The Chicago Bears' Heightened Expectations with a New Offense

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The Chicago Bears' Heightened Expectations with a New Offense
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.”

Charlotte Bronte


As any Bear follower will tell you, watching the Bears offense over the last few years has been akin to a bird flying into a window.  On the surface, they were actually playing football, but it often appeared that they wanted to get off the field as quickly as possible without turning the football over.

However, a new day has dawned in ChicagoJay Cutler, the savior of the Bears' offense, has arrived.

What does this mean for the offensive direction of the Bears?  What can Ron Turner do now that he has certifiable talent behind center?  One could argue that this man has done more with so much less than any coordinator in the league.  The Bears have qualified for the postseason in three of Turner’s seven seasons with the team. 

Turner also holds the distinction of being the offensive coordinator for each of the top two quarterbacks in Bears history in single-season gross passing yardage.

Erik Kramer set the franchise record with 3,838 passing yards under Turner in 1995 while Rex Grossman finished 2006 as the runner-up in that category with 3,193 yards.  Not exactly working with Joe Montana here.

In 2008, the Chicago Bears ranked 21st in passing offense (191.3 yds.game) and 24th in rushing offense (104.6 yds. Per game), despite having Matt Forte combine for over 1,700 yards himself. 

By contrast, Jay Cutler led an offense in Denver with the third-ranked passing offense in the league, amassing 80 yards more per game than Chicago.  Even though the Broncos went through six running backs last year, they still out-gained the Bears by almost 20 yards a game in that aspect as well. 

“Managing the game” is clearly not the direction they need to go now. It’s time to take the cruise control off the Ferrari.

Ron Turner’s offense is derived from the old Bill Walsh “West Coast” offense.  Simply put, it utilizes a short passing game to open up holes for the runners.  The formation is basic: five lineman,a tight end, two wide receivers, a fullback, and a halfback. 

 

Bill Walsh style: The running game was more of a finesse style, with a nimble fullback geared towards catching passes out of the backfield. 

The Bears try to incorporate a power running game with the short range passes, which leads to a lot of “stacked” defensive lines if they cannot stretch the field deep. 

Change Needed: Since Matt Forte and Jason McKie are both “power” backs, they need a receiver that can keep the defense honest, and keep the safeties back.  Devin Hester would be ideal in this role, but they need someone who can catch the quick slants as well.

I would get rid of the fullback in the base formation, and line up Greg Olsen in the slot with Desmond Clark in as the tight end.  It would give them five receiving threats (along with Forte) and keep the linebackers and safeties back.

 

Bill Walsh style: The lineman must be quick.  The running plays are mostly draws and pitches, and the passes are short, so the lineman have to quickly make their blocks and get out in the open field to pick up other potential tacklers. 

The Bears use more of a power running style which requires sustained blocks.  Their lineman average over 310 pounds and are more geared for straight ahead blocking.  Jason McKie is a blocking fullback and offers very little rushing or pass catching capabilities.

Change Needed: Orlando Pace has been here before.  He protected Kurt Warner’s blind side during the “greatest show on earth” years.  With Greg Olsen in the slot, he could shift to fullback or the second tight end spot for power running. 

If they can open up the passing game, draws would work nicely in that formation as well.  Quick blocks and chips will keep Jay Cutler upright more often as well.

 

Bill Walsh style:  Tight ends have to be good chip blockers.  They are expected to keep the linebackers out of the passing lanes.

The Bears have great tight ends, and they both need to be utilized.  This could be a break-out season for Greg Olsen, and Desmond Clark can catch over 40 balls and averages over 13 yards a catch (tops for tight ends during the past two seasons).

Change Needed: They need to get Greg Olsen open.  While they do move him around quite a bit, I would put him in the slot as a third receiver permanently.  I would also shift him to fullback in certain formations to utilize that role more effectively in a true “West Coast” offense. 

Since the Bears are weak at wide receiver, he must become their primary target.  He can not only catch the tough balls in the middle, but also stretch the field.  Linebackers and safeties will have a hard time covering him.

 

Bill Walsh style:  The running back is the jack of all trades.  He has to catch the ball, be able to get outside the tackles on sweeps, and also be able to run up the middle effectively.

The Bears have a great running back in Matt Forte.  He has proven to be an adept runner and receiver.  Not only did he rush for over 1,200 yards, but he also caught 64 passes.  His skill set fits nicely in this offense.

Change Needed: Get Kevin Jones involved more.  Not only is he a bruising runner, but he can also catch the ball (thirty two catches in 2007).  This will keep Matt Forte fresher and extend his career.  He took a beating last year as the only viable offensive threat.  That can’t continue.

 

Bill Walsh style: The quarterback and wide receivers must be in-sync.  The routes must be perfect, and the receivers must be able to run after the catch.  The offense is predicated on the ability to take a quick slant in traffic all the way to the end zone. 

The Bears...well...they have receivers on their roster.  Their No. 1 wideout is a 5’11” college cornerback who made his name as a kick returner.  They better hope Devin Hester turns out to be Steve Smith and not Dante Hall. 

They do have a second year receiver who has some size and also some history with their new quarterback, as the all-time leader in SEC history in receptions.  Maybe that will give Earl Bennett the proper motivation to actually learn the playbook this year.

Change Needed: See Greg Olsen role above.  Devin Hester has the ability to make a play if he can hold on to the ball in traffic.  They drafted Joaquin Iglesias whose size, speed and ability to gain yards after the catch made him a natural for the West Coast Offense in college. 

However, rookie receivers in the NFL are always a crap-shoot.  The key here will be for Ron Turner to maximize what he has.  His best pass catchers are Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark.  They have to be primary targets in the short passing game, and allow Devin Hester to get deep.  He’s just not the precise route runner yet that the Bears need.

 

Bill Walsh style:  The quarterback must be quick and accurate.  He has to make multiple reads and then deliver the pass in traffic and on time. 

The Bears finally have their guy, but does this offense play to his strengths?  There are no Brandon Marshalls or Eddie Royals here to get open down the field. One of Cutler’s main strengths is to “extend the play” with his feet, which isn’t a huge part of the West Coast offense. 

He did complete over 60 percent of his passes last year, but also had six games where he was in the 50 percent range. 

Change Needed:  The key here will be for Jay to develop chemistry with an unsettled receiving corps, which won’t be easy.  Hopefully, he and Earl Bennett can re-capture some of their Vanderbilt magic. 

Cutler will have to adjust his “gunslinger” mentality a bit, as the Bears will need to rely on a short to intermediate passing game with a lot of outlets to their running backs and tight ends.  He has the ability to make that adjustment, but if he tries to force plays downfield, he may be in trouble with this group of Bears’ receivers.

 

Any offense starts with the quarterback.  Jay Cutler has proven very durable, starting all 16 games for Denver last year, and has totaled the 10th-most passing yards (4,498) in the NFL since being named the Broncos' starting quarterback in Week 13 of the 2006 season.  These guys are hard to find, and the Bears have NEVER had one.

The key to their offensive success will be getting the play-makers involved. Last year, Ron Turner had no confidence in the Bears’ quarterbacks or receivers, so the default was to run the ball up the middle or dump it short to the tight end or running back.

He has to take the foot off the brakes this year.


“A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.”

Mark Twain

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