Time has come for Bears to play it safe
Time has come for Bears to play it safe
Going conservative might be answer for ailing offense
During a bye week, NFL teams rewind recent game tapes and review what went right and wrong.
The Bears, though, should dig deeper into their archives and study their NFC championship season from 2006.
''If offensively they took the mentality of maximizing each possession and minimizing the damage and embracing tight games and not being afraid to play in a safer manner, they can win more games,'' said former quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl ring.
Trading for quarterback Jay Cutler before last season and hiring coordinator Mike Martz before this season ramped up expectations for the Bears' long-suffering offense. There have been skeptics, but the pairing of Cutler and Martz largely was hailed as a potentially potent one.
Through seven games, though, Cutler and Martz are fortunate -- especially with elections coming up -- that they aren't subject to any approval ratings.
The Bears' offense is ranked 30th in the NFL, Cutler's 84.1 passer rating is 21st in the league and the litany of problems is overwhelming. The Bears are last in third-down efficiency and sacks allowed and second-to-last in percent of passes intercepted.
It's clear Cutler and Martz are pressing and trying to fulfill grandiose expectations. But perhaps coach Lovie Smith should dust off the Rex Rules by insisting that the offense focus on protecting the ball, running the ball and not being afraid to put itself in punting situations.
Defense, special teams fine
The steady decline of the Bears' defense since 2006, when the unit ranked fifth in the NFL, has forced the team to rely more on its offense. But nearing the midway point of this season, the defense is back among the NFL's elite in a number of key categories, including tied for second with 17 takeaways.
Devin Hester's touchdown drought on special teams is over (he has two punt returns for touchdowns already), and Danieal Manning is among the best kickoff returners in the league (a bonus because Johnny Knox went to the Pro Bowl last season in that capacity). Under coordinator Dave Toub, the special teams' coverage units have done exemplary work.
Certainly, the defense and special teams have had some letdowns this season. But the Bears' offense has struggled consistently.
In talking about his offense Monday, Smith highlighted the play of his defense.
''Defense is playing good ball; our foundation is still set,'' he said. ''We have some things we need to tighten up [on offense]. We've identified them, as you have to, and we'll work on them to get better.''
Even Cutler seemed to be on board with the philosophy.
''Defense just has to keep doing what they're doing,'' he said. ''They're the reason we have four wins. Offense has to get up to that level.''
Turnovers and the general ineffectiveness of the offense have cost the Bears two of their three losses. The Bears have turned the ball over 18 times, tied for fourth-most in the NFL.
In a 17-3 loss to the New York Giants, the Bears mustered only 110 total yards and six first downs. Not surprisingly, despite a valiant effort, the defense wore down late in the third quarter. Even worse, the Bears threw two interceptions and lost one fumble.
'We need to make some steps'
The entire team appeared to have a subpar day in a 23-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. But the offense certainly was to blame for the 17-14 loss Sunday to the Washington Redskins.
Against the Redskins, the defense forced six fumbles (recovering one), intercepted two passes and allowed the Redskins to convert only two of their 13 third downs. The defense even scored when cornerback D.J. Moore returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
But the offense lost two fumbles, and Cutler tossed four interceptions. It goes without saying that the one DeAngelo Hall returned 92 yards for a touchdown was a costly mistake. But three of the turnovers came with the Bears in field-goal range, including the goal-line fumble, and another came inside their own 20.
Limit the mistakes, run the ball more and don't be afraid to punt, and the Bears' offense can grow and become more aggressive in time.
After the game Sunday, Cutler talked about some of the positives that occurred.
''Offensively, we need to make some steps,'' he said.
With a solid defense and strong special teams behind him, Cutler and his offense can afford to take baby steps.