Let it be known, I'm not expecting Norv Turner, or Andy Reid, or any current Head Coach to become the Offensive Coordinator next year. Couldn't even tell you that Mike Tice won't be back next year. But I do think there's plenty of room for improvement as the offensive coordinator of the Bears.
After watching last weeks, uh, issues, I was thinking: 'Mike Tice looks like he's doing a half decent job for once'. I noted a few times that his playcalling has been a concern for most of the year. It's been bad. It's been questionable. Even when it's good, it's not optimal. I can always make the comparison that the offense is just like J'Marcus Webb. Fundamentally talented, spotty execution, but slowly improving. It has. When Tice said that the Bears needed to get better on first down? What have the Bears done? Called shorter passing routes and ran effectively on first down, and have strung together some decently long drives. Not only that, but the passing routes have been improved, the run plays have been improving. It is improving. Cutler's been standing up quite a bit, the line, even as banged up as it is, has even opened up holes for the running game. Matt Forte even admitted: 'They're doing a great job'.
There's been a lot of distaste for how Mike Tice has managed the line and how the talent has been added and subtracted from those who stand in front of 2 of the most valuable players on the Bears. But, there's nothing really saying that outside of the thrashing that San Francisco offered up, that the line hasn't actually performed league average. In the last five games (outside of San Francisco), the Bears have five real sacks in those 5 games. Can you credit Mike Tice for improving the line, the lack of sacks, the holes that open up? I don't see why not. After all the 'guru' talk, the Bears have shut down: Jared Allen twice, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irving and JJ Watt? Sort of impressive. But, what's the cost of it? The Bears haven been reducing the Y/A of Cutler by limiting the amount of deep throws he's taken. They've thrown more guys at the line. Lester Wiltfong Jr. mentioned a bit from an ESPN 1500 (Twin Cities) about the Bears "used chips or extra protectors on 44 of 62 pass plays (70.9%)" against the Vikings in week 14. Obviously, you'd want that number to be less than that (although, there's never going to be a 'perfect number', because it's opponent dependent). Tice's work with the line, and his adjustments in playcalling as the season's gone on has not only made his offense LOOK more efficient, but, protect his pieces. Cutler, while really throwing for much less than many predicted at the beginning of the year, is still playing efficient ball. His INTs have been limited, his accuracy outstanding, and he's been feeding the ball to the best receiver the Bears have ever had effectively. Forte's issues have been documented, his vision questionable, his burst, and his opportunities have been very mediocre, but we've seen his touches in space increase, his effectiveness has gotten a bit better over the past few weeks.
But even with it getting better. It's not enough. It isn't. The Bears need to play better offense. They need to do more. They need to close drives. They need to not just win on the deep ball (which is what they've done), but methodically move the ball downfield more effectively. Look at the Bears passing touchdowns on offense this year? 7 of the 16 have been over 20 yards. The Bears offense has been thriving on the deep ball early in the season, and at a cost. The Bears have been effective in the red zone as the season progressed. But, more importantly, the Bears aren't converting drives into points. When the Bears put up yards, they're failing to put up points. In the same token, you have to look at is as: the Bears are leaving a lot of points on the field. They're unlucky with drops. Not bad. Bad would be consistently having the same drops regardless of position on the field. The Bears? No, they have all their drops on sure touchdowns. That's unlucky. Put that on Tice, put that on the coaching for failing to get their players prepared, to get their hands into shape, for Matt Forte's professionalism in failing to find holes effectively, these are all things you can ultimately blame Tice for, even if his ability to mettle with them isn't as great as we'd like. Many of these issues would still remain if we replaced Mike Tice.
Ask yourself though, what would actually improve if we got rid of Mike Tice, given the same talent.
Consistency, a thoroughness of gameplanning and identification, better run plays, a greater utilization of talent at hand. But you're not going to magically make the line into Houston's, you're not going to stop these same players from dropping balls, you're not going to be able to fix everything, just by making a change. Not in one year. This isn't college football where roster turnover is forced and swift, where influx of new talent happens in a year, and fast.
The ultimate question is: How much longer can the Bears wait for the offense to get better? It's the fundamental question. And with that, you have two options:
1) Remove Mike Tice (and maybe other coaching).
2) Do not remove Mike Tice (and maybe other coaching).
If you resort to 1, you resign yourself to many of the same issues that plague the team, yes, you'll gain some improved aspects by having a consistent, experienced playcaller, more and new talent, in the long term, this may the better route. I toy with ChiBoy every week, and tell him, sell off the team. And really, at this point, this precipice, if you remove Tice and Lovie before his lame duck year, you're resigning yourself that the pieces you have are probably not good enough, and there's not enough years left in the great talent to keep the players you have and you would have to allow a coach and front office to rebuild. Trade the great players, offer a fire sale like Miami, and then slowly build the team back up from the ground with draft picks. The team is too established to make a small change without damaging the short term potential of the team. Bringing in another OC would put a wrench in the offense for the 4th time in 5 years, bringing in another HC would hamper the defense's prowess, especially as they personnel is built is really specific to the defensive scheme as is, because there are so few Tampa 2 coaches who are on the level of Marinelli and Lovie, it would be a significant step down initially.
If you go with 2, you allow another year of talent development, assuming you believe that such development has and does happen, that the offensive line will make steps this year, like they did from last year, that that number of additional protected plays is reduced, that Tice himself will improve in the offseason (and hopefully get the tutelage of some luminaries in playcalling and development), and that the Bears will start to form some continuity on offense, that what we've seen on offense will continue to improve. We'll see that attacking downfield passing, the better utilization of Forte, the hard running of Bush, and more balanced playcalling. Things that we know they try, but haven't been able to fully execute this year. It's the understanding that installing offenses still require time and continuity, bringing in someone new may delay the team further offensively. Tice has to work with his successes from this year, and yes, there have been successes on offense, although without results that a playoff team would desire, it's a short leash.
Staying with Tice then becomes the risk-averse, known quantity. It's not sexy, it's not flashy, but it's known what you can expect from it next year. The Bears lack continuity in so many ways, and on offense, the Bears are like a clone of Kansas City Chiefs, they don't let their coaches the time to develop into their potential in working with the team. Yes, sometimes there's things that are clearly not working, and those things have to be addressed. Looking at Ron Turner, you saw a pattern, it took time to develop that pattern. With Jerry Angelo, you saw a pattern, it took time to develop that pattern. With Mike Tice, the track record is short and the context is key. They have to expect a new, better, improved Mike Tice, when determining the future of Lovie Smith, and the team in the future.
Can the Bears be patient with Mike Tice? They have to be if they want to win next year.