How the New-Look Chicago Bears Offense Can Take the NFL by Storm in 2013
The Chicago Bears are going to have a very different look on the offensive side of the ball next season, as they should finally be able to provide the scoring punch needed to contend for a Super Bowl.
The offensive system, or as new coach Marc Trestman refers to it, "their system of football," is mostly an unknown at this point. Trestman's background includes a lot of different kinds of players, and he has had to make a lot of changes to his playbooks.
Trestman has been adamant that he adjusts his play calling and playbook to the talent at hand. Although it's hard to get a good read on what he will do with the Bears, there is some evidence proving that true.
In this highlight clip from 2002, the Raiders' Rich Gannon threw 21 consecutive completions, 16 of which were under 10 yards. Gannon has a notoriously weak arm, and those were exactly the kinds of plays they needed to run for him to be successful.
Here is a clip from 1995 with Steve Young. You can see more downfield passes as 13 of the 19 passes were thrown right at or beyond 10 yards.
Trestman recently acknowledged in a Chicago Tribune article that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has more physical skills than both of the former MVPs, so we should expect to see the Bears move the ball down the field more than Trestman's teams did in the past.
That being said, wanting to throw the ball down the field isn't enough. The Bears have to find a way to be successful doing so.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cutler threw beyond 20 yards on 15.9 percent of his throws, the fourth highest rate in the league. However, his seven touchdowns were 13th, and he was 12th in touchdown percentage on throws over 20 yards.
What former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice didn't seem to understand last year is that you can't always throw deep when you want to. The above screen shot says a lot about their problems as a unit last season.
On second-and-nine, against a good pass-rushing team with their poor offensive line, Tice called a play that sent out five receivers, four on deep routes. It's not hard to figure out why that play wasn't successful.
In addition to changes in play calling and scheme, the Bears added left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett, and both should help the Bears put more points on the board.
A big part of the Bears' focus this offseason will be on the passing game, but the best way to set that up is with the run. Both Bushrod and Bennett will be big upgrades for the Bears in that facet.
While I have been highly critical of Bushrod's ability as a pass-blocker, he is unquestionably a better run-blocker than J'Marcus Webb.
Bushrod graded as the 17th-best run-blocking left tackle in the league on PFF this past season, slightly below Denver's Ryan Clady. He did well the previous season too, finishing with the seventh best grade. Webb ranked 19th and 24th over the last two seasons.
Bennett is also a very good blocker, an aspect of his game that he takes pride in.
With a bigger load in the receiving game, Bennett had a down year as a blocker in 2012-13, but he still ranked 13th at PFF. That comes after he ranked second in 2011, fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2009.
Bennett's blocking ability opened quite a few running lanes for the Giants last season. In this clip, you can see him seal off a defender, allowing Ahmad Bradshaw to get to the second level for a big gain.
Still, it isn't the running game that Bears fans are most excited about, nor is it what Trestman was brought on to fix. The NFL has become a passing league, and the Bears need to be able to keep up as they finished last season ranked 29th in passing yards.
Bushrod and Bennett should provide quite a bit of assistance there as well.
As I detailed in a past article, Bushrod isn't necessarily a better pass blocker than Webb, but he is better than what the Bears had on the right side of their line. With Bushrod at left tackle and Webb competing for the job at right tackle, the Bears should still be better.
In 2012, the Bears right tackles Gabe Carimi and Jonathan Scott gave up a hurry every 12.9 drop backs and eight sacks. They got Cutler hit 14 times and also committed 13 penalties, according to PFF.
Bushrod's hurry total is concerning as the defender he was supposed to block got past him once every 15.8 drop backs, but he allowed just four sacks and eight quarterback hits.
Assuming Webb can make the transition to the right side, the Bears would be getting a huge upgrade. PFF credited Webb with seven sacks, one hurry every 20.5 drop backs and he was only responsible for the quarterback getting hit five times.
Upgrading the right-tackle spot with Webb moving over should help the Bears send more receivers out in routes. The Bears kept at least one or more blocker in the game on 74.4 percent of their drop backs, according to PFF. Bushrod's former team did so on just 35.1 percent of theirs and none of the teams that ranked in the Top 10 in passing yards kept blockers in more than 60 percent of the time.
Bennett will likely be called on to do at least some pass blocking and he's more than capable in that area as well. PFF rated him as the third best pass-blocking tight end in the league, however, it's his ability to catch passes that could help free the Bears up the most.
Teams played a lot of two-man coverage against the Bears last season and did whatever they could to take Brandon Marshall away. It worked, because, for the most part, the Bears just couldn't find anyone else to make plays.
National Football Post's Matt Bowen broke down two-man coverage after the Bears' first loss to the Packers. The Packers and other teams were able to stick in that kind of coverage scheme for a variety of reasons. One is because they were able to get pressure on Cutler without using extra rushers and a big one is because the Bears' other receivers weren't able to consistently get open.
The Bears tried to take advantage of extra attention given to Marshall by sending Kellen Davis down the seam. The problem was that, despite his size and speed, is that Davis couldn't consistently beat linebackers.
In this clip, you see Green Bay's D.J. Smith staying step-for-step with Davis. The result of that play was a pass interference penalty, but that wasn't enough to prevent the Packers or anyone else from using just a linebacker on the Bears' tight end. Davis is fast, but he doesn't have the body control to adjust to passes thrown his way, making him a relatively easy coverage assignment.
Linebackers have a much more difficult time covering Bennett, and it usually results in a big gain, like here against the Steelers.
The Packers also noticed covering Bennett with a linebacker would be much more problematic, so they gave safety help whenever he ran deep down the field.
I used the All 22 Coaches Film from NFL.com to show an example of that here. Bennett is lined up alongside the right tackle, and as he runs down the seam with a linebacker, the safety comes over to help. The play should have been a big gain as Victor Cruz was matched up with a linebacker, but he dropped the pass.
On this play, you see the safety biting on Bennett's shorter route, opening up Rueben Randle in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
The easy solution for teams is to cover Bennett with a defensive back, but that doesn't always work. and it gives the Bears a match up advantage in the running game.
If teams are going to use two defenders on Bennett and two on Marshall, that should give the Bears a lot of favorable matchups, particularly with Matt Forte coming out of the backfield.
With all the changes the Bears have made on offense, the pressure is on them to start putting points on the board. Trestman will need to find ways to take advantage of mismatches in the passing game, and players like Bushrod and Bennett should help make his job easier.
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