What will it take for Bears offense to take off?
Couple losses may force changes that will forge identity for NFL's 25-ranked offense
8:21 p.m. CST, November 6, 2012
It's understandable if the hype of a potential Super Bowl matchup one week, followed by a prospective NFC championship showdown the next, seems highly relevant midway through a season. But really, it's only hype. Getting to the real NFC championship game and then the real Super Bowl — in that order — is really what the exercise is all about.
Check that, it's winning the Super Bowl.
The Bears have been there before in the Lovie Smith era and came up short despite their winning formula that once again is in play. If this franchise knows anything, it's that great defense and good special teams can overcome mediocre offense.
But is the offense too mediocre to win it all?
That is the question hanging over a so-far glorious 2012 season that has featured big-play defense forcing 3.5 turnovers a game with seven pick-sixes.
The question isn't if the Bears defense somehow peaked in Tennessee, it's whether or not the offense ever can peak,
Every game is sacred in the 16-game NFL slate, but losing this Sunday, or the following Monday might not be the worst thing that ever happened to a season. Clearly, the offense needs a reboot and there is little chance that will happen if things remain status quo.
Change comes at a glacial pace in the NFL. It never comes during times of success. Nobody is reworking their golf swing on the fly in this sport. It takes a defeat or two to engender real change and the Bears just might require transformation to become champions this year and beyond.
Doubt it? Then how do you explain the disparity between the team ranking third in the NFL in points scored with 236 yet ranking 25th in overall offense in the NFL? The Bears have their most points at the midway mark of a season since 1985 and the seventh most in team history through eight games. But that is thanks to the 55 points scored on defense, counting extra points.
What happens if the defense fails to score or force turnovers? The defense has shown no signs of subsiding, but simply put, teams are not supposed to do what the Bears have done this year. Other teams are not supposed to allow it. There are a lot of mediocre teams in the NFL and the Bears certainly have played some. What happens if they suddenly step up in class come the playoffs?
The offense has to be able to save the day. And if the Bears are going to win a Super Bowl, then quarterback Jay Cutler will have to be a crucial part of it and not just some guy getting sacked along the way.
It starts with philosophy. Mike Tice, an NFL lifer in his first year as an offensive coordinator, seems to be mired in a very difficult role trying to keep many people happy. First and foremost a play-caller's job is to score. Design and call plays that score early and often. Tice as a former head coach, however, can appreciate the need to manage games when a defense is playing as well as the Bears' has all year.
Throw in the fact that Tice was promoted from offensive line coach and you have the added weight of his knowing the exact limitations of what his former charges are capable, or better yet incapable, of doing. Protection is the crucial word here — keeping Cutler from getting hurt. Nonetheless, Cutler has been sacked 28 times. He also has 19 runs, the majority of which were for his life. Those add up to 9.25 percent of the 508 offensive plays run this season.
Things are so shaky on the offensive line, when a deep pass resulted in a sack against the Panthers on Oct. 28, Tice said he struck three other deep plays from the game plan.
Tice is the Bears fifth offensive coordinator in the last 10 years, including the fourth for Lovie Smith after Terry Shea, Ron Turner and Mike Martz. Why he wanted the job is anyone's guess, but being called to serve, he's a good soldier in the unenviable position of overseeing an offense that contains three crucial pieces of the Broncos' old offense — Cutler, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates.
The relationship between those men appears fine, but then, the Bears are winning. Would losing reveal a fissure? Bates has called plays in the NFL. Does he want to do so in Chicago? Would Cutler prefer that? Would it make the Bears better?
Play-calling in the NFL is about matchups, pinpointing advantages over the opposition and attacking them. You do this while calculating the risk of leaving your own bad matchups exposed. There is also a rhythm and pace to offense that the Bears have reached far too few times.
The Bears don't seem to have a signature pass play for Marshall, who has been targeted 90 times this season, or a touch for Matt Forte, who accounts for just 26.6 percent of the offense, a career low.
There is no combination of punches. Would a loss get the offense to come out fighting?