Wednesday, January 2, 2013

THE CURIOUS CASE OF: Lovie Smith (The Defense)

Felipe M

The firing of Lovie Smith marks the end of an era in Chicago Bears' football, no doubt personified by a defense with a style of play not seen since the 1980s.  As the former head coach looks to be almost guaranteed a job in the NFL in time for the 2013 season, most of the defensive players will remain in Chicago to give it one or two more attempts to play as a unit and bring home a title to a championship-starved city.  

Unfortunately, with an aging defense and with most of the defensive coaches more than likely not coming back for 2013, it's hard to visualize this team to continue to be one of the elite defenses in the NFL. Nevertheless, we will take a look back on this vaunted defense and take a glimpse of its short-term future as the Bears look to hire a new head coach to take this club to the Super Bowl.

  • The Bears' defense did not look like an elite unit throughout the offseason and preseason stages of 2012. With the team aging rapidly, this team looked like it was on its last legs. Blessed with a soft, early-season schedule, however, the defense carried the Bears to a 7-1 record as they performed vintage Lovie Smith defense--not to be confused with vintage Bears' defense.  "Lovie football" would be on full display against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9 of the NFL season.
    • Charles Tillman would go on to force four fumbles and Brian Urlacher ran back an interception for a touchdown despite not possessing the same speed he once had that made him one of the game's best linebackers.
  • Since Smith was first hired as head coach in 2004, he basically inherited a Super Bowl-type defense with speed, discipline, and conservative consistency being the team's reputation.  Once Smith was hired, he added another dynamic element that would cement him as one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. It was not the installation of the Cover-2/Tampa-2/Lovie-2 defense (former head coach, Dick Jauron had all ready implemented a version of that defense before Smith was hired); it was the major emphasis on the defense taking a proactive and aggressive approach to not only force turnovers, but to become the closest thing the NFL has to a high-speed, transition offense in the NBA: to score points on defensive turnovers by the truckloads (the goal was usually 10 defensive touchdowns per season). 
    • The first 8 games of the season, albeit against weaker opponents, showed the defense still believing and applying the fundamental philosophy of Smith's emphasis to rack up takeaways. 
  • Despite the fact that Smith's "Cover-2" defense was a conservative approach to not give up big plays, the Bears' defense, throughout much of Smith's tenure, gave up a lot of yards, as the team's average rank for yards allowed  is about 14th place. However, the team's average rank was in the top 10 in terms of points allowed and his insistence on getting the ball back by any means necessary has statistical support as the team ranks 1st in takeaways, three-and-out drives forced, and third down percentage since he took over the team in 2004.
    • The irony here is that despite local fans and media loathing the conservative "Lovie-2" defense, the Bears aggressively took chances to force fumbles and garner interceptions with the full intention to score as a defensive unit. No other team since Smith was hired placed so much importance on this notion. All of this created an exciting brand of football at a time when the NFL was marketing and promoting the passing game.
  • As mentioned before, the new coaching staff will now inherit a declining team defense and the most unique part of the Bears' defense will probably disappear as the defensive coaches who helped preach Smith's approach will be gone and most of the Bears' defensive core will start leaving via free agency, retirement, etc. 
  • It was reported that many, if not all, defensive players refuse to speak to the media after they had learned that Smith had been fired. With the success these players had under Smith, it's very understandable.  
The new coaching staff will have their work cut out for them as they will not have the luxury to solely concentrate on improving a terrible offense. As well as the defense played for the most part in 2012, the prophecy by most experts that this defense was on the decline were deferred in the 1st half of 2012, as Smith had the unit playing to its maxed potential. Unfortunately, the defense showed their age and diminished abilities for the rest of the year.  

Unless new GM, Phil Emery works his miraculous magic in acquiring new players via trades, free agency, and the draft to reload this defense, the current unit will continue to stroll into the sunset and all that will remain will be the memories of a once proud defensive unit--no matter which coach he ultimately decides to hire. 

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