The Power of Being One With the Crowd

Joe Bucs Fan tries to climb into the mind of Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith by posting excerpts and/or highlights from Smith’s book, “You Win in the Locker Room”. He doesn’t think much of this part:

“The biggest theme in Smith’s book is all about ‘culture.’ Joe thinks this may be an empty word bordering on misleading. Every coach preaches culture. Hell, former Bucs commander Greg Schiano was huge on this. But what happened? It blew up in his face after some head-scratching personnel moves and a quarterback going mental.”

“If you have, say, Chucky drafting the players and Lovie Smith coaching the players, Joe doesn’t give a damn what kind of culture a guy preaches, no talent and not knowing how to use that talent will get you fired very quickly. It’s all about winning. Culture doesn’t mean a damned thing.”

There’s some truth to this. You certainly aren’t going anywhere without talent and good coaching.

But beyond that I have to disagree. Players interact as a group and anyone who has ever played competitive sports, hell anyone who has just been part of a crowd that watches competitive sports, knows that people feed off of one another in that type of environment.

Expectations are set in part by the people around you and what they do. If you are part of a group where the majority stay and do the extra work and put forth the extra effort to do the little things to win, you are much more likely to do that yourself. That maximizes talent and leads to a better chance of winning on the field.

I wouldn’t under-estimate the power that lies in this type of interaction. A core group of players doing the right thing can lead weaker members of the team onto the right path. That’s why the Patriots can, say, add Martellus Bennett and expect him to succeed where he failed with the Bears. They have a culture where such antics as his aren’t tolerated, not just by the coaches, but by a large group of veteran players who know how to win.

Establishing a “culture” of winning is a real thing. It’s something that can be the difference between a talented team that consistently finds victory and one that more often than not falls short.

Ron Rivera Recovers from Bears Departure and Lovie Smith Struggles with Himself

Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “It is when we all play safe that we create a world of the utmost insecurity.” I doubt he was thinking of former Bears head coach Lovie Smith when he said it. But Smith certainly seems to fit the expression.

Austin Murphy at SI.com details the history of Carolina head coach Ron Rivera with Smith. Smith let Rivera, his defensive coordinator, leave after the 2010 Super Bowl. Rivera has now climbed his way back to participate in Super Bowl 50. For some, this will be ancient history but I found it to be good reading:

Dan Hampton puts a finer point on [Rivera’s departure], as is his wont: ‘Lovie stabbed him in the back,’ says the former Bears defensive tackle and Hall of Famer.”

“They were not necessarily aligned, philosophically. Smith, who’d coached linebackers for Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay from 1996 to 2000, was a proponent of his mentor’s Tampa-2. Rivera preferred a more balls-out, attacking style. He’d played for Buddy Ryan, father of the famed 46 defense, then served a second apprenticeship as Eagles linebackers coach from 1999 to ’03, soaking up knowledge from the late, legendary Jim Johnson, a DC known for his ultra-aggressive, blitz-happy schemes.

“That creative tension seemed to be working. Blending elements of those schemes, the Bears limited opponents to 15.9 points per game during their Super Bowl run in ’06. ‘A dissenting voice in the room is a positive thing,’ points out ex-Bears wideout Tom Waddle, a one-time Rivera teammate who is now a prominent media presence in Chicago. ‘And I can guarantee you, Ron Rivera as a dissenting voice is not a negative or destructive voice.'”

Murphy goes on to detail Smith’s tendency to hire coaches out of “loyalty” and how this led to his downfall both in Chicago and, especially, in Tampa Bay.

To some extent, Murphy misses the point, either because he doesn’t see it or he doesn’t want to be too hard on Smith. Smith doesn’t just hire coaches out of loyalty. He hires them because, having worked with them, he knows what they think. You and I and Waddle see creative tension as a good thing. But a very proud and sensitive Smith sees it as insubordination and there would be none of that on a coaching staff littered with his friends.

Given that Smith was replaced in Tampa Bay by hiring his own replacement in Dirk Koetter, one of the few coaches on his staff that he’d never coached with before, I think it unlikely that he’ll be changing his ways if he gets another chance at a head coaching gig. Smith did a lot of good things in Tampa Bay and they were getting better. But you have to wonder if his insecurities will always limit his success.

