Lots of questions came in today and I am going to get to as many as I can. Here we go.
Q: I don't understand how the Bears can give Lovie Smith another year after three non-playoff seasons just because he has two years left on his deal. If he is facing a playoffs or else 2010, why not make the move now when some of the best coaches in the sport are out on the market? And if they are worried about the 2011 lockout, would they actually bring him back to fulfill the final year if he misses the playoffs again? It is going to be very difficult to bring in a big offensive coordinator under Lovie given his tenuous status. And given how stubborn Lovie has been in sticking with his schemes and gameplans, that's another year of trying to bring in personnel to fit his Cover 2 defense. Who do you think would be a better fit for the Bears: Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan? Cowher probably brings a better front office team and his personality and style would be a big hit in this town yet Shanahan is an Illinois native who would provide an elite offensive mentor for Cutler but has struggled in building a defense when he has the personnel control.
Joe B., Oxford, Conn.
A: I don't have an explanation for every move that has been made at Halas Hall in the past. Dave Wannstedt went 4-12 in 1997 and returned the next season to, you know, go 4-12 all over again. I agree with you that it might make it tough for Smith to find a top offensive coordinator if he is under a win-or-else mandate, but Mike Martz could be available and I've already covered the ties there and Martz's stated desire to work with Cutler. Bringing back Smith might make it difficult for the Bears in 2010, but there are still five games remaining and I am interested to see how they fare with little left to play for than pride. I don't see the McCaskeys shooting for the moon with Cowher or Shanahan or another top guy. General manager Jerry Angelo has said on the record that the franchise is not going to set the bar for pay at positions. Do you think they are going to set the bar for pay with a coach? Do you think they're going to show Angelo the door with four years left on his contract? I don't. That's like saying, "Jerry, Arizona or Florida, where do you want us to pay for you to live for the next four years?" Cowher might demand complete control. Ditto Shanahan. I'm just going off past history--the best indicator for future results--when I say it's unlikely. Does anyone know something I don't about this situation? Shanahan is a popular choice but he wasn't super involved with Cutler in Denver. Jeremy Bates and Mike Heimerdinger did a lot of the work with Cutler. Shanahan also hasn't won much of anything since John Elway retired. Remember back in April when I wrote about Cutler needing to do a better job with ball security and the masses coming out and blaming his 18 interceptions on one of the worst defenses the NFL had seen in, oh, a decade? That was Shanahan's defense. However, I think if Gary Kubiak gets the axe in Houston, Shanahan could instantly become an even better candidate for any job because he could get the old gang together again. Many of Kubiak's people were also with Shanahan in Denver previously. The Bears might aim for lesser name coaches, but I'm not going to speculate on possible names right now because that is all it would be, total speculation. Let's allow this thing to play out here. Smith is the coach. He's got a deal through 2011. And who cares that Shanahan is from Illinois? That's as tiring to me as the idea that the Bears should seek a coach with past ties to the organization. That's neither here nor there, ever.
Q: Will the Bears keep linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa?
Tom T., Parts Unknown
A: Tinoisamoa, like Cato June who was signed today to take his place on the roster, was on a one-year contract. Both will be unrestricted free agents following the season. I'd say there is a chance they look to one of them and ask them back. That depends on how June performs down the stretch and what kind of physical shape the team believes Tinoisamoa is in. They have some durability issues at linebacker with Brian Urlacher expected to return. So, they will need to evaluate Tinoisamoa, June, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach and make some decisions.
Q: With no playoff hopes for the rest of the season will we finally see Jarron Gilbert and some of the others from this draft class or are will still going to see Lovie's "players that will help us win each week?"
Tom K., Parts Unknown
A: Smith said that the Bears would use the players that give them the best chance to win Sunday against St. Louis, and for the remainder of the season. Angelo doesn't often make decisions for coaches on things like that as far as I know, but he did order Marc Colombo onto the field for a look in the past. I'm not sure if these guys in the draft class are ready. Smith was optimistic Gilbert would contribute this season when asked about him in October. There is still time. Cornerback D.J. Moore is too small to be an every down player. Wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias would take time away from young receivers like Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodu. Do you really want that to happen? Guard Lance Louis is about the only other player remaining. It's hard to say if he's ready.
