Chicago Sports Inside and Out – The Chicago Sports Maven

Bringing Chicago sports to the world!

Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bears’

Lovie Smith Puts His Chicago Bears Legacy Directly In The Crosshairs

Posted by sportsmaven on January 29, 2009

Change had to come. You knew it, the guy next to you knew it too.  If you’ve watched the Chicago Bears all season, especially on the defensive side of the ball, there was an air of change swirling, rustling the leaves, blowing wildly in the wind.  The offense was an early and pleasant surprise that slowly morphed into what we all thought it would be, but the cornerstone unit of this franchise, the defense, was like the two year recession of the American economy.  Something had to change.

Bears head coach Lovie Smith takes over Chicago Bears defense

Bears head coach Lovie Smith takes over Chicago Bears defense

The media’s favorite fall guy was Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich, but he was just a front man.  The real finger pointing started the day Bears head coach Lovie Smith announced the departure of then defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and naming linebackers coach Babich his replacement.  Smith followed that up with a plea for people to trust him when it comes to the welfare of his Chicago Bears football team.  When the argument resorts to pulling a “Trust Me” card, that’s was a sure sign to run away, don’t buy it, red-flag warning.

Something had to change after two years of sub-par performance of a unit paid like the elite, but performed very unordinary and uninspired.   Just like the legacy of President Barack Obama, who will forever live on his phrases of more accountability, “Yes, we can” and personal responsibility, Lovie Smith’s legacy will live on his most memorable words too, “Trust Me”.

His legacy will also be square in the crosshairs of his decisions concerning the coaching staff, bringing in former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli to coach the defensive line (and take the title of Asst. Head Coach), moving Babich back to linebackers coach (retaining the defensive coordinator title in name only), where he actually experienced great success with LB’s Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher garnering regular Pro Bowl appearances under his tutelage, and hiring veteran defensive backs coach and ex-Chicago Bear defensive back Jon Hoke to coach the secondary for the Bears.  The biggest move, however, is the announcement that Smith, himself, will be calling the defensive plays next season.

Smith was arguably one of the best defensive coodinators in the NFL, leading a defense that took the St. Louis Rams to Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.  Smith’s defense was known for being an aggressive defense, forcing 38 turnovers and 4 defensive TD’s.  Smith taking over primary play calling duties from Bob Babich is seen as a strong positive move for restoring the bite in the Bears defense.  One way or another, it definitely will be the move that cements his Chicago Bears legacy, for good or bad.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Top 10 Moments In Chicago Sports In 2008

Posted by sportsmaven on January 17, 2009

The new year has already started and amidst the resolutions, fresh starts, diets, and new beginnings comes the ever reverent look back at the year that has passed.  The year 2008 was a banner year for Chicago sports, as three teams won their prospective division titles, and one, the Chicago Wolves won a championship.  There was good, bad, ugly, and everything in between for Chicago sports fans.  So, lets take a look back on the Top 10 Moments in Chicago Sports in 2008 (in no particular order):
Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears use goal line stand to beat the Eagles 24-20

Bears goal line stand against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 — The Chicago Bears were leading the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20, Eagles had first and goal from the Bears 4, 5:40 left in the game.  Eagles run RB Cornell Buckhalter off right tackle for 3 yards.  Second and goal was a handoff to FB Tony Hunt for no gain.  Third down was back to Buckhalter to the right for no gain.  Eagles call a time out and decide to go for it on 4th down.   Buckhalter again off left tackle, this time, stood up by RE Alex Brown of the Bears for no gain.  Game over.  Bears win.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Zambrano hurls a no-hitter.

Cubs RHP Carlos Zambrano throws no-hitter against the Houston Astros on Sept. 14th —  The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros waited two long days to find out where they would be playing their key late season series against each other.  Houston was being devestated by Hurricane Ike and MLB moved the Astros to “neutral” Miller Park in Milwaukee to face the Cubs.  Zambrano brought his “A” game with him to “Wrigley North”, shutting down the powerful Astros lineup, striking out CF Darrin Erstad swinging for the last out of the first Cubs no-hitter in 36 years.

