Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Oct 2007

FOX: Smith Must Make Changes to Save Season

Can Lovie Smith save the S.S. Chicago Bears from sinking into the ocean? MDS gives four bits of advice: Play Adrian Peterson, use more of Devin Hester and Alex Brown, and reduce the role of new defensive coordinator Bob Babich.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 19 Oct 2007

29 comments, Last at 28 Oct 2007, 11:33pm by cherry


by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 3:59pm

3: Yes. Pass-rushing ends get way too much credit, especially since many of them (like Anderson) are incomplete players.

4: Very yes. The Bears have been blitzing way too much this year. The problem is that the specialty of their LB corps is coverage and run containment (despite their speed), not getting to the QB. Urlacher and Briggs should never be in the backfield. If they are, that means someone is open, and neither are good enough at getting path OL blocks to make the trade worth it.

1: Not gonna happen, at least during the season. Benson is one of the front office's guys. Look at what it took for Grossman to get ousted!

2: A nice dream, but, again, not going to happen. Hester is dumber than a bag of hammers, and reportedly has severe problems even learning the playbook.

The other part is that he simply isn't a particularly good receiver. We've seen him run some "normal" routes over the course of the season, and he was completely blanketed on every one. Even the smoke, which should be his specialty with the acceleration he boasts, has been a non-starter. I think both times it was thrown to him he lost yardage. Different skills.

by Levente from Hungary (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 4:10pm

"Turn Devin Hester into a real receiver"
Given that this article is about turning around the season for the Bears, is the remaining 2 1/2 months enough for that? I often hear it takes 2-3 years for a WR to adjust to NFL and Hester wasn't even a full time WR at college.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 4:15pm

Yeah, Mckinnie treated Anderson like a rag-doll in the run game on Sunday. He isn't an every down player. It also hurts considerably that Harris doesn't have his normal, healthy, burst.

by Tom (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 4:27pm

Until last year Urlacher was averaging 5-6 sacks a year. He can get to the quarterback. Briggs has no sense of timing, however.

by Tom (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 4:36pm

Moose is not our #1, Berrian is, and he's having a pretty good season statistically. I would rather Mark Bradley get more reps over Hester. If Bradley could stay healthy I think he could be a very good receiver.

by Rex Grossman (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 4:46pm

How about putting me back in? Please?

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 6:05pm

4: I wasn't talking about sacks. I was talking about blitzes. Urlacher used to pick up sacks as either the spy or cleaning up when the QB scrambled.

6: Orton! Orton!

by Jordy (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 6:44pm

Bears fan here and I can't say I miss Ron Rivera. It's funny how you want to give him retroactive credit, but last year Lovie Smith was the "genius" (your word at the time) pulling Rivera's strings.

Rivera will be remembered for sitting up in the booth and failing to make adjustments, whether it was regular season, the Steve Smith game or the Super Bowl where the opponent just kept taking the same play over and over.

Doesn't necessarily mean Babich is the answer either, but I'll give him a fair chance to play some games where the entire starting defensive backfield isn't out. Their good fortune with injuries has caught up with them.

SD had 3 points at halftime. Dallas had 3 points at halftime. Detroit had 3 points through 3 quarters.

Those aren't mediocre performances. The defense wears down because they're out of bodies (other than freakin' Archuleta) and the offense kept putting their back against the wall.

Perhaps Babich needs to learn about adjustments too. I'll give him more of a chance than 6 weeks before I pronounce him utterly incapable, thanks. Part of the flaw in your thinking goes back your belief that Lovie Smith is a genius.

by Jordy (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 7:12pm

Unfortunately, it appears that the link to "Lovie Smith is a Genius" article that I allude to is dysfunctional, as was the concept of it.

by jimm (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 10:00pm

By the end of last year the Bears were not playing good football, particularly on Defence. In there last 5 games against Minn, StL, TB, Det and GB they were giving up 5 yards a play and were out gained by about 250 against some of the worst teams in the league.

The playoff wins were a bit of a mirage in that they played a very weak Sea team at home and had one legitimate win against NO. But even in that game they gave up 375 yards.

I think hanging the bad defensive play on the new coach is very unfair. In the last eight games of 2006 (including playoffs) the Bears gave up an average of 368 yards a game. So far this year they are giving up 361 a game. I know that yards per play isn't the greatest way to measure defence, but it seems clear to me this problem became evident late in 2006 and it's simply carried over.

