There are not really many good things that happen on a Sunday when the Bears lose a football game. In fact, I can only think of one: Doug Buffone and Ed O'Bradovich's postgame show on The Score – WSCR 670 AM on your radio dial.
I have had countless people tell me that their game breakdown and critiques soften the blow of a loss and help vent the frustrations that the fans themselves are feeling. Of course, when the team wins, it's a lot better for everyone involved.
The guys would rather go 16-0 every season, naturally. But they break down each game, win or lose, as they have for the station for many years.
I feel privileged to get a chance to work with Doug and O'B and got a chance to talk to them about the 2010 Bears, how they saw the offseason and what the team's chances are to regain playoff glory this coming season:
Mike Esposito: The Bears made a huge splash in free agency with the signings of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna. How do you think the team did in the offseason, and what else would you have liked to see them do?
Ed O'Bradovich: The moves that they made the team better, and on paper they should be a better football team. Then you get into "shoulda woulda." Are they a Super Bowl contender? Philosophies have to change, in my opinion. Offensively, they have to attack. We need to throw the ball over 20 yards. You just can't play in a short area. Go over the middle. They have guys who can do it on the receiving corps. When you don't attack the field, it's bad news for the team. They did improve, though.
Doug Buffone: There's no question they're better, but are they better than Green Bay and Minnesota? You've got this great passing attack, hopefully, but what about the offensive line? They didn't do anything there. Can they protect Jay Cutler? On the other hand, these guys are hard to find. You have to find them young, like we did at left tackle with Chris Williams, and you hope that he makes a jump this year. With the deep drops, they're going to have to do better up front.
EO: Chester Taylor was a good move and a smart move, and we can really do some damage. The weakest part of the team is the offensive line. I think they go to max-protect and move the pocket, make the opposition move their defense. If you give them a headache and move the pocket, it gives you options. Plus, you compensate for the offensive line.
ME: Cutler enters his second year with the Bears after an up-and-down first season. Do you expect him to make a leap forward this season?
EO: I expect Mike Martz to utilize his talents. Not drop back three yards, but to move him around and screw up the defenses. I want to see things changed up as to how they used him last year. I think Martz will move the ball and attack, and with his talents, I look for good things offensively and from Cutler.
DB: In the last two games last season, Jay had eight touchdowns and only one interception. There's no question that the talent is there. Any offense is driven by the quarterback. I think the kid is a thoroughbred, but he's going to have to learn to get better. He takes shots but gets right back up. You're not getting anywhere near the Super Bowl without a quarterback, and that's why I think there's hope. Now we need someone to train him. He has an arm, and he will put the football where he has to put that football.
ME: You've already mentioned Martz, the new offensive coordinator. What impact will his offense have on the team?
EO: Will Lovie Smith let him attack? I think that will tell how far they are going to go in the system. You got a quarterback who's a big, tall kid. He can do a lot of things that we couldn't do before. But we got to take the handcuffs off. We never did that last year. Number one, hopefully, he utilizes Cutler's talents, his ability to bootleg and roll out and stretch the field, so you can then come back underneath. I'm looking for him to move the ball out of the pocket to open it up underneath.
DB: It's the first time out for the system, too. You're asking this group to learn a whole new system, and it's not a simple one, either. Mistakes can happen and can happen big time. You don't know how fast they're going to grasp it and how fast the receivers are going to adjust. Cutler is throwing to spots, and the receiver has to read right or it's an interception. I think Chester Taylor is a big added advantage for the team, and same with Matt Forte. They will get a lot of catches from the backs and see if they can break something. The line is a key unit to see how the offense goes. They have to protect Cutler better than they did last year.
ME: Defensively, the team struggled last season. There were a lot of injuries, especially with Brian Urlacher missing the entire season after getting hurt in the opener. Peppers is there now also. Will this unit rebound to past glory, or will they disappoint again in 2010?
EO: I absolutely think Urlacher will be back, and I think he's one of the finest linebackers in the league. He can run around like a deer. He's a four-down guy. You don't have to replace him. He calls the signals, and he's out there. The only problem I see on the defense is if we go and stick to the Tampa-2 theme. The reason I disagree on that is you've got to diversify and make changes from year to year. The thing that I see in the 4-3 is the big guys, the two interior guys, the tackles have to have balance and penetrate the line. Last year, our rotation could not get through the line of scrimmage. Therefore, you let the quarterback step up into the pocket with no pressure. Get that pressure and make him move and push him to the defensive ends. Peppers can leap over tall buildings and stop locomotives, but if he doesn't get help up the middle, he will be a non-factor. We need better play from the defensive tackles. If you look at our defense, there's problems here and there. All the coaches have been let go but Bob Babich and Rod Marinelli. When you have Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, you're blind that you can't see anything but Tampa 2 with that quickness and speed. They're dropping back 10 or 15 yards and letting them throw underneath. Crazy! It was never more evident than in the Super Bowl [against the Colts]. Then who was gone? Their defensive coordinator, Ron Rivera. How do you take these quick guys and keep dropping them back 15 yards? Push them up, fake the blitz, actually blitz them. When you have talent like that, you attack. You don't drop back. Bend-don't-break doesn't make sense when you have that talent. Pursue and blitz. It's a philosophy thing with Smith, and he wants that Tampa 2 come hell or high water. Let's hope it works.
