There are a couple things that are rankling me about this year's Bears team, and with pretty much a bye-period Sunday tomorrow, I figured now's a fine time to look at the new offensive coordinator, Mike Tice, and how he's called these first two games. Both of them have some striking similarities, but clearly one of them was extremely effective, while the other was extremely effective at being a train wreck.
The fact still remains that we're only two games into the 2012 season, and it's a small sample size to be sure, but we can look at these two games and notice some trends as to why things are happening the way they're happening. Hit the jump.
(I'm going to throw this out there right now, because it's going to come if I don't, and maybe even if I do - this is not an absolution of Jay Cutler. He was awful. This is an examination of the coordinator.)
The biggest thing that I've noticed over the two games is something that we probably could have guessed would happen, and really, we can't be too surprised. When you give an offense of a team typically starved for offense some new playthings, they want to break them out, quickly. Here, let me put that in bold for you.
The offense wants to use its toys.
This isn't a bad thing. Regardless of your personal feelings on that "pouty" "whiny" "crybaby" "quitter" (okay, far more words were used, but these are the only ones I can really put on the front page) Jay Cutler, the offense made a significant investment to not only improve the offense, but to change the entire complexion of the offense - from one that mostly plods along behind Matt Forte rushes, Matt Forte screens, Matt Forte on the flat, and Matt Forte on a wheel route (and maybe the occasional 15-yarder to Johnny Knox or 12-yarder to Earl Bennett) to one powered by big pass plays, as evidenced by their nine 20+ yard offensive plays against Indianapolis.
But in order for those big pass plays to get off the ground, there either needs to be time available through blocking or time created through misdirection, of which on Thursday the Bears had neither and on Sunday they had aplenty. The Bears spent both opening plays of each game with a play-action pass attempt, each of which resulted in a sack. That can't continue this season.
So how does Tice correct it? Well, I'm not going to say he should stay away from the play-action pass or run on the first play of the game, but he does need to get the run going early and prevent these defenses from lining up their best pass-rushers and going all-out on play one.
Would you believe me if I said that the first few series against both the Packers and Colts were called nearly identically? (-/- is a new drive)
GB - PA Pass/sack, run right side, draw up middle (3rd and forever) -/- incomplete pass, run right, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, pass/sack, pass for loss, run left
IND - PA Pass/sack, run left side, incomplete pass, -/- INT TD -/- run left, incomplete, pass, incomplete pass, run left, incomplete pass ...
So that's 6 passes and 4 runs in the first ten plays against Green Bay and 6 passes with four runs in the first ten plays against Indianapolis. That doesn't tell you a whole lot by itself. Against Green Bay, though, both drives began with a pass, and eight of the team's 12 drives began with a pass. And against Indianapolis, 6 of the team's 13 drives began with a pass. Seven of the team's eight first quarter drives have started with a pass; the only one that didn't came immediately following Cutler's interception for a touchdown on the first play of the preceding drive.
Offensive coordinators will script the first few series of play calls and see what works and what doesn't, and know how to attack the defense best. That's all fine and good, I'm not one to tell an offensive coordinator how to do his job. But when your entire first quarter consists of Matt Forte going for 4 yards, 8 yards, 6 yards, and 7 yards, and your quaterback missing everything in sight and you're consistently in third and long on those series, don't you think that it might be a good idea to start riding the run game a little more?
So to start the second quarter, Michael Bush comes in, gets the ball four straight plays, picks up a first down and gives you second and six. After Bush's next run (two plays later, the same play the Carimi personal foul is called), the next rushing attempt doesn't come for the rest of the quarter. The third quarter is actually rather rush heavy while the game's still within two scores - between Bush and Forte, Forte gets three of the next four plays called for him (and the third, non-run play was a 15-yard pass to Forte). Then after another Forte reception, Bush comes in and picks up 8 yards, then an incompletion to Spaeth, then another 8 yards, then a loss of two followed by a field goal. The entire next drive was nothing but runs until 3rd and 11 after a Kellen Davis false start, when Cutler throws an interception. Then the fourth quarter is when things got out of control between Green Bay's two scores and Cutler's interceptions.
Okay, so where's the complaint, right? Cutler was struggling in the first quarter, so the Bears start mixing in more runs. But you can't do much running when you get knocked into second and long and third and long situations. Against Green Bay, the Bears called 8 first down plays, five passes and three runs. The third quarter was one pass and six runs on first down (an incompletion and 26 rushing yards), and the fourth was five passes to one run.
But where the Bears got in trouble was in situations where they got themselves into those second and long, third and longs. If you want an interesting statistic, Cutler was never sacked on third down - he got taken down four times on first down and three on second down. Those are dangerous, forcing a quarterback having a bad night to have to make a big play throw - Cutler can make those throws, but he was having a really hard time of it on Thursday night.
Tice kept getting into playcalling ruts because of early series sacks and shrinking down and distance. The playcalling was at least a little more mixed against Indy, but the same thing applies. He especially seems to think that the offense's explosive plays involve a "boom or bust" type of explosion. As an example, take the second quarter of the Indianapolis game. Looking down the play-by-play, you'll notice nearly every Bears play is ten yards till the first down, at least - in fact, the Bears ran 7 plays (out of 25) where the distance was less than ten yards, and one of those was a field goal. Is part of that a product of getting first downs? Yes, and really, if you have a problem with a team getting first downs, then I don't know what to say. But it seems too often like unless it's a run play, it seems like he's going for the marker on every play. When it works it's beautiful. But it's also high risk, and takes time to develop. The Bears could do it against Indianapolis, but against Green Bay it failed spectacularly.
So let's go back to what I said at the top - wanting to use the team's weapons and be an explosive offense isn't a bad thing. But, in order to make the offense more effective, Tice can't continue to play with the fire that his type of offense seems to embody early unless their opponent is completely devoid of pass rush (hint: that doesn't include the NFC North). The Bears ran one screen early in the game against Green Bay, which was batted by a freely-incoming Clay Matthews, and then took forever to come back to it. Even some semblance of a short-to-intermediate passing game could have helped open those downfield plays and kept the Bears out of those miserable second and long and third and long situations.
The ironic part is, the Bears now have a couple guys that can help out in that facet of the passing game as well as the downfield part.
What are your current opinions of Mike Tice the coordinator?