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Chicago Cubs Win 2008 NL Central Division

Cubs win back to back NL Central Division titles — The Cubs began the 2008 season with one of it’s goals to win the 2008 NL Central Division title, as well as seeking their first World Series appearance since 1945 and first World Championship since 1908.  Alas, the Cubs could only slay one 100 year drought, as they won an NL-best 97 games en route to the 2008 NL Central Division title for their  first back to back division titles since 1908.  A quick sweep in the NL Divisional Series by the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers dimmed what was to that point, a most magical season for the North Siders.

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

chicago white sox win 2008 al central division title

White Sox win 3 elimination games in a row to win the AL Central title — The Chicago White Sox looked dead in the water, losing  4 of their final 5 games to the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, coughing up a 2.5 game division lead and falling 1/2 game behind the Twins with one game to play.  The final game of the Cleveland series and the regular season was a must win game with Mark Buehrle on the bump, the Sox beat the Indians to force the Monday afternoon post-season makeup game against the Detroit Tigers.  The Sox win the makeup game against the Tigers, forcing a one game playoff game against the Twins for the AL Division title, this time, in Chicago.   The Sox, behind a masterpiece by LHP John Danks, beat the Twins 1-0 and claim the AL Central Division title, winning three elimination games in a row.

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

derrick rose drafted #1 by chicago bulls

Chicago Bulls win the 1st pick in the NBA Draft and the right to select PG Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson had to work wonders to undo all the bad karma and decision-making by Bulls brass in the post-Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson era, but by sheer luck,  one of those bouncing ping-pong ball went red, and the Bulls, with a x% chance, landed the #1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft.  Around the same time, a young freshman PG from Chicago was leading his one-loss  Memphis Tigers team to the 2008 National Championship game against the Kansas Jayhawks.  The Jayhawks win the title, the young freshman forgoes his eligibility and declares eligible for the NBA Draft and the prodigal son returns a hero.

The City of Chicago becomes a finalist for host city for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games — Chicago survived the US bid process to emerge as the US entry for host of the 2016 Olympics.  Election Night provided the world a glimpse of what Chicago 2016 could be as Grant Park served as the world’s stage for President-Elect Barack Obama’s election night speech.  Chicago is President Obama’s hometown and can be in prime position to be named 2016 host, but it can’t rest on that momentum as concerns about finances, transportation infrastructure, and sports facilities still shroud Chicago’s Olympic bid chances.

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

Youngsters lead the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks

The arrival of a young and resurgent Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, who finished  the 2007-08 season very strong and opened the 2008-09 season even stronger — the Chicago Blackhawks under owner Bill Wirtz became the city’s red headed stepchild of Chicago professional sports.  Even the minor league AHL hockey team, the Chicago Wolves, were outdrawing the Hawks in attendance.  Things couldn’t have been any lower, and then, Bill Wirtz died.  Bill’s son Rocky took the team over and his first move as team owner was to steal marketing genius John McDonough away from the Cubs, hiring McDonough as his new team president.  A change in coaches (Joel Quenneville in, Denis Savard out), a #1, and #3  draft pick later, youngsters C Jonathan Toews and RW Patrick Kane lead a marketing and on-ice resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks.  High point to date, a team best 9 game winning streak leading into the 2009 Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.  The game resulted in a loss for the Blackhawks in the standings, but was a HUGE win for the Hawks in prestige and heritage.  A vintage Original Six team is reborn.

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Chicago Bears Matt Forte leads Bears ground attack

Bears hammer Indianapolis Colts on national TV in the season opener, marking the coming out party for Bears RB Matt Forte and ruining the home opening of the Colts new Lucas Oil Stadium — The Chicago Bears were playing on national television.  They were also playing the mighty Indianapolis Colts on the road in the Colts brand spanking new stadium.  The Bears have traditionally been nothing short of horrible in nationally televised night games and this was Sunday Night Football on NBC.  And QB Peyton Manning, coming off a knee injury, was planning on starting this game. The Bears were doomed, but fate forgot to mention that to this Bears team, lead by a resurgent defense and the nimble running of rookie RB Matt Forte, the only Bear to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his first ever game (123 yards), the Bears down the mighty Colts 29-13.

