Playing Out the String

After returning from a brief illness, it is time to dive back into the world of sports.  As a Bears fan, I am not looking for to today’s game against the Packers.  The season opener against Green Bay accurately presaged the rest of Jay Cutler’s year as Bears’ QB.  Now the Bears are 5-7, and they are basically playing out the string.  They are eliminated from the division race, within a game from being out of the wild card race.  So what should Bears fans watch for during these last 4 games?

First, the Bears should play their healthy rookies as much as possible. This mean giving carries to Kahlil Bell, throwing passes to Johnny Know and Juaquin Iglesias, sticking Lance Louis at tackle, and allowing Jarron Gilbert and DJ Moore to play defense. The Bears are not a playoff team as currently constituted. Their list of players on injured reserve is surprisingly short, with the only serious casualties being two starting linebackers, Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa. Those two’s return will improve the defense next season, but it will do nothing for the offense. Will these rookies’ development help? They need the playing time to find out. However, it is safe to say that an ancient Orlando Pace is not the long-term answer, despite his place at the top of the depth chart. Give Louis a try.

Second, Bears fans can’t look forward to the draft. Their first round pick will spend next season playing for Denver, as part of the Cutler trade. This is problematic given that 10 members of their active roster are 30 or older, along with Urlacher on injured reserve. The Bears need an infusion of youth, and a lost draft pick makes that harder to find.

Finally, the Bears have to make a decision about Lovie Smith. Smith has been the Bears coach for 6 seasons, with a record of 50-42. His teams have produced 3 winning seasons and 2 playoff appearances, 2 more and 1 more than his predecessor respectively. The worry, for Smith, has to be defensive performance. Ranking by points allowed, his teams have ranked 13, 1, 3, 16, 16, and 21st. The trend is ominous, and it cannot be explained away as an artifact of Urlacher’s injury. For a former defensive coordinator, this should be his area of expertise. I would probably give Smith another year, but it is a close enough call that the last 4 games could be dispositive.

When you follow a losing team, this is about all a fan can watch for. Winning is a pipe dream, but there are other things to care about, no matter what Vince Lombardi said. Bears fans, then, get to dream about what might encourage future winning.

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