – they will never be able to match Green Bay on a yearly basis.
Urlacher doesn't care about you
During yesterday's ugly performance at home, the Soldier Field crowd booed the Bears on three separate occasions. Following the contest, numerous media outlets called for Smith's head.
Brian Urlacher has a problem with that.
"Two of the people I don't care about: fans or media," Urlacher said, appearing Sunday night with sports anchor Lou Canellis on WFLD-Ch. 32. "They can say what they want to about our head coach, about our players. . . . It does bother me. They don't know what they're talking about, obviously.
"I know there are a lot of experts in the media, a bunch of smart guys out there who know exactly what they're talking about all the time. They don't know what they're talking about. Lovie is the head coach of this football team and hopefully will be for a long time.
"Our crowd was pretty good today for the most part. They were loud for a minute there, the boos were really loud, which is always nice. The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us. It's unbelievable to me."
Urlacher may not care about you, but he sure does love the money you spend – the Bears have the third highest ticket prices in the league – to pay his multi-million dollar contract. The McCaskeys must love such comments from the face of the organization.
The Bears were able to take the ball away from the Packers twice on Sunday, compared to just one giveaway. The +1 turnover margin is typically a recipe for success in Chicago.
"Normally when we win the turnover battle, we win the football game," Smith said today.
Since Lovie took over the job in 2004, the Bears are 13-34 with a negative turnover margin and 49-10 with a positive turnover margin. Sunday's contest bucked that trend, with Green Bay winning it's sixth straight game over Chicago despite losing the turnover battle. It doesn't matter the numbers, the Bears always find a way to lose to the Packers.
Where was the contain?
Defensively, the banged up Bears had a rough go of it against the Packers. They allowed 391 total yards, with Aaron Rodgers throwing for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Even Green Bay's ground game had success, racking up more than 100 yards on the day.
Yet it was Rodgers' ability to extend plays with his feet that truly hurt the Bears.
"We emphasized going into the game to keep him in [the pocket] well, because when he outside the pocket, his rating [goes through] the roof," DE Cheta Ozougwu said after the game. "We've got to constrict the pocket. He got out a few times and we paid for it."
By eluding the rush on a number of occasions, Rodgers kept crucial drives alive. During Green Bay's opening drive of the second half – which resulted in a touchdown, giving the Packers an insurmountable 21-7 lead – Rodgers converted two third downs and a fourth down. On the day, the Packers went 7 for 17 (41 percent) on third down and 2 for 2 on fourth down.
"We emphasized to keep Aaron in well and he slipped out a few times," said Ozougwu. "So that's on the [defensive] front. We've got to definitely improve on that."
Allen needs to be more involved
Chicago's passing attack is in shambles. The only productive player is Marshall. Behind him, it's a wasteland of mediocrity. Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Kellen Davis have been huge disappointments this season, while Alshon Jeffery can't get open without pushing off.
It's time to take a different approach, which includes utilizing RB Armando. Allen was on the field for three plays Sunday, running the ball twice and catching one pass. His reception came on a screen play that picked up 15 yards and a first down.
Allen showed great explosiveness and open-field ability as a pass catcher in training camp and the preseason. Often, Tice lined up Allen in the slot or out wide, using his quickness to exploit matchups with safeties and linebackers. Yet once the season began, Allen became an afterthought. Considering how horrible the passing attack has been all season, getting Allen more involved would be a wise move going forward.
"I feel like I'm very versatile. I can make some good plays," Allen said after the game. "I think if I'm afforded the opportunity and my name and number is called, I feel I can make those plays."
He stopped short though of saying he deserves more playing time.
"I can't really say what [Tice] should or shouldn't do. I don't have any control over that," said Allen. "I've been like that since high school, since college. It doesn't bother me. I feel like every opportunity I get, I'm going to make the best out of it and leave everything else up to the organization."
Anderson as hungry as they come
Following Chicago's loss to the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago, Marshall talked about adding productive bodies to the receiving corps.
"It's tough," Marshall said. "There are guys that are hungry. You have Joe [Anderson], a guy on our practice squad, works really hard and he's really hungry right now. [I] can't wait to see him."
Last week, a handful of NFL teams expressed interested in signing Anderson (6-1, 196) off the practice squad. This compelled the Bears to elevate him to the 53-man roster. He rewarded the team yesterday with two big plays on special teams.
"It's football man," Anderson told me after the game. "I just went out there and gave it all I had, trying to earn accountability from my teammates and coaches. I'm trying to take the same momentum that I have in practice to the field. It's no different. I did some good things out there but you always feel that you can do better."
I asked Anderson if he's as hungry as Marshall indicated.
"In my eyes, I'm the hungriest man on this Earth," said Anderson. "I've got a son I've got to feed. I've got other people back home I'm trying to give hope to. I'm just trying to be a blessing to others. Being on this type of platform, it isn't all about you. I'm doing it for a lot of reasons. People at my school (Texas Southern), I want to acknowledge them, coming up under me, we always get doubted coming from such a small school. ‘He won't make it.' A lot of big-name guys, they've got the spotlight on them.
"I'm hungry. My effort is what has me here and nobody can take that away. You might be bigger and faster but my effort will outwork you. I'll outwork you all day. There's plenty of ways to be hungry. Being overlooked, that's another reason. That's personal to me."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.