Lovie Smith’s Challenge. Coach Needs to Adjust to Patriots Not Belichick.

One of the best pieces of advice my father ever gave me was when we talked about what I should do for a living.  He told me not to worry about money.  “Do what your heart tells you to do.  Make sure its something you like.  If you do, then you’ll probably be good at it and the money will follow.”

This more or less worked for me.  Though I’ll never be rich, I do like what I do and I make enough to live on.  But what was important here was the broader lesson.  If you take care of things on the ground level, success on the broader scale will follow.  Because I like what I do and I think I’m reasonably good at it, I’m reasonably comfortable financially and I consider myself to be reasonably successful overall.  And if you really cut to the bottom line, I’m reasonably happy.

In the Chicago Tribune today, David Haugh encourages Bears head coach Lovie Smith to be creative against Patriots head coach Bill Belichick:

“Chances are rare any coach will out-Belichick Belichick or out-Brady Brady. But Smith needs to try anyway to use his noggin so we shake our heads in disbelief.

“Add a new wrinkle in the return game. Dare to dabble in something that may not work defensively. Have the Bears run a flea-flicker since the Gary Crowton era?”

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times puts is even more bluntly:

“That’s how you beat Belichick. You have to be Belichick.”

These columns highlight one of the problems that Smith faces.  They suggest that Smith alter his game plan to out coach Belichick.  I would suggest that is putting the cart in front of the horse.  What Smith has to do is adjust to what the Patriots do as a team and let success against Belichick flow from that.

Belichick has such a reputation as a great coach that it can, I think, become a distraction which can keep other coaches from concentrating on the more basic, more important things.  Smith can’t be worried about out dueling the other coach.  What Smith has to worry about is how to use his personnel to neutralize Wes Welker‘s quickness.  He has to worry about Tom Brady‘s accuracy.  He has to worry about the Patriot’s underneath passing game and he has to think about how to counter that.

Bottom line, if Smith takes care of business and thinks about the ground level aspects of the game that make up the big picture, he’ll come out ahead of Belichick in the end as a natural result.  Like with everything else in life, it starts with the little things.

New York Giants Stuck in Kansas City. Game at Vikings Could Be Delayed

BREAKING:  The New York Giants team flight to Minneapolis has been diverted by a snowstorm to Kansas City (via profootballtalk.com).  The Giants were forced to conduct their Saturday walkthrough and pre-game meetings in Kansas City’s MCI airport.  Now according to Giants vice-president of communications Pat Hanlon says the team will be spending the night in Missouri.

Its being speculated that the noon game could be delayed until 3:15 PM or even until Monday.  WFLD, the local FOX affiliate in Chicago, is currently scheduled to show the Packers at the Lions, which should be unaffected.

UPDATE:  The games has been postponed to Monday night at 7 PM.  The game will only be shown in Minnesota and New York.

Damage to Albert Haynesworth’s Reputation May Be Worse Than Potentially Considerable Financial Loss

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, GM Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shannahan all refused to say whether they would seek to get a part of suspended defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth‘s bonus money back.  But defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had much more to say and if half of it turns out to be true, it sounds like they might have a shot (from the Washington Post via benmaller.com):

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a player just tell me he didn’t want to play ‘Okie’ defense [the team’s base 3-4 alignment] and then later say he didn’t want to play nickel versus the run, ‘Just play me on third downs,’ ” Haslett said. “No, I’ve never had that before.

“And we tried to accommodate him. It’s a shame because he’s athletic enough. He can do almost anything he wants. Obviously, he didn’t want to do it. Good athletes can do a lot of different things. Basketball players – guards can play forwards, they can play different positions. I watch throughout the league; I see wide receivers do the ‘Wildcat.’ I think to myself, ‘If you’re a good enough athlete, you can do almost anything you want. You’ve just got to want to do it.'”

I’ve never been a big fan of taking a player’s signing bonus money back unless they clearly signed it wit the idea of breaking the terms going in.  But to flat out refuse to do your job seems like a pretty good justification to me.

One thing is clear.  The Redskins made a huge mistake in dealing with Hanesworth.  They say that there’s always a team out there willing to take a chance but Hayensworth is going to have to practically play for free if any team is going to do it again.  Even then I wonder if the damage done by having this kind of cancer on the team wouldn’t offset the advantage.