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Buccaneers 12/27/15

Bucs_BearsOffense

  1. Tampa Bay played a familiar Lovie Smith-style bend but don’t break defense but the blitzed more than is usual, presumably to put pressure on the somewhat weak Bears offensive line. It was reasonably effective.
  2. The Bears responded by trying to be patient and limit mistakes in a ball control, run first offensive game plan.
  3. The Bears game took a while to get going, as usual. The Bears have scored only 41 points in the 1st quarter this year.
  4. The offense got going better after the first quarter. The Bucs helped them along to their first touchdown with a timely facemask penalty followed by a pass interference. They also executed better and played cleaner.
  5. The Bears were double teaming Gerald McCoy whenever they could with Vlad Ducasse and Kyle Long. This was particularly evident in short yardage where they ran right over the spot where they double team was. It seems that the Bucs may have been blitzing so often in an effort to prevent this double team by occupying both Ducasse and Long. This led directly to a sack given up by Ducasse isolated on McCoy in the second quarter in the red zone.
  6. The Bears offensive line had a very hard time protecting Cutler against that blitz. Tampa Bay only had one sack but Cutler was constantly under pressure.
  7. The Bears also had some success running to the right with Matt Slauson pulling to that side. This was a good plan against a Tampa Bay defensive line that always works to penetrate and get up field first.
  8. Tampa Bay did a good job on the Bears screen plays. Teams are preparing well for this now.
  9. Matt Forte (11 carries for 54 yards) ran very well today. This great vision was more evident than usual as he cut back and picked out holes. Jeremy Langford didn’t do badly (19 carries for 93 yards) but he looked like he still has some things to learn from Forte in comparison today.
  10. The Bears struggled a bit on third down (6 of 15) as the Bucs came through with some big plays. They also settled for field goals in the red zone when they needed touchdowns, again.
  11. Ka’Deem Carey scores not only a a good, hard run but actually catches a pass for the second touchdown. Who saw that coming? Probably not the Bucs.
  12. Zack Miller (7 catches for 64 yards) had a sneaky good game and led the Bears in receiving.
  13. Jay Cutler didn’t have to do that much but came through when he had to and statistically (20 of 27 for 156 yards, passer rating 100.2) he was excellent.

Defense

  1. Tampa Bay obviously is a run first team and they do it effectively with Doug Martin. The Bears countered with a lot of nickel defense but with eight in the box. This gets an extra defensive back on to the field to prevent those easy throws to running backs and tight ends that have been burning the linebackers so badly lately. That’s a good, smart adjustment that paid off.
  2. The Bears only rushed three in some obvious passing situations, probably in an effort to make Jameis Winston force a stupid throw. Winston did a reasonably good job of not doing that, trying to run out of trouble instead. He’s not dumb, that’s for sure. Having said that, he threw an interception under pressure from Christian Jones on the blitz in the third quarter in the red zone that was pretty bone-headed. So they still have to pound some of that out of him.
  3. The Bears didn’t appear to me to be blitzing much and they weren’t getting much pressure on Winston. This was a major advantage for Tampa Bay as they threw deep a number of times to burn the Bears after Winston was given forever to throw. Never was the need to acquire a pass rusher in the offseason more evident for the Bears.
  4. Harold Jones-Quartey had a good game and made a case for himself as a future Bear. He had a big hit that caused a fumble in the second quarter and stood out occasionally in coverage. His interception in the third quarter with the Bucs driving in the red zone was huge.
  5. Doug Martin (17 carries for 49 yards) had a mediocre first half. He come out after half time and ran very hard as the Bucaneers came out even more determined to run. They ran five straight times until Charles Sims caught a touchdown pass. The Bears responded by keying on the run with renewed attention and did a good job of stopping them.
  6. I’m not sure what the reason for it was but an awful lot of Buccaneers were getting open deep in the second half. Every time you looked up there was a wide receiver running free with a Bears defensive back trailing about three yards behind. That needs to stop. Fortunately Winston also has what appears to me to be a bad habit of under-throwing receivers deep. The Buccaneers would have blown this game wide open in the second half had he connected on more of those throws.
  7. The defense did a good job on third down, allowing just two conversions out of eight tries.

