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Bears Playbook - Is the Offense too Predictable?

Bears fans are rightfully wringing their hands over the woeful state of the Bears defense, but last Sunday's loss to the Bills can be put squarely on the shoulders of Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman's offense. Here's how the Bills got the upper hand.

Jonathan Daniel

If you were drawing up a basic defensive gameplan against the Chicago Bears, what is the one thing you would try and take away from the offense?  While you might lean towards neutralizing the likes of Matt Forte, it's not so easy to take away a run-pass threat like him.  Any Bears observer, however, knows that Jay Cutler will always look to Brandon Marshall for the big play, and the Bears' season opener proved no exception to this trend.  Between the miscues that came up in the Cutler-Marshall connection and the Bills' efforts to shut Marshall down, the Bills were able to get enough of an upper hand to eke out the win.

The Bills defensive coordinator went all-in on shutting down #15, a task made that much easier as both Marshall and Alshon Jeffery got dinged up over the course of the game.  We'll start with this first play, the flea-flicker from the first quarter:


It's a clever enough play, and the run-fake pulls in the linebackers and leaves the middle of the field wide open for Marshall and Jeffery to run free.  To add to the trickery, both receivers run their routes straight at the single high safety, forcing him to stay in place rather than committing to defending one Bear or the other.

Two issues with this play, however.  The first is that Cutler's happy feet (or his love of Marshall) lead the QB to throw to the well-covered veteran on his right rather than the open Jeffery to his right.  The second is the play-fake itself - this seems like an awful lot of work to go through just to guarantee Marshall gets single coverage.  The flea flicker works like a charm in drawing the linebackers in, so why not square a receiver in to that wide open midfield?

Later on in the game, the Bears find themselves in a third and five, and who do you think the Bills are going to put two defenders on?


Again, we see wide-open looks from other receivers on the top of this formation, but with the pressure getting close, Jay opts to throw along the path of least resistance and miss the still-sort-of-open Marshall in double coverage.  However, if Cutler had kept cool for an extra half-second, he had an open receiver on the other side of the field.

This offense is not predictable in the same way previous Bears' offenses were - teams don't automatically know that Jason McKie is going to run the dive on any third or fourth and one.  But you know that the 49ers are going to put extra emphasis on shutting down Marshall, especially if Alshon Jeffery isn't able to take the field Sunday night.  And if Cutler learned his lesson from Week 1 and looks to spread the wealth, he'll need a bit more from the rest of the WR group to get the job done:


This third and one play proved to be the game-loser for the Bears - they don't convert, take the field goal, and go on to lose it in OT.  But with 0:40 on the clock and two timeouts in your pocket, why not opt to run the ball or hit a short pass for that one yard and take three shots into the endzone after getting the first?  Instead, the Bears got cute with this "unpredictable" pass play.  The irony, of course, is that Brandon Marshall comes open at the end of the play, but Cutler looks to mix it up by aiming for Santonio Holmes (14) in tight coverage.  The off-the-street WR isn't able to hold on in that blanket coverage, and while the Bears went on to get their tie off a field goal, those three points proved to be the last the team scored.

Nobody expected the defense to be great last Sunday, but I would have laughed at anyone who told me that the Bills would hold the high-flying Bears offense to a mere 20 points.  But between injury and predictable decision-making by Cutler, the tables were turned on the hometown team. Instead of the Bears' offense scoring enough to overcome the deficiencies on their defense, it was the Bills that were able to get that slim margin of victory.  Here's to hoping that Cutler finds a balance between Marshall and the rest of the WR corps, that Trestman puts a bit more faith in his team's ability to get that one yard then they need it, and that Cutler makes some better decisions when deciding who to throw to.  While 0-2 isn't an impossible hole to find your way out of, 1-1 would be a whole lot better.