Mental Strength Brings “Bear Weather” Back to Chicago

They say that 90% of life is showing up.  I’d add that the key to at least half of what’s left is doing it with a positive mental attitude.  No matter what we do, if we approach it in the right frame of mind, with the proper motivation and with faith in ourselves and our abilities, the task becomes easier to accomplish.

It used to be that people would comment about “Bear Weather” and I’d have a good laugh.  The Bears under Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron always seemed like they were absolutely miserable in cold weather.  Certainly they were no better than their opponents.

That’s all changed now under Lovie Smith (via Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune):

“The Bears are acting like it’s business as usual. In terms of just the temperature three of the eight coldest games at Soldier Field have been played during the Lovie Smith era.

“‘For us it’s the typical Chicago game in December,’ Smith said. ‘Do we game plan for it? Yes. This is our home-field advantage. Or I shouldn’t say advantage. It’s at least our home field we play on. You prepare for all situations that come up each week. Again, it’s not like we’re going to start doing anything differently than we normally do at this time of the year.'”

The Bears seem to play better in cold weather under Smith for a variety of reasons.

First, the Bears practice outside, particularly when they are preparing for cold weather games like the one on Sunday promises to be.  This allows them to get used to the idea and to adapt to the cold.  Dick Jauron, in particular, believed in practicing inside in an effort to save his players and keep them healthy.  But if you don’t practice under game conditions, you don’t play well under game conditions and that was born out time after time during his tenure.

The other factor that is worth highlighting is the presence of veterans like Olin Kruetz, who leads the way by encouraging players, particularly the linemen, to wear shorts with no sleeves during practice and in the games.

This might seem like useless bravado but it’s not.  Kreutz understands that much of success in life comes simply from knowing that obstacles can be overcome.  That includes the problem of playing in cold weather where it is at least half mental.

Yes, a player who wears shorts to practice in cold weather or who doesn’t wear sleeves during the game is going to be a little colder.  But he’s also going to realize that even with little buffer from it, the cold isn’t that bad – certainly nothing that’s going to keep him from getting through it and playing well in the process.  He knows that he can play better without sleeves than his opponent who is bundled up on the other sideline can with whatever protection against the cold such things provide.

All of this gives Bears players a mental edge over both the weather and the opponent.  And, as with the rest of us, its that edge which can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Looking Ahead, Bears Probably Will Be Targeting the Tackle Position in the Draft (Again)

Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times answers your questions:

Q: Despite a recently revitalized offense, the o-line is an obvious weakness and will surely be addressed either through the draft or free agency. The question is which of the five players is targeted for replacement? We know that (GM Jerry) Angelo loves his draft picks so Chris Williams and J’Marcus Webb could be safe. We know that Lovie loves his veterans so Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza could be safe. And we know the Bears love their money so Frank Omiyale could be safe because they won’t want to pay him a starters’ salary to ride the pine. So who do you think will be replaced and who do you think should be? — Big Bear

“A: I don’t think of it as who gets replaced. They need to continue to collect offensive line talent and let performance dictate who plays. That said, the careers of Kreutz and Garza are winding down. They need to start developing their eventual replacements. With Garza also serving as the backup center, that’s a position that absolutely must be addressed. Omiyale has done a decent job at left tackle, especially since he spent all of the preseason on the right side, but they shouldn’t pass up a tackle prospect, either. Left tackle is a critical position in every offense but especially so in Martz’s scheme.”

I would generally agree with the answer if not with all of the sarcasm in the question.  But I’m going to guess that barring yet another expensive dip into the free agent market, Frank Omiyale is your left tackle next year.  The Bears are probably going to be drafting low in the first round and that’s not where you find left tackles.

Much more likely, they’ll draft a big, athletic right tackle to replace J’Marcus Webb who has struggled mightily on that side and who, to me, just doesn’t look like he’s got the physical ability to block pass rushing defensive ends.  Webb was only a seventh round pick and I don’t think its going to break Jerry Angelo’s heart if he’s relegated to a back up role.  Here’s hoping he does a better job of evaluating whoever they pick up than he did with Chris Williams.

Points of View, December 10, 2010


  • Fred Michell and David Kaplan at the Chicago Tribune got this quote from Bears safety Chris Harris on what the Bears will do against the Patriots:

“‘It’s not really what our opponents do, in our eyes, especially on defense,’ Harris said. ‘It’s about what we do. … If we read the keys in this defense, you should be able to play pretty good football.'”