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

QB Juice Williams leads Illinois to 2008 Rose Bowl

The University of Illinois football team plays in it’s first Rose Bowl since 1984 — In 2001, the University of Illinois football program was reaching it’s pinnacle capped by a Big Ten Conference Championship and an appearance in the 2002 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  Two short years later, the Illini hit rock bottom, going 1-11, eventually firing coach Ron Turner and hiring master recruiter Ron Zook as his replacement.  In year 3 of the rebuilding process, the Illini found themselves with a 9-4 record, stunning #1 Ohio State on the road in a 28-21 victory that propelled the team to it’s first Rose Bowl in 24 years.

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship

Chicago Wolves win the 2008 Calder Cup Championship, bringing a hockey title back to Chicago — The Chicago Wolves AHL hockey team beats the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2 bringing the Calder Cup back to Chicago.  It is the 4th title for the Wolves in their 14-year history.  Soon after, Wolves Coach John Anderson is promoted to coach the parent team, the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. The Wolves dip into a famous Chicago hockey family, tapping Don Granato as their new head coach.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Fighting Illini | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Chicago Bears 9-7 Season Clouds Failures In Judgement

Posted by sportsmaven on December 29, 2008

The Chicago Bears are not the Detroit Lions, but at the completion of today’s play, they have gotten as far as the Lions did this season, which to say, is out of the playoffs.  That comparison is certainly extreme, as the Bears do not have the same amount of holes that the Lions have, but a 9-7 finish that surprised many have clouded severe failures of judgement made by the football leadership of this team.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Perhaps the most glaring failures are with a Chicago Bears defense that opened the season very motivated in a win over the Indianapolis Colts, but sunk to maddening lows in crushing defeats by the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings amongst others.  Bears head coach Lovie Smith was asked about replacing defensive coordinator Ron Rivera shorly after the Bears loss to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.  This is where Love broke out his now infamous “Trust Me” speech.

“You should trust me as a head football coach to put us in the best position to win football games,” Smith said. “It’s as simple as that.”

And that was Lovie’s reasoning to why he chose to replace Ron Rivera with BFF Bob Babich.  Since Rivera was replaced, the Bears defense has plunged to embarassingly low depths in both prestige and performance.  In 2006, teams feared and respected the Bears defense.  Ask the Arizona Cardinals, despite then-Coach Dennis Green’s post-game rant.  Now, teams just run over the Bears defense.  Case in point:

  • The Houston Texans racked up 455 yards of total offense and 31 points in a Week 17 victory.
  • The Packers ran the Bears for 427 yards and 37 points in Week 11 pasting of the Bears.
  • The Vikings racked up 439 yards and 41 points in a Week 7 loss to the Bears.
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran up 454 yards and 27 points  in a Week 2 Bears debacle.

These are numbers that nearly all Chicago Bears fans find unacceptable.  It should be unacceptable to Lovie Smith as well, but somehow, it isn’t, which leads back to the Trust Me speech and the fact that I can no longer trust Lovie Smith to make correct decisions when he has yet to acknowledge that the two biggest staff decisions of his coaching tenure were complete and utter failures (remember the Terry Shea mess?)

Secondly, the Bears personnel decisions and evaluations are skeptical at best and leave even casual fans wondering if the Bears are able to effectively evaluate talent.  Consider the players the Bears kept:

  • WR/KR Devin Hester signed a $40M contract extension and was made a WR, neutering his return skills (0 TD’s)
  • LB Brian Urlacher was given a lucrative contract extension for 88 tackles, no sacks, and no Pro Bowl selection
  • DT Tommie Harris signed a large contract extension only to play about a half season due to injury/ineffectiveness
  • WR Earl Bennett was drafted to compete for a starting position; he ends up catching 0 passes for the season.

and the players the Bears decided to let go:

The Bears have also missed on numerous players in the draft as well, as noted in past posts.  The level of talent on the Bears has receded dramatically since the 2006 Super Bowl season, which means that the Bears braintrust has not made moves in personnel and coaching to build off their success.  Now Bob Babich is on the hot seat.

The Bears clearly need to admit that they made severe errors in judgement in replacing Ron Rivera with Bob Babich.  They need to admit that they made errors in personnel and they need to correct these errors in the offseason.  A 9-7 record is something to build from, but if the failures of judgement are not corrected, this may be the best it will be under Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith.

