It is fitting that after declaring the 2010 Bears a fun team to watch, viewing two of their last four games has killed my interest in football this season. I am grateful insofar as it could have been a lot worse had I actually seen the game against Carolina.
But despite the hand-wringing and hectoring of the Chicago media, it is difficult for me to pin the blame for losing three of the last four on a lack of a running game or an unwillingness to abandon a pretty passing game. For the first time in quite some time at Soldier Field, the problem does not appear to be coaching strategy, but execution. Jay Cutler is probably a fine quarterback, but his unwillingness or inability to adjust to Martz's offense and take the checkdown option is killing both him and the team's massive offensive potential.
The easy refrain from those responsible for interpreting Chicago sports is to vacillate between pillorying Cutler for his outsized ego and horrid performances and lecturing Martz for his unwillingness to run the ball into the line. It is not surprising that the media analysis has been derivative and overladen with affected expertise, nor is it surprising that its bogus bluster. What is surprising is that it need not be this way and that the state of sports writing in the country has not devolved to a state that this is all that is on offer.
Witness, for example, T.J. Simers' incisive takedown of Vinny Del Negro after VDN's four game tenure with the Clippers. Simers gets to the core of what many Bulls fans saw early on in his time in Chicago, but what appeared to evade Chicago sportswriters busy telling supporters that Tyrus Thomas was not a committed enough player and disruptive in the locker room. The truth, I would imagine, implicated VDN's deficiencies as a coach.
In contrast, early returns for Tom Thibodeau's nascent reign are promising. Dare I write it? The 2010-2011 Bulls are entertaining. I have watched two of the three games this season (the opener in Oklahoma City and Monday night's game against Portland) and the ceiling/floor on this team is wide open. Thibodeau has rewarded performance and handed out playing time on that basis. After the first two games, Scalabrine looked like he was going to be TT's security blanket, but the ginger giant did not see significant floor time when the Blazers began their fourth quarter run. Luol Deng rode the pine when his play on the court fell flat, but on Monday night Thibodeau seemed fully content to hand the game over to Deng on his way to a career game. TT has also not been enamored with the veteran players brought in to round out the squad, and C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, and Keith Bogans have not been guaranteed playing time just because they've logged significant minutes in the NBA.
The team has not yet gotten significant contributions from the Jazz trio (Korver, Brewer, and Boozer) and if and when they do step up the team becomes even more difficult to characterize. For the time being, the Bulls' returning core is setting the pace. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and James Johnson will drive the team.