Chicago Bears: 5 Ways to Fix the Sputtering Offense
Before the season started, much of the Bears talk centered around three main things:
First, the aging defense and could it hold up another year?
Second, why didn't the Bears upgrade the offensive line?
And finally, the feeling that this would be a dynamic offense with the addition of Brandon Marshall and the other changes made on the offensive side of the football.
But while the defense has more than answered its questions, and the jury is still out on the offensive line, we are waiting to see this supposedly much-improved offense materialize this season.
But you can't blame Marshall for the struggling offense as he has more than held up his end of the bargain. And though Matt Forte was held in check against the Texans, he is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season, so you really can't pin the blame on him either.
So what are the lingering issues and how can the Bears try to remedy them?
This is Mike Tice's first-ever attempt at calling offensive plays, and while there is some uncertainty about whether he calls any of the passing plays or if that falls to Jeremy Bates, he does have final say on which plays get called during a game.
Naturally, there is a learning curve anytime you try something for the first time, and so Tice is not immune to some scrutiny here.
The main area of focus I would target is on first down. The Bears continuously find themselves in 2nd-and-8 or worse positions. They need to get at least four yards on first down.
One way to accomplish this is to throw more screen passes to Forte out of the backfield. Instead of running up the middle, as the defense may be expecting the Bears to do, dump it off to Forte and let him fight for yardage.
And, on third down, if you need six yards, don't throw an one-yard pass and expect the receiver/back to always have to work to get the first down.
I was also upset that the Bears didn't give Michael Bush a chance until the fourth quarter. Sure, he fumbled at the end of his 11-yard gain early, but the Bears lost complete faith in him after that. One fumble, while bad, should not take away all trust.
Bush has been underutilized this season with only 80 carries so far. He can also catch passes out of the backfield. Yet, he has been targeted only eight times.
Also, as great as Marshall is, the Bears are relying too much on him. He has 67 receptions and has been targeted 103 times already. He has had the ball thrown his way 69 more times than any other player on the roster.
Maybe it's time to let Bates do all the play calling, or at least the pass plays, if he isn't already doing that. Bates, Cutler and Marshall did this together in Denver, and, at least, Bates has play-calling experience.
Get Evan Rodriguez involved at the tight end position
I realize that I was one of those who were calling for the head of Kellen Davis this past weekend. But Chicago does have other tight ends on the roster.
In the spring, rookie Evan Rodriguez looked like he had soft hands and solid cutting-ability after the catch. Yet, he hasn't had one carry attempt or pass thrown to him this season.
Part of the reason was due to a knee injury injury, but he is supposedly healthy now, so why not throw the ball to him? I know the Bears have him at fullback full-time, where he has been an effective run blocker, but it is time to put him into passing situations.
Rodriguez has tweener size, so he can be a hybrid h-back/TE in the mold of an Aaron Hernandez, and should be able to catch short passes, using his wiggle ability to turn them into productive gains. At Temple, he was their go-to guy on third down.
Also, Kyle Adams, who is next on the depth chart following Davis, should be given an opportunity. In the big-boy offense of today's NFL, the tight end position is used on almost all teams as a very effective weapon.
Yet Adams has been targeted only five times this season.
Someone needs to tell the Bears about this new thing called "throwing to the tight end."
The return of Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery is a rookie but the Bears have missed him since he's been injured. I don't know if he will come back to face the 49ers, but if not, he should return the following week.
Jeffery gives Jay Cutler and the Bears offense a tall option in the red zone, one that can go up and grab jump balls over smaller corners and safeties.
Devin Hester is simply not a wide receiver, and while I like the shots that Cutler has been taking down field occasionally, I would rather the wideout be someone other than Hester.
The Bears need Jeffery, because Earl Bennett doesn't look like the answer, and the infatuation with Marshall leaves opposing defensive coordinators with the task of double-teaming him and forcing Cutler to look elsewhere but no one is home these days.
Sure, I understand that the Bears have never had a receiver as talented as Marshall, but someone else has to step up. Despite missing time, Jeffery is only three yards away from the second-highest receiving yards on the team.
His return should truly help the offense.
Roll out the QB
No, this isn't a variation of the classic "roll out the barrel" but it might be a barrel of fun for Cutler or Campbell. The idea here is to not allow Cutler (or Campbell) to be sitting ducks in the pocket while the pass protection breaks down all around them.
Cutler actually throws more accurately when moving to his right. And with the way Gabe Carimi is pass protecting at right tackle, the Bears need to help the QB as much as possible.
Two tackles who are poor in pass protection equals a world of hurt for the QB, so why not take advantage of each QBs mobility by flushing them out of the pocket?
I have been one of Cutler's biggest supporters, but he is going to have to play better for the Bears offense to improve. That said, I hope that he sits out Monday night to allow his brain injury to heal and let Campbell QB the team.
But regardless of who starts Monday night, at some point, Cutler is coming back to lead this team. And while there are plenty of things broken with this offense that are outside of Cutler's direct control, let's focus on the things that he can control.
First off, he needs to quit forcing throws into tight coverage. Whenever Cutler feels pressure, instead of throwing the ball away, he tends to panic and try to make a play.
I don't blame him, as he has been hit a lot in his time with Chicago. But he has to understand that it's okay to sometimes throw the ball away, if no one is open.
He trusts his arm so much that he feels he can throw it into any tight spot, but sometimes that doesn't work out so well for him.
Another issue is his footwork. For a QB with such a strong arm, he still throws off his back foot, at times, and doesn't get enough on the throw. Sure, this is usually when he's under pressure, but if he can't set his feet, he shouldn't throw the ball. It's that simple.
Making better decisions and using better mechanics will be needed if the Bears offense is going to improve.
Yes, the line is what it is, and other than Marshall and Jeffery, the receiving corp is weak, but there are some things that Cutler is accountable for—and he has to realize that.
Cutler is not the problem, but he can be part of the solution. I truly believe that the best is yet to come for this offense.
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