Miscellaneous

  1. Sam Rosen, Matt Millen, Peter Peter Schrager did a reasonably good job. Millen has a bad habit of being wrong and then having to correct himself but he also does a good job of going back to break down plays and show them exactly why they worked. He’s a surprisingly good teacher. I like him.
  2. A blocked Bears punt by Jeremiah George led to a Doug Martin touchdown. It looked like LaRoy Reynolds may have failed to block George. Robbie Gould had a good game, connecting on three field goals. His problems a few weeks ago seem to be over.
  3. Neither team committed that many penalties but some of them were very poorly timed, especially by the Buccaneers.  A false start by Kyle Long turned a third and goal from the four to a third and goal from the nine. A holding penalty by Vlad Ducasse late in the fourth quarter killed a first down. They settled for a field goal. On the Buccaneers side, a big facemask penalty brought back a William Gholston interception. A facemask followed by a pass interference penalty set up the Bears touchdown in the second quarter.
  4. Eddie Royal dropped a touchdown. Mike Evans returned the favor by dropping one in the fourth quarter.
  5. Turnovers were huge here, of course, as the Bears won that battle 3-0. The Bears got a fumble caused by a hit by Harold Jones-Quartey. It was recovered by John Timu. Timu recovered another big fumble in the third quarter at the Bucs 22 yard line. Jon Anderson appeared to make the big hit. Harold Jones-Quartey came up with a big interception in the red zone in the third quarter.
  6. You hate to see injuries, especially to guys like Hroniss Grasu and Eddie Goldman, so late in the season. Grasu eventually returned. Here’s hoping the Goldman injury is similarly minor. Jarvis Jenkins, who has had a reasonably good season, left the game early and would also be missed. The defensive line wasn’t a strength to begin with.
  7. It’s debatable but I thought the Buccaneers were the more talented team, today. But turnovers and a few key mistakes burned them badly and the Bears played cleanly enough to take advantage. That doesn’t sound exciting but its darned important. When the Bears aren’t committing penalties and shooting themselves in the foot, they can win games they shouldn’t be in. Today was a prime example of that.

Only Limited Similarity Between John Fox and Lovie Smith

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune praises former Bears head coach Lovie Smith but at the same time under-states the positives of current head coach John Fox by stating that there’s not much difference between the two:

“The praise heaped on Fox comes mostly because he benefits by comparison to predecessor Marc Trestman, the cerebral interloper more suited as a life coach than an NFL head coach.”

“Truth is, Fox re-established credibility at Halas Hall by doing the job much the way Smith did for nine seasons: treating players like men and employing a philosophy built on a strong defense and conservative offense… If Smith could hire offensive coordinators as well as Fox has, perhaps he could have returned to a Super Bowl with the Bears.”

“Fox’s consistency in approach — something that always helped Smith connect with players — gives the Bears hope for the future no matter what their 2015 record is.

“Meanwhile, history gets a little kinder to Smith every week.”

I think everyone recognizes Smith’s accomplishments here and I think everyone recognized them when he left. But we also recognized his faults and there’s no doubt that Fox is a great improvement as a head coach. Fox has almost all of Smith’s positive attributes with out the baggage brought by Smith’s weird combination of both arrogance and insecurity.

It was the arrogance that made him insist on more power over personnel than he should have had in Chicago. It’s what’s gong to end up holding the Buccaneers back with Smith in charge of personnel there.  As former bear general manager Jerry Angelo put it:

[James Winston is] right on the cusp of being a franchise quarterback. They were a really bad team a year ago and they’re not really that much better this year except for him.

My mother could have drafted Winton or Marcus Mariota.

It was his insecurity that caused his poor record of hiring coordinators. Smith insisted they have experience working with him before because he was afraid of the creative tension that might be brought on by someone with a different point of view. He also lived by the tenant that you should never hire anyone good enough to be your own replacement. Even if you discount these speculations the fact remains that Smith couldn’t attract the best coaches.

Fox has none of these problems as demonstrated by the fact that he hired offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the two best available coordinators of 2015. He stays in the background and helps them do their jobs rather than doing it for them as Smith did with the defense after firing Ron Rivera for the sin of occasionally disagreeing with him.

In many ways Smith was a wonderful head coach and despite his flaws he brought some good years to Chicago and I’m grateful. But I don’t miss him. Looking back, the Bears are much better off now than they ever were then.

