TELANDER: Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn’t know ‘O’
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org December 18, 2012 9:10PM
Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 21-14. (AP Photo/Andy King)
Updated: January 20, 2013 6:32AM
I think I went over the simple rules about coaching respect in a recent column. To wit: We love you when you win, we hate you when you lose.
So with the Bears having lost five of their last six games and scrambling to make the once-assured playoffs, coach Lovie Smith isn’t much-loved. That’s an axiom.
But what, besides the losses, is it that is soiling Smith’s legacy in this town? Besides the losses, what is it about him that infuriates us the most (and this one time we won’t count the drained-of-all-plasma sideline stare)?
It is this: Smith doesn’t know offense.
He might know defense. Well, at least he might know his punch-and-rip-at-the-ball, attacking cover-2 defense, essentially the same one he used more than a decade ago as the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator.
Smith doesn’t call the plays. He has had three offensive coordinators — Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice — in the last four seasons. He has had four quarterbacks coaches since 2006. He recently has had good offensive players brought in or re-signed — quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte — but the offense only has become worse.
Facts: In his nine seasons at the helm, Smith has had offenses that ranked 32nd, 29th, 15th, 27th, 26th, 23rd, 30th, 24th and, currently, 29th in total yards in a 32-team league.
That comes to an average of 26th. That would be an F on any report card. When sustained for nearly a decade, it would be grounds to have a student flunked from school and steered into something such as ditch-digging.
Oh, did you notice that No. 15 ranking in Smith’s third season, 2006? Did that — gasp! — almost make you sit down and ask for oxygen? Well, that was the Super Bowl season, a season that earned Smith the rest of these years.
In 2006, Rex Grossman passed for more than 3,000 yards, Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson ran for a combined 1,857 yards and 12 touchdowns and Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian and Desmond Clark caught passes for 2,264 yards and 17 touchdowns.
How it happened, we don’t know. But it hasn’t been repeated. And as the trend in the NFL continues toward high-octane offenses led by star quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, the Bears have devolved into an offensive machine more resembling a Model-T — or, perhaps more distinctly, a ‘‘funny car’’ that can’t make it halfway up the track before flailing across the lanes, over the fence and into a cornfield.
The Bears’ loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers was one of the saddest displays of the offense’s ineptitude so far. The offensive line isn’t very good — we know that — but you might have thought the blockers were on loan from a doughnut shop for all the movement they created and protection they provided. Yet Cutler spent most of his time making faces of disgust toward any and all, as though he was surprised by their lack of skill. In Game 14!
Then there were the wrong routes run by receivers, the bad passes by Cutler (even his snidest scowls couldn’t hide some of his mistakes), only 12 first downs and 190 net yards. This was against a banged-up Packers team playing on a hostile field.
Through it all, Smith stared.
No matter, though, because what’s missing isn’t hellfire and brimstone but an intuitive knowledge about how a complex pro offense works and an understanding about how to make it work in tough conditions.
There always is a trickle-down effect from the coach. Many coaches are offensive experts, and they need to pay a lot of attention to their teams’ defense or have a masterful coordinator taking that task away from them.
Smith can’t pretend to care deeply about that which he does not. The Bears and offense just don’t seem to go together. Maybe it’s history. Maybe it’s heritage.
What the Bears have shown during Smith’s tenure is that they can beat average and below-average teams consistently. But when they need three-touchdown quarters, 400-yard passing games, one-minute drills or swift attacks that overwhelm, they’re just not there.
And under Smith, they never will be.