Wed bear practice notes and injuries
Flag Lovie for bypassing own rule
2 blown challenges vs. Redskins started Cutler's, Bears' woes
Lovie Smith, brutally exposed by multicamera angles, painful replays, still shots of a frozen moment and all kinds of graphics and gimmicks, stands as an isolated figure these days.
The coach's ability to rally his team around him now will determine the success or failure of this season and his future with the team.
It's an interesting crossroads during a week of reflection and self-evaluation. Without the double burden of serving as defensive coordinator, Smith's job as head coach is to manage his players, manage his coaches and manage the sideline. He appears to be failing in two of those areas with no one to blame but himself.
There is no way to ignore the impact of a series of foolish coaching mistakes regarding the use of the challenge flag in the loss to the Washington Redskins. Forget for a moment about who saw what and when they saw it, and consider a statement Smith made to the Sun-Times just over a year ago regarding the use of challenges.
''As a general rule, if there's a critical play, you have to take advantage of the challenge,'' Smith said in October 2009. ''If we fumble the ball on the 1-yard line going in, that's a big play -- so even to lose a timeout, if we know for sure there's a chance it could be turned the other way, you go for it. There have been times in a lot of games when you thought it surprised you when they came back with the ruling. If there's a chance it's in your favor, you have to look at the situation.''
Potential impact what counts
Smith's philosophy on challenges is simple: The more important the play, the more likely you challenge. Forget the risk of losing a timeout. Forget saving the challenge for a more important play -- you never know what a game's impact moment might be until it's over.
Forget if you are at home or away, on offense or defense, lead or trail. All that matters is the potential impact of the moment.
Coaches may be ranked and evaluated on their success with the challenge flag -- the number of reversals they get -- but such statistics are irrelevant to Smith because he believes only in challenging game-changing plays. He's not after winning every challenge, he's only looking to reverse calls that have the most impact.
The decision not to challenge Jay Cutler's goal-line fumble is therefore inexcusable. If Smith opted not to challenge because he had just burned a timeout while challenging whether Earl Bennett was in the end zone, well, that challenge did not meet his criteria, while the goal-line fumble did. One bad decision was compounded by a second.
The series of plays may have led to Jay Cutler's mad, self-destructive collapse. The quarterback's four interceptions all came after that sequence. If the Bears had taken the lead at that point, would Cutler have disintegrated?
The issue was further complicated when the NFL's former vice president of officiating, Mike Pereira, criticized Smith for not making the challenge. Pereira works for Fox-TV these days, but he remains a powerful voice on officiating matters. There is a battle going on between coaches and the NFL regarding officiating and, specifically, the new emphasis of rules on helmet-to-helmet tackles and so-called devastating hits.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive VP of football operations, complimented New England safety Brandon Meriweather -- a poster boy for bad hits -- for changing his tackling method, drawing the ire of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
''That would be a first for me,'' Belichick said about Anderson's comment. ''The officials are now evaluating the players and their performance. No, I mean that's great [long pause] ... I can't tell you how much that means to me, really.''
Smith is believed to be the first coach called out by a guy perceived as an NFL company man.
Time to get running
Regardless, good coaching is about putting players in a position to succeed. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is putting his inexperienced, ineffective offensive line in a position to fail. The Bears hired offensive line coach Mike Tice before they hired Martz. Sources say Tice was assured by Smith that the Bears were going to run the football, and Tice even cautioned him that if the plan was to throw every down, Tice wasn't the right choice for the job.
Smith needs to reel in Martz and keep his promise to Tice. The Bears need to develop a running game and be patient with it, especially with Soldier Field's winter turf best suited to a power game.
Smith seems to be operating against his own phil
osophy these days, and the results make him look more alone than ever.