Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
3:00
PM ET
After the Chicago Bears' 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Everyone wants to know what will happen to coach Lovie Smith after the season. The truth is there are too many possibilities remaining to make an accurate judgment. General manager Phil Emery was noticeably vague when discussing Smith's future with the team's flagship radio station, but that's because the Bears could finish anywhere between 8-8 and 10-6. They could miss the playoffs or they could conceivably make a deep playoff run. Despite the current despair surrounding the franchise, to me it's fair to make Smith's continued employment contingent on a playoff berth. If he makes the playoffs, a firing would be an awfully harsh verdict. But if the Bears miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years, that's a sufficient timeframe to expect better results. Based on what we've seen over the past month, it's hard to envision the Bears winning out and making a deep playoff run. But we have to leave open that possibility before making any grand guesses about Smith's future.
  2. Offensive pass interference calls aren't as rare as you might think. Through Week 14, officials had called a total of 72. Still, that's an avearge of about one for every three games this season. So Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery certainly set a new bar by getting three on his own Sunday -- only Kenny Britt of the Tennessee Titans had that many all season entering the week. Packers defenders made clear they thought Bears receivers routinely get away with illegal contact. Charles Woodson said he was "very, very surprised but also very happy" to see the calls made because of "blatant push-offs" Bears receivers usually employ. Cornerback Tramon Williams said he was "pleasantly surprised" to see the calls. My sense is that Jeffery will learn how to create separation more subtly as he becomes a savvier player. It's absolutely part of the game, but there are ways to accomplish the goal without getting called. He might want to start by watching the tape of Packers receiver James Jones' 29-yard touchdown reception. Jones did just enough with his left hand to keep cornerback Kelvin Hayden away from him, but not enough to merit a penalty.
  3. I don't blame players for struggling with the constant scrutiny they face from fans and media. It's no doubt part of the gig, but that doesn't make it easy. So I'll give injured linebacker Brian Urlacher a pass on his televised statement that "two of the people I don't care about" are "fans or the media." The only way to live with the scrutiny is to ignore it as best you can. But at least part of Urlacher's rant was factually inaccurate. The Bears are most definitely not the only team in the NFC North who get booed by their home fans, despite what Urlacher suggested. I've spent the past five seasons covering games at the Soldier Field, Ford Field, Lambeau Field and the Metrodome. I've heard the boos first-hand in each locale. (I guess I never considered whether they were booing the NFC North blog. Probably not, though.) I'm sure Urlacher is frustrated and perhaps he can see the end of a long run for the nucleus of players and coaches he's spent the past decade working with. But I really doubt he has made it this long in the NFL while holding on to the notion that most local fans treat their teams with kid gloves.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
What is it about the Packers that has so befuddled quarterback Jay Cutler? Since arriving in 2009, Cutler is 1-6 against the Packers and 11-3 against the rest of the NFC North. And to be clear, his performance in most of those games has been terrible. His Total Quarterback Rating was 6.9 (out of 100) Sunday and 4.7 (still out of 100) in Week 2 against the Packers. In fact, four of the six lowest QBRs in Cutler's career have come against the Packers. His frustration ran sky high Sunday, at least based on his reaction to a huge second-quarter interception. I don't blame him. It has been four years of this now.

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