Extras:

Posted in Chicago Bears | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Chicago Bears Don’t Take Care Of Business Yet Again

Posted by sportsmaven on November 30, 2008

These are the games that kill the Chicago Bears….kill them in so many ways.  The Bears had a prime opportunity to take the drivers seat in the division, establish momentum going into a 3 game homestand, build on a win over the St. Louis Rams, and show a national television audience that your team is for real.  The only thing standing in the way was the Minnesota Vikings, or the Bears themselves.  The Bears played a fairly strong 25 minutes in the first half.  The rest of the game was a unmitigated nightmare.

Chicago Bears Lose to Minnesota Vikings 34-14

Chicago Bears Lose to Minnesota Vikings 34-14 (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The most upsetting aspect of tonight’s game is the Bears complete lack of fundamentals of the game of football.  Numerous missed tackles, dropped passes, lack of blocking, blown coverages, bad reads by the quarterback, bad playcalling, poor coaching decisions.  If it was bad, the Bears did it, and did it on national television.  These are the games that people remember when asked about their opinion of the Chicago Bears.

Tonight’s game was turned on two plays, the 4th down stop by the Vikings on the 1 yard line and on the ensuing play, the 99 yard touchdown pass from Vikings QB Gus Frerotte to WR Bernard Berrian.  Two plays, game over, on both sides of the ball.  From the Bears performance tonight, there are 5 key takeaways:

1.  If you can’t gain a yard on 4 plays for a touchdown, you don’t deserve to win any games, period.  Any play that takes away touches for Bears RB Matt Forte is a bad play, especially on the goal line.  Take that fullback handoff and put it in the shredder, right now.  Give your best players as many chances as possible to succeed.  So, the right call is Forte three times and if that doesn’t work, if you’re on the road, take the points, always.

2.  It doesn’t matter how fast your players are if they can’t catch the ball or make tackles.  The problem tonight wasn’t getting to Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.  The Bears actually did that very well.  It was getting him down that was the problem.  Peterson was throwing Bears off of him like little rag dolls.

3. Coaching out of fear leads to coaching not to lose games, leads to losing games.  Poor playcalling on the offensive side of the ball leads to pressing and non-confidence.

4.  Bears RB Matt Forte is the MVP of the Chicago Bears and is the only Chicago Bear player that consistently looks ready to play every single week.  For long stretches of the game, Forte was matching Adrian Peterson step for step, with the same toughness.  Forte had 96 yards rushing and another 29 yards receiving with a touchdown, against a Viking team that gives up 70 yards rushing per game.  Forte plays hard, looks prepared and ready to go and is the Bears most consistent and valuable player.  What would the Bears record be without Forte?

5.  The Bears appear to be undersized on both the offensive and defensive lines, not a successful formula for winning football.  Bears C Olin Kreutz is 290 lbs.  G Josh Beekman is listed at a generous 300 lbs. and G Roberto Garza is 300 lbs.  All are listed a 6’2″.  Vikings DT Pat Williams is 6’3″ 317 and DT Kevin Williams is 6’5″ 311.  Bears DT Tommie Harris is 6’2″ 290 up against Vikings DL that weigh more than 315-325 lbs.

Two extra nuggets — Bears QB Kyle Orton was making great progress in becoming more than a serviceable quarterback until his ankle injury against the Detroit Lions 4 weeks ago.  Since the injury, Orton has been shaky at best, missing a game, returning too early for the Green Bay loss, looking very average in the St. Louis game and having his worst game of the season in tonight’s game.  As of tonight, it appears that the injury has put Orton nearly back to square one in his development.  Secondly, another note on the Vikings 99 yard TD,  the Bears have given up the longest TD passes in both Monday Night Football (a 99 yard TD pass from Brett Favre to Robert Brooks of the Green Bay Packers in 1995) history and Sunday Night Football history, auspicious records for a team to hold.