One of the most fascinating things for me this Sunday will be to watch the matchup between the philosophies involved.  Lovie Smith believes in doing what you do and lining up your best eleven against theirs.  Bill Belichick is a tinkerer who believes you can get more out of your best eleven by scheming your opponents quite a bit more than that.

“So anybody else cringe at (offensive coordinator, MikeMartz promising to include more deep passes against the Patriots?”

The answer is, “Yes, I cringe.” The offensive line still isn’t ready to protect Cutler as he takes deep drops.  But the fact remains that someone eventually is going to take away the Bears running game and short to mid-range passing game and dare them to throw deep.  It could happen this week and if it does, the Bears are going to have to do it whether they are ready or not.  When that time comes, the media and fans will blame Martz.  But the real culprit will be the people who patched together that line.


“And while watching on DVR Thursday’s edition of The Dan Patrick Show, Dan pointed out this two-pack of tweets from LeBron’s Twitter page: ‘Watching [SportsCenter] and Trent Dilfer is talking bad on how Peyton Manning is playing as of late! In his wildest dream [Dilfer] could never do the things Peyton does on the field. Good or bad! People get on TV and think they can say whatever they want! And it’s always former players! Crazy!!’

“Dilfer is now an analyst. Whether Manning is a better player than Dilfer was is irrelevant to the analysis of Manning’s current struggles.

“Then again, a guy who is constantly surrounded by enablers and sycophants likely can’t grasp the concept of criticism, constructive or otherwise.”

Its the total lack of logic in the argument that really struck a cord with me.  I find this constantly when discussing issues with people.  Instead of addressing the topic, they’ll bring up a peripheral issue that is totally irrelevant and consider it to be a defense.  Its irritating under normal circumstances but its particularly so when it comes from a source like James.

One Final Thought

Haugh also had this interesting interview with Blackhawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman:

“Who does a legend call to talk?

“‘You have a few people in the game that you’ve known to lean on, maybe some astute businessmen who have some sort of formula that works. (But) it can be lonely,’ Bowman said. ‘I remember once talking to Don Shula about this, and we said the same thing. I never said it publicly, but my biggest regret with some of the teams I had was I never told them how good they really were and how I appreciated them.'”

The Key to Winning the Patriots Game – Speed, Speed, Speed.

Its not often that you can boil a game down to one specific aspect that will determine who wins.  That isn’t the case this Sunday either.  But its close.  Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts his finger on the biggest problem for the Bears:

“‘You definitely have to work it down the field (against the Bears), which is our kind of offensive mentality anyway,’ (Patriots wide receiver, Wes) Welker said. ‘And when you get your chances, take advantage of them.’

“Dink and dunk is what (Patriots quarterback, Tom) Brady might do better than anyone. It’s not that he can’t make all the throws downfield, but he’s patient and fully willing to take what you give him.

“His ball placement is such that he delivers passes where receivers can make the next move.”

This is the problem.  Biggs describes it as being special to the defensive backs and the solution as being pressure from the front four with good fundamentals, which is all true.

But more than anything from the linebackers back into the secondary the Bears have to be sharp mentally, react quickly and play very, very fast.  Receivers must be tackled immediately upon catching the ball.  That’s always true but its especially important this week because the Patriots execute very, very well.  You aren’t going to see receivers dropping many balls this week like you did to some extent when the Bears played the Eagles and the Lions.  They aren’t going to give the Bears anything.

Oh, and just as an aside, here’s hoping strong side linebacker, Nick Roach, can play healthy this game because the Patriots can run the ball, too.  I don’t think the Bears will be able to stop them with a nickel defense like they did against the Lions, either.

The Patriots are balanced and the Bears can’t be flat or we’ll have another 2009 Bengals game on our hands.  For those who weren’t scared for life or who simply have blocked it from memory, that was the game when Cedric Benson and the rest of that offense did pretty much whatever they wanted against the Bears.  That’s probably not going to happen with a healthy Bears defense on the field this year.  But the fact remains that this is an awful matchup for the Bears.  The 2010 Patriots are as good as any team in the league since the 49ers of the eighties at playing the underneath passing game.  They’re very, very good at getting mismatches and more than ever if a receiver gets separation there’s serious trouble waiting.  Here’s hoping that, as they have against most of the other teams they’ve played this year, they can limit the damage.

