I felt really good about making the prediction that the Dallas Cowboys would have trouble scoring 20 points, let alone winning the game. I looked at some of the metrics, watched some gamefilm, and figured the 2-1 Cowboys were closer offensively to what they did against the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers than against the New York Giants, where they scored 7, 16, and 24 respectively. Their problems on offense mirrored the Bears, the poor O-Line play, inconsistent receivers, and maddening quarterback play. If the Bears were going to win on Monday, it was because the offense put up at least 20 points.
Spoiler Alert: Bears won 34-18.
I noted on Monday morning, one of the advantages that the Bears had in improving on the offense was that their lack of success wasn't directly related to them being completely out of sync and unable to effectively communicate. In the Dallas win over Tampa Bay and their loss to Seattle, they looked out of sorts. The line didn't have any sort of flow or continuity (which Bears fans know all about), and was blocking poorly for DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo. Jason Witten has been playing really subpar. Dez Bryant was as frustrating as ever. These are chemistry issues that really affect how a unit performs and how well they were able to execute what looked to be a decent way to attack the teams. The Bears? They didn't have that issue, all of their players were just having mediocre at best games and the gamecalling was has been subpar, which Sam Householder's touched on in his fine article.
If one team was going to break out on offense, it had to be Mike Tice's. There's been flashes of the positive aspects of Tice's gameplans. In Week 1 against the Indianapolis, Tice's major weakness was that the offense wasn't running, the line wasn't blocking, and the rhythm seemed to not be there, but the superior offensive talent took over the game and won individual matchups handily. Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, Tice's gameplan was just like against the Colts (also a 3-4 team), and tried to throw it deep often, pushed the play downfield, and didn't run the ball. The result was that the tempo just wasn't there for the offense, and nothing was adjusted in game to account for the weak blocking. Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams, you started to see what Tice wanted to be doing. You saw him running the ball more, the short high percentage shots, increasing the usage of the short and intermediary passing game. The Cowboys just didn't have a game which defined themselves as real offensive players.
Sitting through the film on Friday, I saw that the Bears were growing into their identity on offense, where play calling was more of an issue than execution, and the Cowboys were trying to tread water on offense where the lack of execution was dooming their reasonable, conservative play calling by Jason Garret.
Tice came out in Week 4 with a really solid game plan, and sold me on his chances as an OC for the Bears moreso than in week 1's offensive blunderbuss. The first few weeks have been a trial by fire for the offense who's in their 3rd system in 4 years, but in week 4, there was a real emphasis, a real feel that the Bears were going to try to carve an identity in their offense.
In the Bears first offensive drive, backed up to their own 6 by some masterful punting by Brian Moorman (seriously, why did Buffalo dump this guy?), the offense executes a dink and dunk 10 play drive averaging 3 yards on their first down plays. Sure they only managed to gain 40 some yards, but, you're putting a rhythm on the field, freshening up the blockers, getting the receivers feeling their opponents and Cutler evaluating their defense, and giving Tice and Jeremy Bates both get a fresh look at what Rob Ryan's Defense (and hair) are doing.
Setting up these 10, 12 play drives in the first half, the Bears weren't really interested in taking a lot of shots downfield as they have previously in trying to force the ball over the safeties, but instead taking what the Cowboys defense was giving them: move the ball downfield slowly and efficiently; smartly playing the field position game. Oh yes, the Bears were looking to take the chances downfield still, as Cutler did on the first drive in the second quarter to Hester.
Hester splits the safety and CB, but Cutler, can't get enough power behind his throw on the run to give Hester enough time to run under it. I know, shocking that Cutler can't make all the throws 55 yards downfield when Hester has everyone beat, but sometimes it happens. Cutty needed to gun it 65 yards downfield to make that play (BUT LOOK AT THAT POCKET AND PROTECTION!). Truth be told, I don't think there's anyone in the NFL save Michael Vick and Joe Flacco who can make that throw any better than Cutler did.
In Weeks 2 and 3, the Bears offense spent too much time looking to take the big gains from the defense. I heard a stat on ESPN Radio that in weeks 1-3 Cutler had more yards on each throw in the air, than he has had at any point previously in his career, almost 13 yards in the air per throw. This week, the Bears came out and asked the offense to play like they were playing against the Bears defense. Run the ball when the safeties are deep, throw the ball when they come close, bide your time, and take your shots when they're there, instead of trying to force something to happen.
Patience pays off. Hester takes off in the beginning of the second half and Morris Claiborne has zero opportunity to catch him. Double-moved into oblivion, Cutler saw the opportunity, and the single coverage, and let Hester make a play that had many Bears fans. Well, you know, go nuts.
Thrown off his back foot, Cutler lofts one right into Hester's stone hands.
What you saw on Monday wasn't a mirage of the offense that we want, it was the real thing. The Cowboys thrive on closing 3rd downs. Bears 3rd down efficiency? 7 for 12, 52%. If you're going to look at the identity of the offense, it's going to be this. A team that's going to run the ball 25 times and pass the ball 30 times. It's not the old Ron Turner offense of: Run the ball, play action deep on the left side to Bernard Berrian. Oh no, the offense has teeth when it looks like Mike Tice had come out on Monday, because it's considerably less predictable. It wasn't Mike Martz esque either. Cutler's sack issues and long developing plays without enough blockers? Didn't happen. There was fantastic work by J'Marcus Webb on the line, and a lot of it has to be chalked up to: Tice had called a great game which put the line in a place to succeed, and the entire offense to look like efficient superstars that carried the team to 20 points on offense, which was the magic number that I didn't think the Cowboys would be able to reach.