So where do the Bears go from here?  First, the coaching staff needs to better prepare the players.  The one constant is that the Bears don’t seem to be a team that is consistently prepared week to week.  Part of the problem is that the Bears players may not be executing consistently week to week.  If that’s the case, the coaching staff needs to do a better job of identifying the players that make plays and get them more prominiently into the game plan, especially on the offense.  Do more with Matt Forte, WR Devin Hester, and TE Greg Olsen.

On defense, having a physical secondary is worthless when defensive backs never play press coverage.  This has been a glaring weakness that Bears opponents have taken advantage of in their game planning.  When the Bears use the WR screen offensively, its almost never effective because the opposing defensive backs are playing up on the Bears receivers, pressing them and forcing them downfield.  When the Bears play the WR screen defensively, it almost always works for the opposing team because the Bears don’t press opposing receivers, sometimes playing as much as 8 yards off the receiver before the snap.  This was witnessed firsthand tonight, when the Vikings converted two third downs via the WR screen and the 99 yard touchdown was thrown to a WR that was allowed to run free from the snap.

Ultimately, these are coaching decisions that contribute to what has been a very average season to date.  December is the time of the year to begin the work in developing sound game plans and executing them as flawlessy as possible.  December is the time where good teams become great teams and contenders become pretenders.  It’s a time to step up your play to another level and to a man, coaches included, with the exception of Matt Forte, nobody on the Bears has stepped up, and Matt Forte can’t do it all alone.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Chicago Bears Coaching Staff Puts Team In Position Not To Win

Posted by sportsmaven on October 13, 2008

In football, coaching is an important facet of the game.  As you move up the levels of football, from pee wee to high school to college, the gap between the knowledge and ability of the coaching staff as compared to the ability of the players to execute the game plan the coaching staff puts together gets smaller and smaller.  In the NFL that gap is small, but the level and quality of play takes a huge leap from college football.  Typical NFL personnel practice hours a day, every day as practice is primary to making the gap between coaching and execution/ability as small as possible.

Today’s Chicago Bears game against the Atlanta Falcons was a case study in how wide the gap can become between coaching and player execution.  Three plays in today’s 22-20 loss for the Bears sums up how the 2008 version of the Chicago Bears consistently lose winnable games with their inconsistent play and coaching.

First play was the third and goal play on the goal line stand.  Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner likes to get cute and call plays for FB Jason McKie.  Sometimes they work, but more often than not, they don’t.  McKie is a nice fullback, but why get cute with your 4th best RB when you can give your best RB 4 tries at the goal line.  The ball should have went to all world RB Matt Forte.  You have to go with your best guy in key times.  Turner didn’t do that and when he realized it, it was too late.

Second play was the squib kick.  Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith said the reason they called the squib kick was that the coverage units were tired.  Calling a questionable strategy because your team is not conditioned to run the right strategy?  Lovie Smith has a reputation for running easy going camps.  Training camp is the time to work on conditioning.  Tired in Week 6?  Will it get any better by Week 15?  If this truly was the reason to call the squib kick, it was a poor coaching decision.  The end result validated that 100 times over.

The last play was the base defense the Bears chose for the final offensive play with :06 left in the game.  The Bears may or may not have called the correct defensive set, but due to previous injuries to 4 other defensive backs in this game, the Bears were forced to play a player that they acquired just 19 days ago.  To compound the situation, the call didn’t cover the sideline and account for the only pattern the Falcons could have run to make the completion and still have time to attempt the game winning FG.  Bad decisions, game ending loss.

The Bears played another out of sync game today, with only the offense having a decent day.  The defense came in with a game plan to stop Falcons RB Michael Turner, which they did.  But they never stopped Falcons QB Matt Ryan or any of the Falcons receivers.  Didn’t make adjustments to that game, thus Ryan was virtually untouched today.  Special teams play today was about as bad as I’ve seen in Lovie Smith’s tenure.

Although today’s performance by the Bears can be and should be attributed to the players, I believe the coaching staff is equally responsible.  The Bears 3 losses are by a total of 8 points combined.   That 8 points is mostly due to being outcoached in every game this season, save for the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions games.  The Bears coaching staff has consistently gameplanned not to lose games.  Not only is that a defeatist attitude, but it shows no confidence in the talent that is on the roster.  That’s what takes what should be a very solid 6-0 team and turns it into a mediocre 3-3 team.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »