Three weeks into the Mike Tice era and the Chicago Bears offense is still searching for its rhythm. A terrific week one performance against the Colts was almost completely negated by the horrendous Green Bay game, and the Bears offensive performance against the Rams on Sunday didn't reflect the solid bounce back game many had predicted for Cutler and the Bears.
There were some positive signs, as Cutler was only sacked twice by Chris Long and I think the offensive line wasn't nearly as bad against the Rams as they were against the Packers (baby steps, people, baby steps). Plus, only one holding call was made against the offensive line - J'Marcus Webb, the spotlight is on you - although I think part of that can be attributed to the wonderful replacement refs. Additionally, Cutler only threw one interception which was definitely not his fault, as it bounced off of a tighter covered Brandon Marshall and into Cortland Finnegan's waiting grasp. Heck, we even witnessed a positive yardage gain on a Devin Hester end-around!
The bad for the Bears' offense was a general start and stop feeling to it. For every completion for a first down or big run, there seemed to be two minimal or negative yardage plays. The Bears had twenty carries that went for two yards or less between Bell and Bush (they had twenty-eight carries combined). Throw in Armando Allen's one carry for two yards, and that's pretty abysmal. In addition, the Bears, playing at home, had three false start penalties against offensive lineman. Maybe Cutler should be telling the crowd to be quiet anytime the team has the ball.
And, I know, we didn't have Matt Forte for the game. But remember we signed Michael Bush because it was like having a starter on the bench. Bush's line for the game (18/55, 1 TD) is not exactly what you want to see from a starting running back, especially against a team that features good passing rushing ends, a good middle linebacker, and some solid cornerbacks, but was missing its best run stopping tackle and is pretty ordinary otherwise.
In my opinion, the first down execution is especially troublesome, but not from a playcalling standpoint. Against the Rams, Tice (or Cutler, depending if he audibled) called for fifteen runs and thirteen passes, good balance for a game that was within a touchdown until the Wright interception return in the fourth quarter. If anything though, the Bears remained committed the run despite its apparent lack of success. The fifteen running plays on first down netted a total of thirty-eight yards, and that number would be even worse if not for the Hester end-around (8 yards), Bush's first carry for 12 yards and Kahlil Bell's 18 yard scamper (other than that 18 yard run, Bell was 9 carries for 2 yards; hence why Ryan Grant is in town). In fact, minus those three plays, on first down the Bears had 12 carries for ZERO yards. That's so bad I had to bold it. The Bears mixed up the playcalling with the end-around, had Bush pound between the tackles and had Bell run inside and outside, but the Bears were continually stopped for minimal yardage on first down.
The passing game on first-down was much better, with Cutler going 8/13 for 95 yards with a long of 34 to Marshall. The Bears featured short routes and underneath passes to a variety of receivers on first down, something that needs to continue. His poor throw to Earl Bennett for an incompletion was on first down, and the Bears need to optimize the first down passing game by continuing to focus on short routes that will pick up solid chunks of yardage that create second-and-short situations. Cutler did attempt to go deep on first down as well, sending a deep ball to Alshon Jeffery and completing a long one to Marshall. The Bears don't need to do anything drastically different on first down passing the ball, but executing better (i.e. bad throw to Bennett) is a must.
The Bears early on in the game focused on completing short passes on first down, with a majority of the running plays on first down coming in the second half. The troubles rushing the ball on first need to improve, obviously, but the passing game - especially the quick and short plays - can mitigate those issues if Cutler and the receivers can take advantage of teams stacking the box against them.