At 3-3, Lovie Smith needs a bye-week bailout
Will extra practice make perfect? Smith under a microscope today
November 7, 2010
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com
The bye week in the NFL was invented for one reason only: to extend the regular season and maximize television revenue.
But it's also a chance for players to heal and an opportunity for the head coach to do what many of them do best: manage, prepare and teach.
Under coach Lovie Smith, the Bears have won three of their last four games played after the bye week.
You can't judge a coach based on his team's performance after the bye week. Not only do most bye teams have a built-in advantage over an opponent that played the previous week, but whom you play and where you play them are random factors. But over time, it can be a pretty good indicator of a guy who knows what he's doing.
The Patriots have won their last eight games after the bye under Bill Belichick -- by an average of 15 points.
The Steelers are 4-1 after the bye under Mike Tomlin, including the last three -- at Cincinnati (38-10), at Denver (28-10) and at home against the Browns (28-10).
The Colts have won eight of their last nine under Jim Caldwell and Tony Dungy. The Titans are 9-3 in Jeff Fisher's last 12 seasons.
And while it's true that good teams win all the time, sometimes the numbers are too stark to ignore. The Eagles are 11-0 after the bye under Andy Reid, winning by an average of 11 points.
Reid's all about it
In the previous nine seasons, the Eagles are 21-20 before the bye week and 71-32 after the bye week. Whoever picked Reid from Green Bay over all the hot coordinators at the time knew what he was doing.
As a matter of fact, Reid, Tomlin, Fisher and Caldwell all were unheralded choices when they became NFL head coaches. And Belichick wasn't exactly a sure thing with the Patriots after an unimpressive run (36-44, 1-1 postseason) in Cleveland.
So coming off the bye week, the Bears will be of particular interest today against the Bills at Rogers Centre in Toronto -- because the Bears needed this bye week more than any in Lovie Smith's seven seasons as coach.
With an unsettled offensive line -- that's being kind -- a shaky quarterback in Jay Cutler and an offense under Mike Martz that in general is discombobulated, the Bears needed the extra week to get back to the basics and re-establish a foundation they can build something on. Because whatever they were doing in training camp and the first seven weeks wasn't working.
Time to look in the mirror
''When you're focusing each week on moving on to get ready for the next opponent, sometimes you don't have enough time to really focus on yourselves,'' tight end Greg Olsen said. ''The bye week gives you a chance to self-evaluate and really get a good idea of the things you're doing and the things that need to be improved upon.''
''The execution of the offense, the little things,'' Olsen said. ''The route techniques, the blocking techniques, the protection details, the concepts. Instead of getting ready to run this play against this particular look, you're working on this play and what the concepts are. It's more of the basics, more offseason-type preparation rather than game-planning.''
It will be interesting to see how the Bears respond. It's not too much to expect them to be sharp against a winless -- but not hapless -- opponent. Or at least look like they learned something.
The Bears are 3-3 after the bye in Smith's first six seasons, winning three of the last four -- beating the sub-.500 49ers (2-5), Raiders (2-6) and Lions (0-7) in 2006-08 and losing to the Falcons (3-1) in Atlanta last season.
And Chan Gailey should make it an interesting battle. Gailey has a knack for preparation. He was 2-0 after the bye as coach of the Cowboys in 1998-99, beating the Cardinals 35-7 and the Eagles 34-0. After his bye this season, the Bills scored 34 points and gained 514 yards in a 37-34 road loss in overtime to the Ravens, who came in allowing 16 points and 281 yards a game. Last week, the Bills held the Chiefs -- who had scored 73 points the previous two weeks -- to 13 in another overtime loss.
The Bills are winless. But they have one thing going for them the Bears would be wise to emulate. They're getting better.