Q: Do you think the Bears might look to trade for some draft picks at the end of the season? Lance Briggs, Greg Olsen, Devin Hester and Nathan Vasher might have some value to other teams. If not do they hit free agency hard and make plays for Brandon Marshall and Logan Mankins if they become available?
London Bear, Parts Unknown
A: First of all, Marshall would have to pull another stupid move off the field for the Broncos to not lock him up. If there is no extension to the collective bargaining agreement, Mankins will be a restricted free agent, one the Patriots would be unlikely to let walk away, right? If the Bears trade Briggs, they lose their best defensive player. No one is going to value Olsen or Hester as much as they will, so they're not going to get a return they are looking for, and Vasher? He's not going to have any trade value when he hasn't played for most of the last three seasons, and he's got a big contract. Besides, given the Bears' draft record of late, they might be better rolling with these players.
Q: Would you please help analyze the poor performance of the defense when it comes to allowing third down conversions. In years past, the Bears used to be good in this area. I know the Bears are close to last in the league. This predictable defense on third down is killing the Bears and I don't think Lovie Smith is smart enough to find a solution, geez do something, put some pressure on the quarterback for once. The blitz that always comes up the middle, how about some outside pressure from a linebacker or safety, or stunt more often. Something has to be done about this third down problem.
Dahlilama, Parts Unknown
A: The Bears have been brutal on third down this season and never was it more evident than in Sunday's loss when the Vikings tallied 31 first downs and converted 12-of-18 third downs. There are a lot of reasons for the breakdowns, but I am going to say the No. 1 problem is the lack of an edge pass rusher. The Bears cannot get to the quarterback and that's done them in on these downs. They also lack an instinctual, playmaking safety. The loss of Brian Urlacher--he's best in pass coverage--has been a contributing factor. Who do you want them to blitz off the edge? They don't have any linebackers or safeties who are particularly good at that. As far as stunts, the Bears run a gap-shooting defense. That's simply not a big part of what they do. You're right, third down has killed them, and as Hunter Hillenmeyer said Sunday night, that's a "money down."
Q: How could the pending lockout in 2011 affect free agency? Is it likely to make owners less likely to go out and land top talent? Would it affect the trade value of any talent the Bears might want to use to extract more draft picks? You've mentioned before that it could affect them paying for a new coach. Can you shed some more light on the overall impact of the lockout? Is it possible a conservative organization like the McCaskeys could simply choose to do nothing next year and just weather the storm?
Peebs, Parts Unknown
A: I think the bigger issue with free agency is that if there is no CBA extension, the players in the four- to six-year window like Mankins (who we mentioned above) will be RFA's and not be unrestricted. That group includes guys like Danieal Manning, Mark Anderson, Jamar Williams, etc. So free agency will be watered down if you're taking that group out of it. The elite, top players will continue to be paid. Some wondered if the recession would impact free agency this year, and the top dogs still got top dollar (and then some). I don't see the Bears dealing talented players they have for draft picks. Why deal a known quantity for an unknown quantity?
Q: Whatever happened to our best free-agent signing of the offseason, Rod Marinelli?
Seedy Backlash, Parts Unknown
A: I guess the talent he is working with is more like what he had in Detroit and less like he had in Tampa Bay.
Q: Should Lovie Smith be held more responsible for the team's demise this season because he has failed in two roles, as head coach and defensive coordinator?
Marty P., Prescott, Ariz.
A: That's a very good question and one that merits consideration. Smith was adamant he wasn't piling too much on his plate this season by taking on additional chores, but the Bears have not been any better defensively than they were during the slides of 2007 and 2008. The Bears planned to coach themselves out of the mess when Smith replaced position coaches at all three levels of the defense last season, and they have failed to this point. Every issue on defense is directly Smith's responsibility. No question.
