The Lovie Smith firing: A downward spiraling timeline


The Lovie Smith firing: A downward spiraling timeline

The 2012 season and its fall from 7-1 to out of the playoffs was the proximate cause of Lovie Smiths dismissal. Smiths tenure was marked with its share of highlights but also with some significant disappointments:
2004 5-11After negotiations break down to land Nick Saban, Smith is chosen over Russ Grimm to succeed Dick Jauron. He hires Terry Shea as offensive coordinator and inherits a dismal quarterback situation involving Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn.In an ominous foreshadowing, 2003 No. 1 pick and anticipated starting quarterback Rex Grossman is injured and lost for the season a week after beating the Packers and Brett Favre in Green Bay. The Bears arguably never adequately solve their quarterback situation through Smiths tenure.
2005 11-5Smith replaces Shea with Ron Turner as offensive coordinator, who ran the Bears offense under Dave Wannstedt before leaving to coach Illinois in 1997. Grossman goes down with a broken ankle in preseason and Turner goes to fourth-round rookie Kyle Orton.Bears hit bottom at 1-3 after loss in Cleveland, then win eight straight with suffocating defense under Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher. Drafting Cedric Benson spurs Thomas Jones to 1,335-yard rushing season. Grossman returns from his leg injury late in the year but season ends with first-round home loss to Carolina.
2006 13-3Bears reach the playoffs for the second time in Smiths first three seasons. Defense again dominates and Grossman has seven games of 100-plus passer ratings, Benson and Jones each average 4.1 yards per carry and the Bears post their only 400-point season (427) under Smith. Breakdowns on offense and defense doom Bears against Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.Ron Rivera is let go as defensive coordinator after philosophical differences with Smith, and Bob Babich takes over as defensive coordinator.
2007 7-9Smith receives a contract extension for four years and 22 million that moves him into the upper (5 million-plus) tier for head-coach salaries.But the quarterback maelstrom returns. Grossman starts the first three games (1-2), Brian Griese starts the next six (3-3), Grossman the next four (1-3) and finally Orton for the final three (2-1).
2008 9-7Bears go to Houston and lose to 7-8 Texans to finish 9-7 when a victory would have allowed them to leapfrog 9-6-1 Philadelphia into the playoffs. In the aftermath, Kyle Orton and two No. 1 draft choices are traded to Denver for Jay Cutler.
2009 7-9Brian Urlacher is lost for the year with a wrist injury in the first half of the first game but the Bears still start 3-1 before a spiral of six losses in seven games dooms the season.The decision is made to keep Smith as head coach before a 31-7 crushing in Baltimore on Dec. 20. The decision stands after the Bears win their final two but Turner and most of the offensive staff are fired post-season after differences with Cutler widen. Mike Martz is hired as offensive coordinator after Bears lose out on several top college candidates because of scheduling and recruiting.
2010 11-5A game-16 loss to Green Bay will haunt Smith and the organization. With playoff position clinched, veterans are rested and the Packers slip past New York and Tampa Bay for the No. 6 seed. Bears get past 7-9 Seattle in the divisional round but Cutler suffers knee injury and is out for the second half. Green Bay goes to the Super Bowl after Bears mistakes on offense (B.J. Raji TD interception, failed third-down conversions) finishPerhaps most fateful: Caleb Hanie relieves Todd Collins and does enough for Mike Martz and the organization to move forward with him as Cutlers backup in 2011.
2011 8-8After Smith orders the offense to return to balance mindset with Mike Tices role again expanded, Bears reach 7-3 with a run of five straight wins. Cutler fractures his right thumb in game 10, Bears lose five straight and miss the postseason.Low points are reached with 3 points scored against the Kansas City Chiefs and in Denver when Marion Barber runs out of bounds to help the Broncos tie in regulation and then fumbles in overtime, leading to winning field goal.Jerry Angelo is fired as general manager, replaced by former Bears scout and Kansas City college scouting director Phil Emery.
2012 10-6Addressing the passing offense, Emery trades for Cutler favorite Brandon Marshall, OKs hiring Jeremy Bates as QB position coach and drafts Alshon Jeffery in the second round. Smith states during the NFL Scouting Combine that the offensive line, with promising rookie Gabe Carimi back from injury, and JMarcus Webb are sufficient at left tackle and that Kellen Davis is capable of top-shelf play at tight end. The offense is a disaster area.A 7-1 start evaporates in a succession of inept offensive performances. Defensive stumbles against San Francisco and Seattle against inexperienced quarterbacks raise eyebrows and red flags. Then the Bears cannot get past Minnesota and Green Bay in the final weeks.

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

Report: Bears looking for Jay Cutler return against Vikings; Matt Barkley on stand-by

FOX insider Jay Glazer confirmed on Sunday that the Bears expect quarterback Jay Cutler will be back from his sprained thumb and able to start against the Minnesota Vikings next Monday night in Soldier Field.

That would put Matt Barkley back where he has been pretty much his entire three-plus-year NFL career. Waiting.

That's the Bears want what every team wants – a young quarterback in the developmental pipeline – is no secret. Ryan Pace is among the NFL executives who speak of drafting a quarterback as much as every year, even if they don’t.

Could the Bears already have that player on their roster?

If Barkley, who was pressed into service when Brian Hoyer went down with a broken arm in last Thursday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, is in fact that player, he might not be surprised. But the rest of the NFL would be.

"I'm confident that no matter where I am or what the deal is,” Barkley said, after going 6-for-15 with no TD’s and two interceptions, “I can play in this league.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

He may be one of the few still holding onto that belief. The Bears picked up Barkley after the Arizona Cardinals discarded him in early September. The Cardinals didn’t see Barkley as even a practice-squad option, which the Bears did and where Barkley was working before Cutler’s thumb injury forced the Bears to sign him to the active roster.

“The [Bears] personnel people thought he was a taller [6-2] guy that stood in the pocket pretty well,” said coach John Fox. “A guy that we thought we could work with, that had some experience and, hopefully, he got a little bit more experience [at Green Bay].”

Barkley has gone from possible No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft to just another touted USC quarterback who failed or were no better than just-OK at the NFL level (Todd Marinovich, Rob Johnson, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez), who has thrown 65 NFL passes, none for a touchdown and six that were intercepted, including two in the Bears’ 26-10 loss last Thursday in Green Bay.

The question for Barkley at this point in his career is whether Chicago is his last stop and/or chance. Fourth-round draft picks have played their ways into prominence (Kirk Cousins in Washington, Dak Prescott in Dallas, even Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Van Brocklin if you want to find Hall of Famers), but Barkley has the added challenge of being on his third team and learning yet another offense after beginning this season running Houston and Philadelphia plays for the Bears’ defense.

Barkley offered no excuses for his poor showing (18.3 passer rating). Sort of.

“It definitely would be more beneficial [to have gotten more snaps before Green Bay],” Barkley said. “I’m not going to say what Coach should do; that’s his decision and you’ve got to deal with what you’re dealt.

“Just since I’ve been here, you know, scout-team reps and trying to put our plays into what we’re seeing on cards, you try to do every little thing you can to get better no matter what you’re doing. That’s no excuse.”