In Praise of Chico

Ron Rivera.  While I have come back into the Lovie Smith believers circle after flirting with the haters after the 2006 season, I confess that I would have loved to see him kicked to the curb to bring Ron back to the Bears, this time as head coach.  I can think of at least one former Bears player with an NFL Championship won as a player under his belt who did alright when he came back to coach here, and with Rivera's success in leading the defense all the way to our last Super Bowl appearance, I am fairly confident that he could do good things here if he was the man in charge.  Follow me below the fold while I wish for what could have been and break down was has been.

Ron Rivera was still a young pup in '85, and while he saw more time on special teams than he did with the D - understandable when you've got Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson, and Wilber Marshall ahead of you on the depth chart - he did a more than admirable job of filling in while the other guys took a breather or got some well-earned rest after knocking the other team out of the game.  He finally got his chance as a full-time starter in 1988, and while his numbers aren't eye-popping, he was a consistent presence on the field and played with the ferocity a Bears defender needs.  As a coach, however, his bona fides couldn't be better.  He spent five years studying under blitzing genius Tim Johnson of the Eagles, experience that was more than clear when he came back home in 2004 to head up Lovie's defense.  While the Tampa 2 isn't known for its blitzing, the '04-'06 Bears were experts at getting after the quarterback.  Whether it was a four-man rush, the classic "mug" look with linebackers lining up over the center, or an all-out attack that had echoes of Buddy Ryan, you just knew that Rivera would find ways to get his guys in position to make big plays when they needed them most.  And, having learned from Mike Ditka how to be a player-turned-coach, you know he could fire up the cats as well as anyone.  It is still perplexing to me why he was let go after 2006, but as I can remember hearing him say in an interview, sometimes you have to leave to be able to come back. 

I just knew that Ron had been talking over the Bears playbook with Norv Turner in that opening 2007 match-up against the Chargers.  The Bears were able to stifle LT and the Chargers passing attack with solid defense, but Turner had drawn up a perfect play to take advantage of our defense.  He sent Tomlinson out on a run off-tackle to the right knowing that the Bears would run to the ball, and LT wound up and threw a touchdown to a wide-open receiver.  The play looked something more like what Mike Ditka would have drawn up with Walter Payton in mind rather than something that Norv Turner's Coryell playbook would call for.  It was just the kind of trick play to take advantage of our sometimes over-aggressive pursuit of the ball and got the Chargers one of only two touchdowns in the `4-3 defensive slugfest.  It doesn't hurt Rivera's resume that he had to learn how to run the preferred 3-4 defense of Norv Turner while coaching the Chargers, experience which would help him game-plan on both sides of the ball as the 3-4 once again becomes the dominant defensive style of the NFL.

Speaking of the Coryell offense, Rivera has defending it pretty well mastered.  He went 2-0 against Martz's version of it when we played the Lions in 2006, and after playing against it every day in practice, you have to think he knows the type of looks we will be giving him this week.  What worries me more, however, is his knowledge of our defense.  After serving as Lovie's minion for three years, he knows the ins and outs of the playbook as well as anybody.  With a young gun under center in the form of Cam Newton and solid offensive production so far this season, you have to think that it will be a surprisingly good match up for the Panthers despite how it might look on paper.  While I will certainly be rooting against him on Sunday - which I will fortunately get to do in person - part of me would much rather have the former Bear on the home side of the field again.  The upside is that no matter what happens Sunday, a Bear will be coming out on top.

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