Behind Enemy Lines: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Things you should know about the Buccaneers as the Bears head out to face them this Sunday in Tampa Bay:

  • Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has 1305 yards rushing on the year in a contract season. That’s only nine yards behind the Vikings Adrian Peterson for the league lead. The Bears did an adequate job stopping Peterson on Sunday and they’ll have to do the same or better against Martin. It will be interesting to see if they choose to put eight in the box against Martin as they did against Peterson or if they choose to try to stop him with the standard seven which has been more their habit this season when facing good running backs.
  • Not to be forgotten in the running back mix is Charles Simms. Simms is one of the best at catching balls out of the backfield this year. He is one of only four running backs in the NFL with at least 400 yards rushing and receiving. The others are Devonta Freeman, Mark Ingram and Giovanni Bernard. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Add in the threat of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who returned this month from a shoulder injury that had left him sidelined since week 2, and this is all bad news for the Bears who have struggled to cover both running backs and tight ends with their linebackers. Look for the Buccaneers to take full advantage of that match up.
  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will have a reasonable opportunity to get back on track this week. Of course, the Bucs defense might be saying the same thing about the Bears. The Buccaneer’s secondary has been their biggest weakness this year. Opposing quarterbacks have completed a NFL high 69% of their passes against them this year. Opponents have a passer rating of 100.3, fifth highest in the NFL, and its 107.9 the past three games. They’ve made Ryan Mallett, Matt Hasselbeck and Case Keenum look like franchise quarterbacks.
  • On the other hand, the Bucs have been very good against the run. They held Rams rookie Todd Gurley to 48 yards on 21 carries on Thursday. They are tied with Denver for the league lead at 3.3 yards per carry. Again, this doesn’t bode well for the Bears who rely on ball control and defense when they are playing well.
  • This game will be a contest to see who will have the worst first quarter. Like the Bears, the Bucs are becoming notorious for their slow starts. They have averaged just 3.4 points in the first quarter. Greg Auman at the Tampa Bay Times reports:

    “‘It affects your game plan when you’re playing from behind, obviously,’ rookie G Ali Marpet said after Thursday’s 31-23 loss. ‘Our mentality is to run the ball first, and it takes you out of that, which is frustrating.'”

    Tell me about it.

  • The Bucs are also struggling on special teams. They gave up two long kickoff returns to the Rams, a 44-yarder on the opening kickoff to set up a touchdown and a 102-yarder that led to a fourth-quarter field goal. We can hope the Bears are headed in the opposite direction after a good effort Sunday against the Vikings.

The Reality of the Bears Situation

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reviews the problems that the Bears have to overcome in order to continue to win football games.

Jay Cutler’s turnover-free night? Well, Quentin Rollins dropped a shoulda-been interception in the first quarter. And Cutler had to make a desperate hustle recovery to avoid disaster on a fumbled fourth-quarter snap.

“That spirited defensive effort? The Bears still are getting pushed around up front and proving way too vulnerable against the run.

“This list could go on for awhile. And it’s why the Bears can’t take their newfound position as favorites against the 49ers and Redskins as a sign that they can exhale. They still have a razor-thin margin for error and haven’t enjoyed a three-game winning streak since September 2013.”

He’s got a good point. In talking to Bears fans around town and around the Internet, there’s considerable optimism about how this team is going to finish the year. What I’m hearing a lot is, “With that schedule? They’re going to the playoffs.” Much though I like what I see, I think fans are setting themselves for disappointment.

Looking ahead, I see San Fransisco, Washington, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. Are those winnable games? You bet. But I feel compelled to point out that those teams are saying the same thing about their game against the 5-6 Bears. And with the exception of the Vikings, all of them are on the upswing, just as the Bears are. And the Vikings were pretty good to begin with.

San Fransisco just limited the Cardinals, possibly the best team in the NFC, to 19 points. Tampa Bay has won three of their last five and is in contention for a playoff spot. Washington has also won three of five and are the favorites to win their division. The Lions just beat the Packers three weeks ago in Lambeau, matching what the Bears just did, and they absolutely destroyed the Eagles on Thanksgiving. And both the Vikings and the Lions beat the Bears earlier in the year.

Could the Bears finish strong and be in contention for the playoffs? No doubt. But much more likely fans will be sitting at the end of the year and be happy that the Bears gradually improved over the course of the season with a bright future ahead of them. But only if they stay grounded in reality.

