The Bears offense has begun its regularly-scheduled slide out of playoff contention, but Lovie Smith is not the problem. Here's why I say the Bears should stick with Smith.
Lovie Smith has always been a defensive coach, but he's seen first hand that teams can get to the big game both ways: diesel-powered defense or high-octane offense. The Tampa Bay Bucaneers won a Super Bowl with one of worst offenses ever to hoist the Lombardi only two seasons after Lovie left. While D was winning big in Tampa Bay, the team Smith moved on to - the Saint Louis Rams - could put up big points on offense but couldn't keep other teams from doing the same. Lovie Smith got enough out of their defense to make the Rams NFC Champions in 2001.
Coaching is only part of the equation, however. Coaching alone can't convert Rex Grossman into Payton Manning. Coaches can't force their bosses to draft more and better offensive linesmen. And coaching can't save a GM from having to trade away draft picks to make up for draft mistakes. Enter Jerry Angelo.
Angelo's second coming of Trent Dilfer in the form of 2003 first-rounder Rex Grossman. When Angelo finally found an actual franchise QB in Jay Cutler, he came at the cost of two firsts and a third. I don't regret the Cutler trade, but a good GM wouldn't have needed to make it. If Angelo found "his" QB in the draft, he could have surrounded this quarterback with two more first-round talents.
The problem with Angelo's offensive picks extended beyond his inability to find quarterbacks. Position by position, Angelo gave a new meaning to "offensive pick" with his selections. Let's breeze through his greatest hits:
- Drafted OT Marc Columbo as the Bears' first pick in 2002, but cut him because he had injury troubles in his first three seasons. Columbo went on to start at RT for the Dallas Cowboys for five seasons.
- Drafted Cedric Benson fourth overall in 2005, only to cut him in 2008 because of the same character issues that got him arrested twice while in college.
- After having the #28 ranked offense in 2005, drafted only two offensive players in 2006. Both came in the sixth round, and neither ever played an NFL snap.
- His answer to completely blowing a first-round pick on pre-injured OT Chris Williams in 2008? A seventh-round pick in 2010 - J'Marcus Webb.
- Drafted only one truly good receiver in Bernard Berrian, and then let him walk because he couldn't free up cap space to pay him.
Angelo's draft history on offense was one of almost complete failure. I'll give him Matt Forte though - steal of a second-rounder.
Phil Emery has a long road ahead of him. He's made some progress, however small, but offensive lines don't get made overnight. Consider this: while the only player on the 2006 Colts offensive line the team didn't draft was undrafted free agent Jeff Saturday, the only player on the 2006 Bears offensive line the team did draft was center Olin Kreutz. Winning offensive lines are built over time and through the draft, not through frantic first-round draft picks and expensive free agent signings. Emery knows what kind of team Angelo left him, and firing Lovie won't change that roster into anything better.
Don't tell me that it's Lovie Smith's fault that "his" offense can't put up points, because I don't buy it for a second. Smith and his many offensive coordinators have performed everything short of miracles to get win as many games as they have both this season and over the years. For Ditka's sake, Lovie got to a Super Bowl with Rex $#&*# Grossman! This team had to be a Tampa Bay-style grinder of a football team from the start, as Lovie's front office never gave him talent enough to host any show, much less the "Greatest." Lovie's defense has kept this year's Bears in almost every game they've played. His offense just doesn't have the pieces it needs to win them.
Yes, you can point to Lovie's rotating cast of offensive coaches as a sign he just doesn't understand offensive football, but do you think even a Bill Walsh offensive genius could turn this steaming heap of offense into football gold? I doubt it. Could Smith have done more in the draft room to get better talent? Perhaps, but Lovie is not here to be a scout. That is what Angelo was paid to do.
I say stick with Smith. Defense can still win championships in this modern NFL. To win games, however, you need touchdowns. Even when they are the best in the league, defense and special teams will only score you so many of those. If Jerry Angelo had bothered to invest a few more picks on offensive players and done a better job with the picks he did spend, this Bears team would be a force in all three phases. Thanks to Angelo, it is no force at all.
The only reason this Bears team has won games is because of its stellar, Lovie Smith-led defense. One more year of rebuilding, and the offense will grow into the complement the D needs. For this year, however, all we've got left is hope that Lovie's D can sneak us into the playoffs. Let's reward Lovie Smith for the success he has attained despite Jerry Angelo's offenses by seeing what he can do with a real one next season.