With Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith likely to return next year, all the circumstances look to combine to make the 2012 season, very much so, do or die. Both Angelo and Smith are signed through 2013, and their act is starting to get old around Chicago.
Poor drafting, bad coaching decisions and contract circumstances (for,both, players and front office) make 2012 the season to get it done.
For the most part, I've come around on Lovie Smith in recent years. He hasn't had that much talent to work with, and he got to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback. He’s compiled an over .500 record using quarterbacks by the name of Grossman, Orton, Griese and so on.
Don’t get me wrong, Lovie is not a GREAT coach, but he’s not a BAD coach. But I definitely am starting to wonder if the Bears can ever win a Super Bowl with Lovie leading the way. You’re probably saying to yourself, "but you just said he hasn't had any talent to work with, Darren?" But before you call up Boers and Bernstein on 670 The Score and crap me on "Who you Crappin',” hear me out …
Lovie is a great motivator and a great during-the-week coach. But when it comes down to being an in-game coach … his defensive play calls get too conservative at times, and he’s a terrible clock manager. Those things have lost games for the Bears. Bad game managers don't win championships. If they do, it’s in-spite of the coach.
But players sure do love them some Lovie, and they play hard for him all the time. But all of the guys who are loyal to Smith, are also all over 30. It’s those old-school guys on defense that have his back more than any other players on the roster, and the Bears need to start getting younger. Let’s take a quick look at the Bears’ defense, and who’s currently over 30:
- Brian Urlacher (33)
- Briggs (31)
- Peppers (32 in January)
- Tillman: (31 in February)
Those four guys, are THE CORE of Chicago’s defense. Now, you may be saying, "Well, that is only four players out of the eleven who start.” But remove any of these guys from that defense and it will struggle … immensely. Other, less-essential, players on defense like Israel Idonije and Anthony Adams are also over 30. Thanks to multiple failed drafts, there is near-zero depth to the Bears’ defense. There are decent role players here and there but not much moving forward to feel comfortable with.
A lot of fans have also been calling for the the Cover 2 and the 4-3 defense to be abandoned for years now, and if Lovie can’t get the right pieces in place to make it work the way it’s intended to, you might get your wish after next season. If the Bears struggle in 2012, heck, if they don’t win a Super Bowl, it might spell the end to the Angelo-Smith era.
Both Smith and Angelo are signed through 2013, but most franchises don’t like to let a coach and GM head into the final year of their deal without new paper. So, if 2012’s a failure, and Smith and Angelo won’t be getting new paper in 2013, they may be let go.
There’s also a LOT of big-time players who will be free agents after the 2013 season; guys like Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester, Roberto Garza and Jay Cutler. If the Bears are going to “rebuild,” it will begin in 2013.
Urlacher could be heading into his final year with the Bears if his skills continue to diminish. He’s still an impact player, but we don’t know for how long. Urlacher is also the player he is because of the defense that is played in Chicago; he fits the system perfectly. Instead of keeping the current style of defense and having to find the near-impossible replacement for Urlacher, why not just change the entire staff and scheme? Odd's are, a new coach coming in will run something different.
The best thing to do right now would be to bring back Martz for the 2012 season and keep this coaching staff together. They had something going until Cutler got hurt and there’s no reason to break it up. No one on this staff is a future head coach, at least right now, besides maybe Dave Toub. The flip side is that Toub is a free agent after this season and will likely get some head coaching looks. He could be Lovie’s successor if he gets re-signed this offseason. But, if Angelo is gone, a new general manager will want his own crew in place.
One has to wonder how many more years the Bears are going to get out of this defense. Next year is pushing it, but it probably is the last chance for this group. The championship window is closing. And the only reason its open is because the Bears have an elite quarterback.
Matt Forte will likely be franchise tagged, and who knows if he will end up falling apart like many backs do after a few years. Martz might get a one year contract, putting him on the same timeline as Smith and Angelo. With good free agency acquisitions and positive drafting, the offense can only improve. An improved offense makes this old defense better.
This will be the last run this current team will be making at a Super Bowl. And if they can’t do it, don’t be surprised if this team undergoes a major overhaul in 2013.