DB: Urlacher is important to the defense, but this defense is predicated on two things: Tommie Harris and whoever that free safety is. If Tommie doesn't have a good year, then we're going to struggle. It's as simple as that. Anthony Adams, whoever else they have in there, has to disrupt things. If they don't get penetration, then we're on our heels. They bring in Peppers, but I think they made a big mistake getting rid of Alex Brown. Mark Anderson is going to have to make up for that, but I thought Brown was a high-motor guy who always gave it his all. At safety, they say that Major Wright is a hitter. They need someone back there who can hit and cover. We'll see. This defense has to be in the top 10 for it to be a successful season in my opinion. Green Bay and Minnesota have tough offenses and defenses, too. There are tough games here, especially at the end of the year. You've got New England and Dallas on the schedule, as well.
ME: Where do you see the Bears finishing this year? Is this a playoff team?
EO: All things being equal, if they stay healthy, Olin Kreutz comes back and can get the job done – a lot of ifs – I look for them to be competitive. I really do. If they do the things that need to be done, stretch the field, attack, use the whole field, move the ball around the field, you'd be surprised how good the offense can be. Just don't sit back there in that straight drop-back. That's what I think they're going to do. Defensively, be aggressive. We can do it. The key to everything on defense is on that line, the two guys in the middle. Tommie Harris has the talent. Peppers is there. Tommie has to pick it up and go after people. If they struggle at the line, it's going to be a long season. If things go right and they play aggressively for 16 games, I think we can put points on the board and move the ball and stop the other guys. If that is true, we can be in the hunt. I'm not saying we'll win the Super Bowl, but we'll be a successful team.
DB: I went over it last night. I try to pick wins and losses. Last year, I was right on at 7-9. I came out again this year at 7-9. I think it's 7-9 or 8-8. I wish it was 10-6. You can have a great season and finish third in your division. You've got to face New England, Dallas, four games with Minnesota and Green Bay, Philly, the Giants. It's going to take some great football to beat these types of teams. Are the Bears good enough at this point in time? Remember, this is the first time in this offense. It's all sight adjustments. There are no audibles. Catastrophes can happen if you're wrong. Martz's teams are always in the top 10 in turnovers. Can the defense make it up? They're backs are to the wall. They brought in people who they knew and worked with before. It's crunch time. They're saying, We believe in all of this, and we're going to have to prove it. If they prove it and are successful, then it's a whole new ballgame. Then next year, you look at it and you have a young quarterback, running back and defensive end. It could be a stepping stone for them. It could also be total disaster. This is the first time they've basically had experienced assistants, though. It's on the line. NFL head coaches. They've gambled everything on this year.
ME: Your show is appointment radio for a lot of Bears fans. Why do you think people enjoy it so much?
EO: All the years before last year, we would watch separately and neither of us would know what the other would say, and it made it great. We've got a combined 25 years or so of playing experience, and that makes us knowledgeable. When the players and coaches do well, we talk about it and tell why. When they don't, we point that out, too.
DB: Part of the reason is it's a raw show. It's fresh. It's right then and there. Maybe after the second day it wears down a little bit, but we're on right after the game. Ed and I are on, and whatever is built up is thrown out there. I don't care what I say because I know enough about the game to know what I think. Ed is the same. You give that to the fans, and they're not stupid. They understand. I still get worked up about it, and later in the week it gets beat up a million times, but we have to be right on the money right after the game. That's why it is like it is. That's what the fans like. If a team is fighting and battling, we have no problems with that. I just can't stand stupidity when you're out there or when they're not ready to play.
EO: I can tell you this, and I've been telling people this for years. I don't know that there's a day go by that people come up to me and tell me how they don't miss the show, it's the greatest, etc. Doug and I get this all the time, and we are very appreciative of that. We're two students of the game, and we just tell it like it is. If it's bad, it's bad. If it's good, it's good. We're in the same room. We take our own notes. We just let it blow from there. No one knows what the other is going to say.
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Mike Esposito is an update anchor and reporter for WSCR 670AM The Score in Chicago. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Champaign and received a Master's in Journalism from Columbia College in 1998.
From the Magazine: Doug and O'B
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