Q: As you mentioned in your recent post game reaction, it looks like the Bears have loads of holes to fill next year on both sides of the ball. What do you think are the most pressing needs and how do you see them being filled? Do you think the Bears are at the start of a multiple year rebuilding project?
Geoff, Maui, Hawaii
A: Teams can make the climb from worst-to-first and first-to-worst easily in the NFL. A year after reaching the Super Bowl, the Bears were last in the NFC North in 2007. In the NFC South, there was a stretch when the last place finisher went to the penthouse the next season. It happened for a number of years. That's why they talk about parity in the NFL. It's difficult to maintain a level of excellence over a period of time and it's difficult to be, well, the Detroit Lions for a length of time. That being said, not every team in the basement rebounds in a big way the next season. The Bears are going to have to make some sound moves in the offseason, and the roster needs some work no matter who the coach, coordinators, assistant coaches and ball boys are. The biggest problem this season has been on the offensive line and I think the No. 1 question moving forward will be whether or not Chris Williams can play left tackle. That's the position he was drafted to play, and the Bears have been forced time and time again to piece it together on the offensive line. That's what they had to do last year when Williams went down on the second day of training camp with his back injury that required surgery. They've got to get a top pick right, and Williams has to work out for general manager Jerry Angelo. The offense needs a productive, big wide receiver, and a power complement to Matt Forte, who isn't as bad as he's looked this season but also might not be a franchise back when you project ahead. On defense, if Gaines Adams, Alex Brown and whatever other ends they elect to bring back can't rush the passer, they are going to have a fundamental problem. The best way to make this defense better will be to improve the pass rush. That's going to make them better on the back end, where they have had some issues. Zack Bowman has made some plays this season but you have to remain concerned about durability and consistency. Charles Tillman is really taking his lumps but has been a warrior. They need a playmaker at safety, something that has lacked for some time, and they need greater healing powers with tackle Tommie Harris, who I expected to return on a $2.5 million roster bonus. There is work to be done, and little help will come through a draft where they lack first- and second-round draft picks. It's hard to win in free agency, it really is, and the Bears are going to have to identify some value buys, and the players they have are going to have to be better.
Q: Have you ever seen a team with less regard for wide receivers than the Bears? Does anyone else try to convert defensive backs (Devin Hester and Rashied Davis) into wide receivers? How can the Bears not understand the skill set and the practice required to come into the league and have a chance at wide receiver? If you can shed some light on this, I'd love to know.
Bob K., Parts Unknown
A: You might want to check out the roster of the St. Louis Rams, who have one wideout in Donnie Avery who was on the roster at the start of the season. Davis played both positions in the Arena League, so he had a foundation on offense too. If you saw much of Hester as a cornerback, I think you'd be happy he's on offense these days. The Bears are damned if they do and damned if they don't with Hester. Leave him as a return man and the questions would come from all directions why they can't coach him up on offense. Put him on offense, and that is the move that ruined him as a return man. He's been solid on punt returns this season. The bigger issue here is the organization's inability to produce talent at the position, period. The Bears have had one Pro Bowl wide receiver since 1972, Marty Booker, and they traded him. Quite honestly, Muhsin Muhammad would look good here right now. So would Bernard Berrian. I think Johnny Knox can develop moving forward and Earl Bennett has some skills even if he doesn't project as a starter longterm. The Bears definitely need a No. 1 wideout, and it's on a long list of needs.
Q: Given the losing mentality that has seeped into nearly every corner of the Bears organization, can you read anything into the fact that they have only won the opening coin toss twice this season? Even the laws of random chance seem to be skewed against them.
Chris B.. Chicago
A: Your numbers are off. The Bears are 4-7 in the coin toss this season. Maybe that's what it is, a toss up when it comes to game time for them. The team was 13-3 in the coin toss in 2006. See a pattern here? When the Bears went to Denver for a game late in the 2003 season, they had lost the coin toss in nine straight games, the probability of which is 1 in 512. Give it a try. See how long it takes you.
There's an expanded edition of Four Down Territory. I will try to get to another one again soon. Thanks for reading and thanks as always for participating.