The Chicago Bears offense has fallen and it can't get up.
At least not this year.
And in today's NFL that's a death knell for a team's Super Bowl chances, as the days when defenses won championships are long gone.
No sir, the best offenses usually win in the NFL these days. Don't believe me? Consider that recent Super Bowl participants, such as the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, made it despite average to below average defenses.
So Bears fans, I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that the offense can be repaired. The bad news is that it probably won't happen this season.
It will take an offseason of clever salary capology by the Bears front office and a solid draft to improve this offense to the point where the Bears can become legitimate contenders.
Let's take a look at five ways to fix this troubled offense.
1. Upgrade the offensive line
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, there is no way that the Bears can ever be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders with such an awful offensive line.
Just ask Jay Cutler and his sore neck.
Sure, there are teams that can win without a stout line. Look at the Packers, who don't have a good line but one still better than what the Bears have.
But the line must be better than what it currently is, which is the second-worst in all of pro football. But the changes necessary on the Bears line won't happen by continuing to shuffle players to positions at which they're unfamiliar, nor will it happen by osmosis or bringing in guys off the street.
As I wrote here, it will have to happen through a combination of free agency and the draft, with the latter being much more likely. (Check out this previous article for a list of free agents and college players who might help).
There are some free agents who are worth kicking the tires on, but given the Bears salary cap restrictions, that might not be a viable option. Starting left tackles—at least good ones—aren't normally allowed to become unrestricted free agents, and the ones who are want a boatload of money.
So the main way to improve the line is through the draft. They simply must select two or three offensive lineman in the 2013 draft.
Since Cutler has been in Chicago, he has never been allowed to work with good receivers and a decent line. Now he has Brandon Marshall, who is easily one of the top wideouts in the game, but he still lacks a line that gives him time to throw.
Phil Emery did a great job trading for Marshall, but he ignored the line, and that has been detrimental to the team's success this season.
2. Put an end to the Devin Hester-as-receiver experiment
Look, Devin Hester simply isn't a wide receiver. The problem is, since he's no longer much of a factor in the return game, this means that Hester may not have much of a future in the NFL once the Bears recognize this fact.
But, hey, I'm not here to help put food on Hester's dinner table, I'm looking for the best ways to help the team win. And continuing to line up Hester as a wideout just isn't helping the team.
Hester doesn't run good routes and drops the ball too often. He doesn't seem to grasp the offensive game plans and lacks the instincts of a true NFL wide receiver.
Instead, the Bears should go out and sign a decent No. 2 or 3 receiver this offseason to complement Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, whom I still have hope for. Though certainly not a finished product at this point, Jeffery's too talented to give up on.
3. Get a tight end who can catch the ball
The Bears need to get more production from the tight end position, and Kellen Davis doesn't look as if he's up to the task.
I don't know enough about Kyle Adams to be certain that he's answer either, but something tells me the Bears will need to look outside the team to find the guy they need.
Evan Rodriguez possibly could become that guy, but the Bears can't afford to bank on it happening next season, so they need to sign or draft someone who can catch the football.
Meanwhile, they keep trotting out Davis even though he has hands of cement. Where is the accountability for the offensive players on this team? On defense, D.J. Moore gets in Lovie's doghouse and he loses his job. But on offense, nothing seems to matter.
4. Fire Mike Tice and promote Jeremy Bates as play-caller
I'd hate to see Cutler go through yet another change at offensive coordinator, but perhaps replacing Mike Tice with Cutler's buddy Jeremy Bates would be a way to make a needed change while preserving some continuity.
If Tice wants to return to coach the offensive line, let him do that, but there is no way I'd bring him back to call the plays.
Tice came into this season with zero experience calling plays and it shows. Will he improve with time? Quite possibly, but with the aging stars on the defense, the Bears can't afford to wait to find out.
Bates has done the job before, has a good relationship with Cutler and Marshall and is already here influencing the play-calling on a weekly basis, so why not let him do it full time next season?
5. Keep Jay Cutler Healthy
This one has a lot to do with the first idea, which is to upgrade the line. Without an upgraded line, Cutler will continue to take too many shots to the head, and I'm afraid all the concussions will start to pile up and affect his ability to play.
But besides that obvious need, I'd like to see Cutler slide when he runs and throw the ball away more. Better play-calling, the previous idea presented here, should also help Cutler stay upright.
Since Cutler throws well when on the move, plays should be called to get him outside the pocket. Above all, I don't want to eliminate Cutler's mobility because it's a big part of what he brings to the table. But the Bears can't allow him to continue taking shots to the head.
Also, in games where Cutler does get dinged, or when the team is winning or losing big, I want the backup QB in the game. We're starting to see that a bit more from Lovie this year, but it would keep Cutler fresh and relatively healthy while also getting much needed reps for the second-string guy, whether it be Jason Campbell next season or somebody else.
Bonus No. 6: Get the running game going
A sixth way is to improve the running game, but that one should be assisted by a better line and improved play-calling so it's not included in the top five list.
But make no mistake, it may be a passing league now, but the Bears win when they have a balanced offense, and right now they don't have that.
I don't know if Matt Forte is the answer, but he isn't hitting the holes like he did last season. Again, part of that is the fault of the line, but some of that burden has to fall on Forte's shoulders.
I'm not sure if he's hurt like he was in 2010, or the Bears aren't using him enough or he is satisfied and not as hungry after signing the contract extension. Whatever the reason, the Bears need to improve their rushing attack next season if they want a dynamic offense.