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 10:16pm

I think Peterson is a good player but I still think Benson is a better player. I also think the coaches are using him all wrong, it is a fallacy in the NFL that a big back needs to run up the middle. It is a better idea to get your big, punishing back isolated onto linebackers and defensive backs. The Bears think it is a better idea to smack Benson into the opposition's defensive tackles, the players best equipped to tackle him without getting worn down. I understand that you have to vary your running game, but you can definitely ram the ball up the gut too many times. I may be on my own on this one, but you are better off running a slasher up the gut and a power back on off-tackle runs and sweeps, let the back try to break a tackle on the perimeter. I still think Benson needs to be the centrepiece of the running attack, work Peterson in but use the pair of them more intelligently.

As far as the Hester idea, it would be wonderful if the coaches could click their fingers and instantly teach Hester everything he needs to know about starting at receiver in the NFL. That isn't going to happen, but every skill he can demonstrate will enhance his value to the offense. He needs to be on the field for at least 30% of the snaps, and the Bears need to get him the ball using conventional means. If they can do this it will scare the crap out of defensive coordinators. It isn't a short term project though and shouldn't be treated as such.

Anderson, Ogunleye and Brown should all play equal snaps, the fresher they are the better they all will play. I wanted Brown to get the start at end this last week as Brown always played well against McKinnie.

I think it is overly simplistic to blame Babich for poor performance from a unit that is still missing three starters and has numerous other important players playing at well below 100%. In addition to Dvoracek, Vasher, Brown and Walker who all missed the entirety of Sunday's game, Urlacher (back), Harris (knee), Briggs (groin), Archuleta (broken hand) and Tillman (ankle) were all playing with injuries that limited their effectiveness. That is nine players hurt, some out, some seriously below par. Urlacher doesn't look good for the last couple of weeks, Briggs played quite well but still doesn't seem to change direction all that quickly, Harris seems to be seriously limited by his knee. These are all guys who the scheme requires to make a big impact who aren't capable of doing it at the moment, and some of the reserves are not playing very well at all. McBride for example was eight yards downfield getting stonewalled by a WR on every single Peterson TD run, how the hell are you supposed to get outside contain when the CB is nearly ten yards downfield being blocked when the RB crosses the line of scrimmage. Babich's problem is that with Harris limited the front four doesn't get enough pressure to play a lot of zone. In order to disrupt the QB Babich has to blitz more, when the defense was healthy it seemed to be a nice change-up, but with a load of scrubs and reserves in the line-up it doesn't work as well. At this stage it isn't appropriate to name Babich as the problem, he could be, but at the moment the problem is the injuries.

On offense the Bears need to throw away the old gameplan and start again with both tight ends on the field (the pair of them are better than McKie) along with Berrian and then alternate Muhammed and Hester in (at a ratio I have yet to determine). The overall intention should be to spread the defense out and then punish them. The Bears have some fantastic athletes, yet seem to have no gumption whatsoever about how to use it. So my Christmas wishlist involves gumption for the Bears offensive coordinators.

Please Santa, please.

by Marko (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 10:52pm

"SD had 3 points at halftime. Dallas had 3 points at halftime. Detroit had 3 points through 3 quarters."

Actually, SD had 0 points at halftime. The Bears lost that game largely because the Bears only had 3 points at halftime (and, of course, still only 3 points at the end of the game).

"In the last eight games of 2006 (including playoffs) the Bears gave up an average of 368 yards a game. So far this year they are giving up 361 a game."

What do those games have in common? The almost complete absence of Mike Brown (out for the season after week 6 last year, out for the season after being injured in the fourth quarter of week 1 this year) and the absence or lack of a fully healthy Tommie Harris (injured during last year's 2nd Minnesota game and out for the rest of the year, not fully recovered and banged up further this year).

Also, Nathan Vasher missed two games at the end of last season and has been out since being injured against Dallas this year, and Charles Tillman missed two of the games that Vasher didn't miss last year. Tillman also was banged up against Dallas this year, causing him to miss the Detroit game and play at less than full strength since then. The Bears secondary has been awful without Brown and Vasher and/or Tillman.

by Brian (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 12:04am

Chicago's defense is nothing like it was last year. It's solidly below average, even accounting for the offenses they've faced.

by Tom (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 1:23am

Also, don't forget a lot of the games at the end of the year last year the Bears were doing crazy things with their defense.

Against Detroit for example they ran one zone defense the entire game so that their players could learn it. I think even the 2006 Raiders would score points on you, if you ran the same defense every play for an entire game.

Personally it looked like they weren't trying 100% from the St Louis game on to me.

@ Jimmy, I agree with everything you said. My only fear is that we get a fire Turner, and end up with an even worse offensive coordinator. Since he's probably been the best we've had in 20 years (both times he coached the Bears), I would almost keep him just so we don't get worse.

by Fergasun (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 2:32am

It's the defense, stupid. Run at Hunter Hillenmeyer, gain 4 yards, repeat.

