Lovie firing: A decision made for obvious reasons

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Lovie firing: A decision made for obvious reasons

Lovie Smith went into the 2012 season in need of a rebound from the franchise disappointment of 2011 that saw a 7-3 start crumble into an 8-8 year. What he and the Bears got was an even more catastrophic collapse, from 7-1 and the No. 2 spot in a playoff lineup to out of the playoffs at 10-6.The result was the end to a nine-year run that included only one trip to a Super Bowl, another to an NFC Championship game and one other to the playoffs and only one year with fewer than seven wins.
RELATED: Smith firing -- A downward spiraling timeline
But evaluations by organizations are based less on the past than on perceptions of where the future is leading. Several reasons lay at the root of the Bears decision to close the Lovie Smith epoch and go in the proverbial another direction:Simple need for change of directionGeorge McCaskey succeeded brother Michael as chairman of the board prior to the 2011 season. The transition was seamless, orderly and in the natural organizational order. Michael had held the job since the death of his father Ed and he was ready to cede the office while remaining on the board of directors.The course of the 2011 season was such that Jerry Angelo was fired after the collapse from 7-3 to 8-8. Ted Phillips remained as president but the organization was clearly not satisfied with what had occurred on the field. Key in the decision was the conclusion that the Bears were losing ground rather than gaining on the Green Bay Packers and (at the time) Detroit Lions.The season-turning injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte factored into Smith keeping his job, and the blame was assigned to Angelo for failing to sufficiently shore up the roster.
RELATED: Cutler "sorry" he couldn't help Smith more
Fast forward to 2012 and another two inept performances against Green Bay and one against the Minnesota Vikings, the new upstarts in the NFC.

Failures on offenseSince Mike Ditka left after 1992, the Bears have had three consecutive coaches from defensive backgrounds: Dave Wannstedt, defensive coordinator in Dallas; Dick Jauron, Jacksonville defensive coordinator, and Smith, coordinator of the St. Louis defense.Smith has been by far the most successful. But even for him the result has been just one losing trip to a Super Bowl, one other to a loss (to Green Bay) in the 2010 NFC Championship game, and a first-round loss in the 2005 divisional round.The biggest single reason was Smiths problems finding an offensive coordinator, or at least recently one who could co-exist with Cutler. The offense never ranked higher than 15th in yardage in Smiths tenure.More to the immediate situation, the offense got worse despite the efforts of Phil Emery to supply the wide-receiver firepower that Jay Cutler supposedly needed. Emery mortgaged a piece of the future by giving up two third-round picks for Brandon Marshall and used a second-rounder in 2012 for Alshon Jeffery.Yet the offense degenerated into the Cutler-Marshall show and closed out of town.The revolving college of coordinators on offense accelerated with the 1009 arrival of Cutler -- Ron Turner out after 2009, Mike Martz after 2011, Mike Tice one-and-done in 2012. The franchises commitment to Cutler remains to be seen this offseason but in a league that tilts toward facilitating offense, the Smith Bears have failed.Big-game failuresSmith achieved a 3-3 record in the postseason. Since the 2006 trip to the Super Bowl he was 1-1, both in the 2010 playoffs.That is a better mark than Mike Ditka in his post-Super Bowl XX time. Ditka was 2-5 with three first-game eliminations and was fired in after a 5-11 meltdown in 1992.But Smiths time is marred by a handful of bad defeats with the playoffs at stake.

RELATED: Only a deep postseason run would have saved Lovie's job

The Bears fell to the Houston Texans (7-8 at the time) in the final game of 2008 when a win would have had them in the playoffs. And while the Minnesota Vikings might still have beaten the Green Bay Packers to squeeze past the Bears into the 2012 playoffs, Smiths team failed to beat a doormat in the Detroit Lions (4-11) when it mattered.The Detroit game mattered because the Bears defense, Smiths signature unit, failed to halt two long touchdown drives to lose the Seattle game. That was followed by losses at Minnesota and to Green Bay at home when either would have allowed the Bears to keep control of their own playoff future.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Brandon Marshall is no stranger to keeping it real.

The outspoken All-Pro receiver never minces his words and that continued over the weekend when he showed off his signed jersey collection.

Marshall took to Instagram and showed off "Santa" hanging all of the jerseys he's swapped with other NFL players:

Santa doing work.. . #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

The list includes a host of current and future Hall of Fame players: Champ Bailey, Cris Carter, John Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lance Briggs, Adam Vinatieri, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas.

When almost all the framed jerseys were hung, Marshall took his followers through:

@nfl #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

Marshall compliments each player before, calling them "Hall of Famers" before getting to Jay Cutler at the end and going "Hall of..." multiple times.

Was that Marshall throwing shade at his former quarterback in both Denver and Chicago? If it was an innocent mistake or whatever, there's no way Marshall would've posted the Instagram video, right?

Marshall and Cutler were good friends from the beginning of their careers with the Broncos. So much so that the Bears traded a pair of third round draft picks in March 2012 to allow the two to continue their bromance by the lake:

But Marshall and Cutler have had a contentious relationship since.

Last summer, Marshall responded to a Tweet saying "of course" he misses Cutler. Last August, Marshall hopped on ESPN's First Take and said he thought Cutler could win the MVP Award in the 2016 NFL season.

At the same time, Marshall talked about his relationship with Cutler and said he was the only person on the Bears with the "huevos" to hold the enigmatic quarterback accountable. Marshall also said he was "sad" he didn't talk to Cutler much in the year leading up to August 2016.