Oh wait, there’s no ’13 this season.
The Bears went 7-1 the first half of the season, 3-5 the second half, and failed to make the playoffs. By most accounts, that’s a horrific collapse.
I disagree. Here’s the first half of the season: Colts (W), Packers (L), Rams (W), Cowboys (W), Jaguars (W), Lions (W), Panthers (W), Titans (W). That’s a weak schedule– only two opponents made the playoffs the year before (Packers, Lions), and only two opponents made it this year (Colts, Packers). So 7-1 shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone.
Now here’s the second half of the season: Texans (L), 49ers (L), Vikings (W), Seahawks (L), Vikings again (L), Packers again (L), Cardinals (W), Lions again (W). That’s a much stronger schedule: four opponents made the playoffs last year (Texans, 49ers, Packers, Lions), and six opponents made it this year (all but the Cardinals and Lions). I wouldn’t call losing five of those games a collapse. Agonizing to watch, yes. A collapse, no.
It’s safe to say the Bears did about what they should have done this season– beaten weaker teams, lost to stronger teams– given they still don’t have an offensive line.
The Bears have a decent QB. They have decent running backs and wideouts. They have a strong defense. But the offensive line is embarrassingly weak. It’s been bad for four years, surrendering an average of almost three sacks per game. Even worse is the fact that with Matt Forte and Michael Bush at running back, the Bears couldn’t run between the tackles. Think about that: the most basic play in football is handing the ball to an RB and having him run straight ahead– and the Bears couldn’t do it. Late in games they were leading, when you want to run the ball over and over again and to keep the clock moving, the Bears had to throw. There’s no surer sign that you don’t trust your own line.
Worst of all, despite knowing how bad the line has been, the Bears have drafted just three offensive linemen in the last four years: Carimi, Webb, and Louis. If you’ve heard of them, it’s only because they suck or they’re injured.
So should Lovie Smith have been fired today? I say yes. Either he coached the offensive line poorly, or he didn’t build a good O-line, or he didn’t demand that the GM bring in good linemen. When that obvious a problem goes unresolved (and arguably unaddressed) for so long– especially with so much other talent on the team– heads have to roll. Furthermore, if you spend years wondering whether a coach should keep his job, he probably shouldn’t.
I’m not saying Lovie didn’t try to fix the line. I assume he did. But he didn’t do enough about it, so that’s that. Hopefully, Emery and the McCaskeys will bring in a strong coach with the ability and the good sense to fix the offensive line. I’m not optimistic.
People joke now about John Madden’s BAMs and BOOMs and the turkeys with extra legs and think he’s just some goofy old codger who lent his name to a successful video game. They forget or don’t know that he’s got the second-best coaching record in league history (103-32-7).
In Madden’s second book, One Knee Equals Two Feet, he said that the most important group of players on the team is the offensive line. The center is the first person to touch the ball on every play. The linemen are the first people to hit the other team on every play. If you can buy your QB an extra half-second in the pocket, he makes better plays and gets sacked less. If you can run behind the a strong line, you make the field shorter, you keep the ball longer, your opponents spend less time on offense, your defense stays fresher, etc. The game looks complicated from time to time, but it’s not that complicated. Get good linemen.