In fact I don't think anyone answered me why Chicago was in a 4-2-5 when Adrian Peterson ripped off his 76 yard run. It was 1st and 10. Secondary didn't look all that good trying to tackle him out there. I suspect the end that is in front of Hillenmeyer is weak as well, or it could've been that Minny's left side was ridiculously better last Sunday.

by Marko (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 4:43am

Fergasun: Adrian Peterson did not have a 76 yard run. Are you referring to his 67 yard TD run or his 73 yard TD run?

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 10:27am


I agree that Turner is the best offensive coordinator that the Bears have had in a while, but if that isn't the definition of damning with faint praise then I don't know what is. At this pint in time I start to wonder whether the coordinator job for the Bears is simply given to the guy who turns up to the interviews looking hopeful with his own clipboard, headset and packet of coloured markers.

It Turner does move on the guy I would want to bring in would be Ken Zampese from Cincy, the only other name I can think of who might leave his current team is Kyle Shanahan, other guys like Caldwell in Indy aren't likely to leave for anything less than a head coaching gig. What has to be avoided is sacking Turner and getting some college guy with an innovative system which worked like clockwork in college but doesn't have essential things like hot reads and protection adjustments (Crowton II - the Return).

by Josh (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 12:23pm

Where does Ron Rivera fit into the equation? His complete inability to make adjustments has been a problem all season. In the San Diego game, where both teams were almost exclusively playing the run, San Diego won because they were the only team that adjusted the offensive scheme at halftime (throwing screens to slow down the rush).

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 12:55pm

If Linehan gets fired from the Rams job, don't be fooled by that injury plagued disaster this year; he is an excellent offensive coordinator, and would be a good fit with Bears' personnel. He also is good with quarterbacks, if the Bears get a prospect. I do think Grossman is finished as a starter.

by Fergasun (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 2:21pm

The 73 yard run. It was first and 10... made no sense to be in nickel, not to mention the DB blitz right past the play. Good downfield blocking by the receivers completely spring'd him, but there was no resistance from the front 7 at all.

by Lou (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 10:59pm

Re Turner's replacement

Is Charlie Weis a possibility?

by sacctown (not verified) :: Sun, 10/21/2007 - 10:14am

It's a fallacy that Mark Anderson is weak against the run. Apart from the Minny game, which he has said was the worst of his life, he has been extremely solid against the run.

by Chris Chandler (not verified) :: Sun, 10/21/2007 - 5:19pm


How about putting me back in!? I was the last good QB and sign Sweetness while your at it.

- problems solved

by Pete (not verified) :: Mon, 10/22/2007 - 12:55pm

I think the biggest problem for Chicago is as expected. Their defensive line has lost too many players and they are not deep enough to play the second half as well as they played in the first half. The Bears' defensive line is wearing down and opponents are able to take advantage of this in the second half. I suspect Archaletta is not the worst player in the league, although he may be one of the worst starters.

by cherry (not verified) :: Tue, 10/23/2007 - 12:32am

The Archuleta signing in the off-season was curious to me. Washington had all but self-diagnosed his coverage deficiencies, yet Lovie seemed to think he could resurrect his career. When they signed him, I thought he'd be a worthy backup safety and fill the Todd Johnson / Cameron Worrel roles on special teams. Then they started summer camp and had Danielle Manning on the bench replaced by Archuleta and I'm thinking, how in the world did that happen? Manning was a rising prospect that needed to play and get experience at safety - and working alongside Mike Brown, I thought that would be the best situation. Then Mike Brown goes down for the season (no one saw that coming - laf), they traded away their best hitter in Chris Harris (who's starting in Carolina and doing very well I might add) and instead of putting D. Manning in his safety spot, they go with Payne - a late round pick rookie - in order to use Manning at CB for Vasher. Seems silly to me - safety is certainly the more difficult position to play in the NFL compared to a cornerback in a Tampa 2 system. Perhaps D. Manning isn't as bright as the Bears made him out to be when they drafted him and corner was the better fit - if so, then they should have had him there since his rookie season. Either way, clearly the Bears staff have shown questionable personell decisions since the Super Bowl.

The D-line situation sucks... nobody could have predicted this situation from the summer - losing Tank to poor freewill, Devorcek (spelling) to season ending injury and then Darwin Walker to sprained knee for extended time. But Anderson is not holding at the point of attack at all. Hillenmeyer is adequate against TE's but get a lineman on him and he's toast. I expect many more opponents to be attacking the left side (Bears D's right) in the future with the run. I think it would be a good idea to entertain using Alex Brown for 1st and 2nd downs with Anderson coming in for the explosive burst on 3rd downs. Another year or two, hopefully he'll put some more strength onto that frame and be able to be the guy - but for now, he just can't hold the point of attack on runs.

