Monday, December 26, 2011

Bears Show Signs of Life, But Too Little Too Late

We all knew it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Bears would show up in Green Bay, promptly get whupped, and head back to Chicago finally being eliminated from playoff contention. And really, that is exactly what happened. Aaron Rodgers was his usual self, effortlessly tossing 5 touchdowns and making Zack Bowman his personal whipping boy. But at the same time, you saw signs of life from the Bears that haven't been there since Jay Cutler and Matt Forte went down with injury. And while encouraging signs are pretty much moot at this point, it does allow us to play the armchair quarterback game and look back at what could have been.

I think we can sum up the faults for this season, besides the crippling injuries, by quickly pointing to talent procurement and existing talent recognition. What I mean by that is that besides all the things I've repeatedly mentioned about Jerry Angelo's failures to ensure that the Bears, a playoff team, were prepared to compete this season, the Bears simply failed to recognize the talent they already had on the roster. Now, I recognize that both the performances that I will talk about could have the same impact as Devin Aromashodu's epic game against the Vikings two years ago in one of the last games of the year, where Aromashodu went off, created high expectations, and then disappeared the next year. Still, I was excited by what I saw last night.

McCown should have seen PT earlier
This starts with Josh McCown, who I'll label with an asterisk because he was only signed after injury. Still, he played great last night, moving the ball up and down the field and looking infinitely more comfortable in the offense than Caleb Hanie ever did. This begs the question as to why it took until this point in the season for McCown to get the start over Hanie. I mean, are the Bears this bad at evaluating talent? Granted, McCown didn't have to do much to improve over Hanie, but why didn't he start right away? He was signed on November 23, so I understand that he couldn't have been ready for the first Bears game post-Cutler against Oakland. But wasn't he signed because he had experience in Mike Martz's system? After Hanie's performance against Oakland, and at least part of the way into his abysmal performance against Kansas City, McCown should have been inserted to at least see what he could do. If he played like he did against the Packers, who knows? The Bears could have ended up beating Kansas City, Denver, and Seattle, all games at least partially done in by the inability of the Bears to muster any offensive production.

And going so far as to assume that actually did happen, the Bears would have sat 10-4 heading into the game against the Packers last night. That would have them ahead of Detroit, who just clinched a playoff spot. And even if the Bears would have still lost to Green Bay last night, which would likely have happened even if Cutler and Co. were still healthy, that would have left them at 10-5 heading into an easy matchup vs. a Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota Vikings squad next week with a chance to go 11-5, the same record they had last year. Going even further than that, it might have meant that for the first round of the playoffs after that, Cutler would have been healthy and ready to go, with Forte perhaps joining him. I really hope that the Bears give serious consideration to keeping McCown on as Cutler's backup next season. Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda - the theme of the Bears season.

Bell looked similar to Forte
The other big misfire is with Kahlil Bell. Bell played great against a bad Packers defense yesterday, but at the same time exhibited a running style eerily similar to Forte. He made great cuts, used great vision, and ran with a physicality that allowed him to take a hit at the line of scrimmage and still bounce it outside. Tell me again how this guy didn't get reps over Marion Barber, the same player who couldn't stay in bounds and fumbled in overtime against Denver, when Forte went down. Really, how did the Bears not have this guy getting more playing time the entire season? He looked so good last night that I sincerely hope the Bears don't think he's the feature back of the future and trick themselves into thinking it means they can allow Forte to walk. Knowing Angelo and the rest of the circus at Halas Hall, it's within reason. Regardless, Bell looked good, and it's sad that we only saw it in Week 16 of a lost season.

Our secondary is plain awful
The horrible recognition of talent on the roster also works in the inverse way, in that some players are thought of highly by the Bears staff, but to anyone who watches them it is quite clear that they don't deserve to be playing. This of course includes my favorite, Roy "Cupcake" Williams, who did make some catches last night but had a key instance where he was too lazy to come back to the ball on a key third down that would have kept the ball moving for the Bears. Yet, Williams didn't make an effort, the Bears punted, and Rodgers took it upon himself to literally destroy the Bears afterwards, mostly in his beat down of Zack Bowman. Bowman, returning to the starting lineup in place of the demoted Tim Jennings, got torched by Jordy Nelson and Rodgers the entire night. Really, Jennings wouldn't be any worse? This just exemplifies the fact that the Bears felt comfortable going into a season with an embarrassing lack of talent in the defensive backfield. Not to mention how important the position is in the Bears defensive system. Besides Charles Tillman, I wouldn't care at all if none of the players returned. Major Wright and Craig Steltz were schooled on the huge bomb to Nelson, and the rest of the secondary sucked the entire night. The entire position group needs to be revamped.

The Bears legend deserves a good offense
More importantly, the failures of the Bears to put their team in position to succeed all year (and this is really not an attack on Lovie, who should NOT be fired) has the hidden effect of limiting the chances of success left for a player like Brian Urlacher. Urlacher has been in the league for 12 years, and not once have the Bears provided his outstanding leadership and defense with a quality, consistent offense to win with. There have been spurts, to be sure, but players like Urlacher, and the rest of the Bears' defense, are the only reason that the Bears have seen any success the last 12 years. It's terrible that a player with his talent and contribution to the Bears could possibly be left without any championships or consistency to show for it. I really hope that the Bears get their act together next year, because Urlacher and the rest of the Bears defense do not have many quality years left. Urlacher deserves more than what he's got thus far, even if in typical Urlacher-fashion he refuses to acknowledge any offensive deficiencies. Urlacher is a true Bears guy and leader. Time to get him an offense.

We'll see how they come out and play in a meaningless game against Minnesota next week. I'm sure the Bears will play hard. But more importantly, this should be the time for the Bears to assess what they're going to do going forward. I'm sure I'll comment on this going forward, but let's not forget what this team was last year and what they could have (and should have) been this year. Add some key pieces to the right locations, give Forte his contract, and build on the foundation that is already here, and the Bears could be right back in it next year. Hopefully it happens.