Smith Focusing on the Big Picture

Bears head coach Lovie Smith usually takes a one-game-at-a-time approach as is the cliche across the National Football League, but now he's talking to his team about finishing on a six-game winning streak in order to run its record to 10-6 and qualify for the playoffs in the NFC.

Rather than focusing solely on Sunday's game against the Broncos, Bears head coach Lovie Smith is taking the unusual approach of insisting that his battered and beaten 4-6 team take a wider view of its depressing situation.

"Normally 10 wins will get you in [the playoffs], so we looked at the big picture," Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. "Normally we just look at one game at a time, but I wanted the team to see the big picture, too. The big picture is 10 wins normally gets you in to the playoffs."

That would require, in order, victories over the 5-5 Broncos, who defeated the Titans Monday night, and the 7-3 Giants at home, the 5-5 Redskins and the 4-6 Vikings on the road and the 9-1 Packers and 4-6 Saints at home. Smith's team has yet to win two games in a row this season, let alone six.

However, in this season of haves and have-nots, it's a good bet that a 9-7 team will make the NFC playoffs. If you concede the first of the two wild-card spots to the Giants, the overachieving Lions are the only team with a two-game lead over the Bears. The Lions started out 6-2, are now 6-4 and probably on their way to 8-8. They still must play the Packers twice, the 9-1 Cowboys and 4-6 Chiefs at home and the Vikings and 5-5 Chargers on the road.

None of that matters unless the Bears win at least win five of their remaining six games. In the wake of Sunday's loss to the Seahawks, the prospects aren't good for Smith's team, as was made clear by his assessment of the defeat.

"We did enough offensively to keep us in the game and give us a chance to win," Smith said. "Defensively, we did not. When you have a lead early, we normally are able to hold on to that lead. [But] they hit some big pass plays."

It's easy to imagine that happening more often than not in the future because the once-mighty defense doesn't seem capable of stopping anyone better than the Raiders. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris is trying to play through a knee injury with little effectiveness, while cornerback Nathan Vasher's return from a serious groin injury is into its ninth week, and he's unlikely to go from inactive to impact player overnight.

The Bears' defense needs help now, though, based on the way it was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

"It's just not [the] secondary," Smith said. "Normally when the secondary isn't playing as well as you would like them to, it's [also] about up front and it's about linebackers. We definitely need to improve on that. We're better than we played [Sunday]."

That hasn't been evident in most of the recent games, though.

Because, like most NFL teams, the Bears are purposely vague about injuries, it's necessary to read between the lines. And the message is not encouraging.


CB Trumaine McBride
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

"Tommie Harris was able to get through," was all Smith could say of Harris' one-tackle performance. "We kind of limited his reps a little bit. I know it's been reported that he's going to have offseason knee surgery and all of that. We're not to that point by any means. Tommie has been cleared to play medically, and I thought he made it through the game fairly well."

When he's healthy, Harris is a Pro Bowl player who can impact the outcome of a game. If all he can do is get through the game while playing half his usual amount of snaps, the Bears will suffer.

While rookie cornerback Trumaine McBride has played better than anyone would expect from a seventh-round pick, the Bears still miss Vasher, who has yet to tolerate a full week of practice and is probably not close to playing a full game.

"Nathan Vasher is getting better. Hopefully we will get him out on the football field before long," Smith said for approximately the 37th time.

Indications are that Smith is right on, but by the time Vasher is ready to help, it may be too late.

NEWS & NOTES

  • QB Rex Grossman is expected to be named the starter Wednesday for the second straight week, even if Brian Griese's sprained left shoulder allows him to play. Despite a fumble, Grossman threw for 266 yards and made plays downfield, finishing with an 86.1 passer rating.
  • RB Cedric Benson nearly doubled his previous 2007 best with an 8.1-yard average per carry last week (89 yards on 11 attempts), raising his still sub-par average from 3.0 to 3.3 yards per carry.
  • TE Desmond Clark had his least productive game of the season with one catch for seven yards, but he's still second on the team with 31 receptions and third with 353 yards.
  • WR Bernard Berrian had his biggest game of the season (nine catches, 102 yards) and his first 100-yard game of the season. Despite 51 catches for 709 yards, he has just two touchdowns.
  • WR Muhsin Muhammad's three catches for 71 yards upped his average per catch to 15.6 yards, best on the team among players with 10 catches or more, and the highest average since his rookie year of 1996 when he had 25 receptions. He leads the Bears with three touchdown catches.
  • DT Darwin Walker had his first sack of the season last week.
  • DT Tommie Harris, playing with a sprained knee that kept him out of practice all week, had one solo tackle while playing about half his usual number of snaps.
  • LB Brian Urlacher led the Bears with 12 tackles. No other defender had more than seven.
  • DE Mark Anderson has just one-half of a sack in the past six games, and he was credited with zero tackles last week.
  • TE Greg Olsen had a season-high seven catches for 43 yards a week after being shut out. He's tied for third on the team with 28 catches and fourth with 298 yards.

  • Is Devin Hester already the greatest return man ever?
  • An interview with running backs coach Tim Spencer
  • Ed "The Claw" Sprinkle: The Oldest Living Bear
  • A look at the autobiography Sayers: My Life and Times
  • Getting to know third-year quarterback Kyle Orton
  • All of that plus much more in the January issue of ...

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