As for Babich, the above commentary gives him at least the season to see what he can do. Currently, he's been given lemons, unfortunately he's doing his best to make lemonade but at the expense of some strange personell development decisions in the secondary and bad luck at D-line. One thing that I do notice with Babich is that he's actually playing predominantly Cover 2 with blitzes out of that look. While Rivera mixed up Cover 2 with a lot of Man Free and a decent amount of Cover 3. In fact, during the playoff run for the Bears last year, Rivera was playing predominantly man-to-man. Compare the Green Bay game with Babich calling almost exclusively Cover 2 (especially the 2nd half - sadly Brett Favre even admits that's all they played and he still couldn't beat them somehow?!?!). If there's one criticism of Babich to be made at this point, is that he seems to have only 2 defensive calls - it's either blitz or Cover 2.

by DrPatrick (not verified) :: Wed, 10/24/2007 - 6:02pm

25: One has to wonder: to what degree is Lovie burdened by Angelo's draft failures? The Archuleta deal seems to be purely Lovie Smith's move, while on the other hand, Benson and Grossman are generally viewed as Angelo's guys that Lovie is stuck with.

Are Lovie and Angelo on the same page here? Was the gain Archuleta, lose Harris fiasco the result of some sort of power struggle or quid pro quo between Angelo and Lovie? (Smith gets Archuleta, but has to dump Harris on the cheap).

Regarding the benching of Danieal Manning: In general, I have to assume that the coaches know better than everyone else not on the team which players play well in what positions. It seems to me, contrary to someone's post above, that the Bears think having special players at cornerback is more important than at safety. Cases in point: the Vasher AND Tillman resignings in the offseason, as well as last years signing of Ricky Manning, Jr. for a nice wad of cash. At the same time, they trade away Harris for a late pick, sign the only safety in the league who has ever been caught from behind by an offensive lineman (Archuleta), and move one of their most promising young safeties to corner (D. Manning).

Maybe moving Manning to corner is not the demotion/confidence killer people see it as; maybe it is a statement that D. Manning is special and, as such, can eventually be relied on as a corner isolated against top receivers, a la Tillman (while Archuleta slowly treks across the field to help out, arriving 4 seconds after the play is over).

by cherry (not verified) :: Thu, 10/25/2007 - 1:39pm

Just a counterpoint - if the Bears think that cornerback is the more difficult position over safety, they're not indicating that by putting a rookie (trumane McBride) in that role instead of the more experienced Ricky Manning Jr. And tying up Vasher and Tillman for long term contracts alone doesn't indicate that corner is their higher regarded position - but instead that they are quality players and fill that CB role well enough to get them their $$$ (Mike Brown makes a lot of money too and that's for the safety position). Cover 2 is simple methodology - stop the run and prevent the deep pass. Corners in a Cover2 need to do 2 things well: 1. re-route WR's and disrupt timing, 2. come up and support the run and make tackles. Man-to-man coverage skills are not the priority. (Champ Bailey would not enjoy playing in the Cover 2!)

It would be nice to think that the coaches know best what role the players fit - but the constant jockeying and the use of rookies at such critical positions has caused me to lose their confidence in such matters.

by DrPatrick (not verified) :: Thu, 10/25/2007 - 2:23pm

Your points are well taken, but I think the notion that the Bears play only a Cover-2 or Tampa-2 is wrong. At least for last season, when the Bears defense actually did quite well, they were in Cover-2 only about 1/3rd of the time (click my name for a reference on that). They play a lot of man-to-man coverage, with corners assigned to WRs.

That's exactly what happened two seasons ago when Steve Smith singlehandedly torched the Bears in the playoffs: corners were left isolated against Smith in man-to-man coverage, occasionally with only one safety deep inthe middle of the field. In that game, Rivera should have adjusted the defense to playing more cover-2, but failed to make the adjustment.

Still, you could be right - McBride doesn't inspire much confidence in the Bears' coaching staff. Maybe they're just completely caught up in their egomaniacal visions of the superiority of their system and drafting ability, and think any player that they draft can step in and play well.

by cherry (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2007 - 11:33pm

Bears lose another must-win game... and do it again at home. I just don't get how a team gets so bad so quickly after making it to the Superbowl and dominating last season. Looks like I can do my Xmas shopping in the upcoming Sundays and just look to the draft in April.