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Bears still lack identity on offense
Interpret Jay Cutler’s aloof on-field body language how you will.
There was no mistaking the message behind his words after Chicago’s 27-17 home loss to Green Bay.
Cutler could provide no answers for the question that every booing Bears fan at Soldier Field has after watching Chicago squander umpteen chances to upend the defending Super Bowl champions.
What is offensive coordinator Mike Martz thinking?
A week after his play-calling left Cutler exposed to physical abuse by the New Orleans pass rush in a 30-13 loss, Martz inexplicably made Chicago’s offense even more imbalanced. Matt Forte — accurately described by Cutler as “the only running back we’ve got back there” — had even fewer carries (9) than against the Saints (10). Forte mustered all of two yards Sunday.
Cutler’s 10-yard run on a fumbled snap at the end of the game lifted Chicago’s overall production to 13. That was the second-lowest rushing total in this storied franchise’s history behind a four-yard effort in 1952 against the Los Angeles Rams.
The late George Halas was Chicago’s head coach back then. Even now, “Papa Bear” could have formulated a better approach toward attacking the Packers than a 37-to-9 ratio of passes to runs.
The trickle-down effect: Chicago faced 11 third downs of seven or more yards, including four in the third quarter of 19, 12, 10 and 16. The Bears didn’t score on any of those four possessions. That placed further strain on Chicago’s shaky pass protection and a defense already struggling to contain Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (28-of-38 passing for 297 yards) and running back Ryan Grant (17 carries for 92 yards).
No wonder Cutler admitted the Bears are lacking an offensive identity.
“You’re almost in a must-throw situation right there,” said Cutler, who was sacked three times playing behind an offensive line missing two injured starters. “They’re going to drop eight, nine guys and there aren’t a lot of holes. That happened to us today.”
Cutler then went to bat for Forte, whose main role remains as a backfield receiving threat. Forte added seven catches for 80 yards Sunday to the 10 receptions he made against New Orleans. But in Cutler’s eyes, a 1,000-yard rusher like Forte still isn’t being put in the best position to help the offense succeed.
“We’ve got to give him the ball,” Cutler said. “Get him rushes, get him touches to get him going because he’s an explosive, explosive player. I feel bad for him right now. He wants the ball and wants to help out. We’re not giving him a lot of opportunities.”
Asked whether Sunday’s game plan called for so many passes or if he changed runs at the line of scrimmage, Cutler smirked and said, “I don’t audible, so no. You’re going to have to ask someone else about that. I don’t do the game plan.”
Hear that beeping sound? It’s coming from the bus being backed over Martz’s torso.
Martz isn’t made available for postgame interviews by the Bears. Head coach Lovie Smith instead addressed the matter by saying Green Bay’s run defense deserved “a lot of the credit” for Chicago’s failings. Smith also claimed the Packers were “better than us today. I think the statistics will show that.”
He is wrong on both accounts.
The Packers (3-0) tried to give this game away even more than in last Sunday’s surprising struggle against Carolina. Remarkably, Green Bay found an opponent less capable of taking advantage than the lowly Panthers.
Green Bay’s offense committed its first two turnovers of the season along with seven pre-snap penalties and three more infractions that were declined. And even with two interceptions, Green Bay’s secondary remains a shell of last year’s unit. Cutler became the third straight opposing quarterback with a 300-yard performance along with his two touchdown passes.
Chicago (1-2) capitalized on this type of sloppiness in Week 3 last season when defeating the Packers in overtime. These Bears couldn’t pull within single-digits for the final 1 1/2 quarters.
“There are just some things you can’t do,” Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. “With a team this good, you can’t give them second opportunities. They capitalized on them and we didn’t.”
A microcosm of Chicago’s woes came with about a minute remaining. The Bears executed a brilliant punt-return concept when blockers tricked Green Bay’s coverage team into flowing toward Devin Hester with a wedge on one side of the field while Johnny Knox fielded the punt on the other. Knox ran untouched down the Packers sideline for an 89-yard touchdown — only to have the score nullified by a holding penalty.
“It was designed to do exactly what it did,” said Bears safety Corey Graham, who committed the infraction. “It turned out to be a very good play — other than the holding call.”
And how was that play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Forget about the Bears defending their NFC North title. With the Packers and surprising Detroit (3-0) atop the division, the playoffs will quickly become a pipedream as well if Chicago doesn’t quickly rectify some glaring weaknesses.
The defense must hope the imminent return of injured safeties Chris Harris and Major Wright helps shore an overmatched secondary. Greg Jennings had a career-high nine catches for 119 yards but he wasn’t even Green Bay’s biggest receiving star Sunday. Tight end Jermichael Finley scored touchdowns on three of his seven grabs, including a 10-yarder early in the fourth quarter that extended Green Bay’s lead to 27-10.
“It’s a cover-2 beater,” said Jennings, who didn’t receive the coverage help he needed from safety Craig Steltz on the play. “(Rodgers) just threw it up there. He knew it was in.”
The defense, though, isn’t Chicago’s biggest concern.
The offense could sorely use the lift that the special teams once provided until the NFL’s new kickoff rules neutered Chicago’s return game. Since that contribution isn’t coming back, the Bears need to make other changes.
To start, Smith must now rein in Martz before the season goes into a Miami Dolphins-like freefall.
Smith did that at the midway point last season by insisting Martz provide more rushing balance. The Bears then made a run into the NFC Championship Game with Cutler not having to suffer a consistent beating.
Whether such a demand would again produce similar results isn’t fool-proof. But as Cutler said of the current pass-heavy philosophy, “We are 0-2 doing this so it’s not looking very good.”
Neither are the Bears.
“We were consistent in the things we did well,” Cutler said. “Other things — penalties, interceptions, miscues, missed blocks. You go down the line …
“Until we put together a full game and we’re consistent and balanced, it’s going to be tough for us to win.”