Players Agree Not to File a Collusion Claim. For Now. Joy.

In what he claims is a “somewhat positive sign”, Aaron Wilson writes that the players won’t be filing a collusion claim right now for the National Football Post:

“‘The NFL & NFLPA have agreed to extend the deadline for the players’ to file a collusion claim,’ the statement said. ‘This agreement does not prevent the NFLPA from filing a collusion claim at future date. We are continuing to work toward a new CBA that will be good for players, owners and fans.'”

Well, I will say this.  At least we won’t have to hear about one more nuisance filing by the union aimed at pressuring the owners into an agreement – even though it won’t work.

The NFLPA has been screaming for months that how a lockout is coming.  So now what does the union do?  Scream that they couldn’t possibly have simply believed what the believed what the players said.  If that’s kind of logic that they are using at the bargaining table, we all might as well stop planning for a 2011 season now.

Turf for Soldier Field? Ask the Players.

A column for Chicago Sun-Times weighed in on the natural grass Vs. artificial turf debate at Soldier Field:

“Soldier Field may be the league’s worst, but that doesn’t mean Bears players want the team or park district to do anything about it. On the contrary, the majority of Bears players, when asked whether they’d prefer to play home games on natural grass, artificial turf or an artificial/natural hybrid surface, said they’d keep the field as is.

“‘I like it the way it is because we know what we’re dealing with,” safety Chris Harris said. “It gives us an advantage. We know the conditions. Both teams play on it, but we’re more aware.'”

And there is also the fact that the Park District is likely to fight the move to consider:

“Nobody is expecting changes at Soldier Field any time soon. Team president Ted Phillips has said he’s awaiting ongoing studies on player safety before making any decisions. The park district maintains the stadium as a multipurpose venue, and other events require grass fields.”

“Hybrid surfaces such as the one at Lambeau Field aren’t practical at such a busy venue, which means the status quo may be the best — and only — alternative.”

I don’t know if there’s a right answer to this question but, such practical issues aside, to me this debate should always come down to what the players think is best.  They have to play on it.  I understand that they don’t all agree but if, as the article claims, this is really what the majority wants, its easy enough to keep things as they are.

UPDATE: Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports:

“But in an anonymous poll of Bears players conducted by the Tribune last year, 36 players were asked about their preference, and only 12 said they wanted to stay on a grass surface.”

This is in contrast to what was said above.  Perhaps the players can’t make up their minds either.

In Defense of Jeff Fisher

I always like reading Mike Florio’s profootballtalk.com blog because he isn’t just aggregating news.  He bring sometimes very strong opinions.  And he feels pretty strongly about Titans coachJeff Fisher:

“Some think that, if Fisher is fired in Tennessee, he’ll end up getting the job in Dallas.

“If he plans on getting any other head-coaching job in the NFL, Fisher will need a darn good explanation for the apparent reality that his team has quit on him.”

I’ve heard Florio interviewed enough to know that he can’t understand why people belive Fisher is such a good head coach.  As an admittedly biased fan of the former Bear, I’m going to take issue.

It well known that coaches around the NFL have a defined shelf life.  Its roughly 6 or 7 years give or take.  After that, Players have heard it all before.  They get comfortable.  The message from even the best head coaches goes stale.  If the head coach is a particularly emotional guy, it can do that even more quickly.  If he’s Mike Singletary it happens in less than a full season.

Fisher has lasted 16 more or less competitive seasons with the Titans.  Sixteen!  And not only that, he did it with Bud Adams, one of the worst, most meddlesome owners in the NFL constantly interfering.  Fisher’s an even tempered, defensive mind who understands players and who has consistently gotten the most out of them when other “geniuses” in the NFL have failed.

In those 16 years how many players have left the Titans to go on to better things elsewhere?  On the other hand, how many have left and failed?

Want to know how valuable Fisher is?  Ask Eddie George.  Better yet, ask Albert Haynesworth.  How much has Mike Shanahan gotten out of him this year?

I’m not saying that Fisher is the greatest head coach in the history of the league.  But he deserves his due in terms of respect.  And he can coach my team any time.