Revising Expectations for the Bears

Jon Greenberg at ESPN is revising his expectations for the Bears:

“In the beginning … we predicted 6-10 for the Chicago Bears and it seemed just about right.”

“But then Jay Cutler returned [from injury] ahead of schedule and things settled down, and now, weeks after fans stopped watching games between their outstretched fingers, this looks like, knock on Mike Ditka’s pompadour, it could be a wholly respectable team with a longshot chance of making the postseason.”

The Bears are on a hot streak and Cutler is certainly a big part of that. But Cutler or not, I’m sticking with 6-10.

The Bears are 4-5 and at this point in the season, I think that’s great. But let’s not forget that they are the same team that lost to the Lions a month ago. They’ve won two games since then but they’ve gotten a lot of help from two teams that, frankly, played well below their talent level. Such things have a bd habit of evening out and more often than not, given decent coaching and a good environment, teams end up right where their talent level says they should.

I’m not disparaging the Bears here. I think they’re a well-coached team that is making progress every week. But Denver is a much better team that is unlikely to give the game away with poor discipline in the same manner that the Rams did. And I don’t care how badly the Packers are slipping at the moment, I can’t believe that they won’t pull it together and beat the Bears on Thanksgiving. I also see the Vikings as a loss in Minnesota. After that, the Bears are still a team that’s going to be no more than a coin flip against Washington, San Fransisco, Tampa Bay, and Detroit. If they win half of those, that’s two more wins. And that’s where I’m still sitting.

A Trade Off at Cornerback

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune comments on former Bears cornerback Tim Jennings‘ situation:

“When the Bears released two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings on Aug. 30, some questioned if the club was ditching a shot at winning now in order to get some younger players involved. Yes, that really was the approach some took. As is often the case, the front office had a solid gauge on where Jennings was at as the Buccaneers and former coach Lovie Smith released him on Monday. Keep in mind Jennings had arthroscopic knee surgery early in the offseason and Smith probably didn’t get the same player he remembered.”

Yes, but its worth noting that though the Jennings signing didn’t work out, former Bear Charles Tillman has been performing extremely well for the undefeated Carolina Panthers. So strike one up for the Bears on Jennings but take it away for Tillman, someone the Bears could sorely use in coverage this season.

Lovie Smith: Not in Trouble in Tampa Bay. But He Should Be.

Rick Stroud at the Tampa Bay Times writes about whether former Bears head coach Lovie Smith is on the hot seat there:

“Contrary to what a few fans may believe, Smith’s coaching seat isn’t getting warm. Not even tepid.

“Why? When you take a quarterback No. 1 overall in the draft and plan to play him right away, you commit to the process as an organization, which is what the Bucs have done.”

“Smith is not blameless. He and general manager Jason Licht have made their share of mistakes in free agency. Some positions in the secondary and on the defensive line still are a revolving door. Any time Smith says the Bucs are 1-3, fans counter that they are 3-17 under Smith.”

Smith is entirely to blame. He’s has been put in charge and is ultimately responsible for all of the personnel decisions that are made in Tampa Bay, something that I pointed out was a grave error when they hired him. Smith is a pretty good head coach. But it’s not a co-incidence that the Bears drafts began to go more and more downhill as he gained more and more influence in the organization.

Despite winning his first ever home game in Tampa Bay on Sunday, Stroud says that Smith isn’t in trouble with ownership because they’re playing with a rookie quarterback and that’s fair enough. But the Tampa Bay problems are also on defense where they are last in the league with 148 points allowed over 5 games. That’s supposed to be Smith’s specialty and most Bears fans know he’s pretty good at it. But his insistence in meddling with player personnel is keeping that side of the ball unsettled. And it may not get better.

In many ways Smith is lucky. Having Jameis Winston is a built in excuse that will buy him time despite poor performance in other areas of his job. But he’s in over his head in Tampa Bay and unless they hire a real general manager with real power over personnel, its likely to stay that way.

Ups and Downs for Those Bucs/Titans Fans

For those Buccaneers fans jumping off bridges after week one because your team chose Jameis Winston, I come bearing good news: The last quarterback to throw a pick six on his first NFL pass? Brett Favre.

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Oh. And lest you think I’ve forgotten you smug Marcus Mariota fans:

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Good luck riding those rollercoasters, boys and girls.