If Bears coach doesn't, both could be looking for work
David Haugh In the Wake of the News 11:36 p.m. CDT, October 18, 2010
Lovie Smith would have an easier time getting approval on an expired credit card than from a majority of Bears fans.
Yet there they both were first thing Monday morning, Smith and the angry masses, on the same page of football obituaries agreeing on what led to the Bears' demise against the Seahawks.
"When you don't play well, it starts with the head football coach," Smith told WBBM-AM 780.
What Smith could have added was that playing better starts with the head football coach acting like one by reclaiming his team from the mercurial offensive coordinator.
This is a Smith problem Mike Martz created only because Smith empowered him.
He allowed Martz to make 80 percent of the Bears' plays passes despite having a recently concussed quarterback behind an offensive line full of novices. He let Martz recklessly call a deep drop on the Bears' first drive of the third quarter at their 10-yard line that resulted in a sack and a safety despite protection issues evident in the first half. He followed Martz's lead because of a successful past that makes the guy powerfully persuasive.
Martz can be brilliant, as he was changing on the fly against the Cowboys. Just as quickly he can come off as arrogant for clinging to a pass-first philosophy on a team whose weakness is protecting the passer. That's the high-risk, high-reward dichotomy of a coaching diva.
Before a Bears season that still holds unexpected opportunity slips away, Smith immediately needs to limit Martz's power and reassert that Martz works for him and not the other way around like the good ol' days in St. Louis. If Smith doesn't, given this crazy NFL season, they both could end up looking for work in 2011.
Times have changed since the Greatest Show on Turf debuted, and perhaps so must the rules to an offense that doesn't have future Hall of Famers to bail out their mad play-caller the way Martz did with the Rams. Before old pals Smith and Martz even get around to discussing the Bears' run-pass ratio, the first rule that needs to be addressed is Martz's long-standing policy prohibiting his quarterback to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
Sending a quarterback into a game against today's NFL defenses without full use of audibles behind an offensive line this iffy is like asking an out-of-towner to find a destination in a bad neighborhood without GPS.
If Cutler is as brilliant as Martz claims he is, he's bright enough to be trusted with the autonomy of any offense. The Redskins arrive Sunday with the NFL's lowest-ranked defense, so this represents an ideal chance for the Bears to let Cutler freelance more if it helps increase his freedom in the pocket. Right now he's a prisoner of ineptitude that seems as much mental as physical.
On three of the Seahawks' six sacks, a blitzing defender came untouched — a sign of the miscommunication between Cutler and his pass protectors. Football is complex, but it's not trigonometry. If the Bears cannot consistently scheme a way to account for every pass rusher, the scheme is too complicated.
That's what made losing to the Seahawks most confounding: The Bears were beaten above the shoulders. They weren't overpowered or outrun. They were outsmarted by a new coach who recently admitted struggling to adapt to the NFL.
Seahawks defenders cited the Bears' inability to recognize and pick up the blitz. Seattle's offensive players credited their scheme for taking defensive end Julius Peppers out of the game.
Offensive coaching gaffes went beyond schematic issues. The Bears would have had two more timeouts to stop the clock when the Seahawks regained the ball with 1 minute, 53 seconds left if Cutler didn't waste both earlier — after first-down completions. That's confusion acceptable in August but not in Week 6.
As spotty as the Bears' defense played, had the offense played more intelligently, a victory was there for the taking.
But with the Bears still 4-2 with a viable shot to win the NFC North — it would be foolish to write off anybody this year — the focus now must shift from the responsibility for Sunday's loss to Smith's responsiveness.
It would be great if Smith could pound a fist on Jerry Angelo's desk and demand he call the Panthers about trading for wide receiver Steve Smith or the Patriots about dealing Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins.
Or if he handed Martz a picture of tight end Greg Olsen to remind him what one of the Bears' best offensive weapons, without a catch the last two games, looks like. Or if he mandated the return of the fullback to the offense — something, anything that shows football common sense.
The bottom line is Smith needs to treat Martz like he did Terry Shea and Ron Turner, and not like the former head coach who gave him his big NFL break as a defensive coordinator. Cull his strengths. Limit his weaknesses.
Maybe Smith did all that Monday night behind closed doors, maybe not. But too much rides on the future of this season and Smith's career for him to do nothing in regard to Martz after Sunday's coaching disaster.
It was much simpler when everybody was blaming Todd Collins.
Lovie concedes offense got pass-happy vs. Seahawks
Coach Lovie Smith insisted Monday he has a say on the offense, although he once again added that he would like more balance between runs and passes.
''As the head football coach, I like to think I have input on everything that's going on, and I do,'' Smith said. ''We all went in with that game plan feeling good about it.
''We didn't execute the game plan the way we wanted to, but I'm behind everything we've done offensively and am excited about the direction we're going to continue to go from there.''
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has a history of preferring the pass to the run, and running backs Chester Taylor and Matt Forte attempted only 12 runs in a 23-20 loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks.
''Sometimes a plan changes during the course of a game,'' Smith said.
''As we started off early on, I said we need to have balance, more balance, and that's what we'll do.''
Smith indicated that keeping the offensive line intact for a second consecutive week has value.
Meanwhile, the Bears are converting only 17.6 percent of their third downs, which is last in the league. Winless Buffalo was second-to-last heading into Monday night's game at 26.3.
''Third downs have hurt us as much as anything,'' Smith said. ''When you can't keep drives going, when you have short drives it's hard to get a real flow going. I realize we have to have more balance on [offense]. We've taken too many sacks. Again, we haven't established the run the way we would like to.''