Third and one: Bears

After Chicago’s 37-23 victory over Detroit, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

  1. Stranger things have happened, but I would be surprised if the Bears fire coach Lovie Smith. There’s no doubt they would prefer not to pay him $11 million to walk away, as his contract would require. But if they were looking for an excuse to do nothing, consecutive victories to end the season probably provided it. I think Smith and the front office should face serious questions for why the Bears lost seven of eight games during a crucial part of the season. But more than anything, I want to know who is in charge. Who makes the final decision on Smith? Is it the McCaskey family? Team president Ted Phillips? General manager Jerry Angelo? Will Smith stay because no there is no credible person authorized to fire him? Call me crazy, but I want to know who is pulling the strings these days at Halas Hall.

  2. Assuming it happens, part of Smith’s deal to return should be to hire a legitimate defensive coordinator. This season was a referendum on Smith’s ability to personally improve the defense; he took over as the primary playcaller and left quasi-coordinator Bob Babich to coach the linebackers. The defense had its struggles last season, but it fell off a cliff in 2009. The final numbers are in the books, and the Bears ranked No. 21 in the NFL in points allowed per game (23.4), and were No. 27 in third-down conversion percentage (41). Smith needs to devote someone else full time to the role of resurrecting this scheme.

  3. Quarterback Jay Cutler gave us plenty to consider as we head into the offseason. It appears that offensive coordinator Ron Turner is on his way out the door, but whoever calls the Bears offense next season should make a point to let Cutler out of the pocket as much as possible. There’s absolutely no doubt he feels more comfortable in that setting. Allowed to break free much more frequently over the past two games, Cutler threw eight touchdown passes and one interception. Three of those scores went to receiver Devin Aromashodu, whose late-season emergence provided Cutler another level of credibility within the organization. Cutler lobbied for his presence all season and finally got his wish in Week 14. From that point, Aromashodu caught 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns.

And here is one question I’m still asking:

Will the Bears blow up their defensive personnel this offseason or maintain the current nucleus? It’s already pretty likely that defensive end Adewale Ogunleye won’t be back. What will happen to defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who finished the season with a career-low 2.5 sacks? What about the secondary? Was Zack Bowman’s six interceptions enough to guarantee him a starting job opposite Charles Tillman? Does any safety on this roster deserve to return?