According to Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, “We [the Bears] get off the bus running the ball." Now that the Bears have quarterback Jay Cutler on the bus, does the offensive strategy change?
The short answer is no. The Bears are still a running football team. With an improved offensive line in front of starting running back Matt Forte, the run game will still be a major part of the Bears offense.
However, when the Bears do drop back to pass, the play-calling options for offensive coordinator Ron Turner are more extensive with Cutler under center than last season with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman.
The first thing Cutler brings to the table is his arm strength. The Bears have one of the fastest wide receivers in the league in Devin Hester, as well as one of the fastest rookies in the combine in Johnny Knox, so expect the Bears to look downfield more often than in previous years.
According to Turner, "We've always believed in taking shots [downfield so] I'm excited about what he's going to allow us to do." Cutler had the second most completions of 20 yards or more in the NFL last season with 55, and with the balance of a strong running game, that number may increase this season.
The other attribute that Cutler adds to the playbook is mobility. The Bears called very few designed rollouts for Kyle Orton last season, so whenever he moved out of the pocket you knew the protection had broken down. This season, with Orlando Pace at left tackle blocking the blindside, anticipate more plays called for Cutler that rely on his feet.
Turner is excited about having additional plays his arsenal. He went on to say, "We'll definitely move the pocket more with him. He is good at it when it's called to move the pocket, and he also is good at creating a play, extending a play when nothing is there."
The addition of Cutler will also take some of the load off running back Matt Forte. As a rookie last season, Forte carried the ball 316 times for 1,238 yards and led the team with 63 receptions.
Getting 379 touches in a season is a lot for any player, let alone a rookie, but the addition of Cutler should allow the Bears to use Forte less this season. Look for Turner to spell Forte, both by taking him out for a series or two and by using two back sets with Kevin Jones more frequently than last season. Jones had 32 catches in 2007, so he can be used as a receiving option as well.
As I've previously mentioned here, here, and here, I don't believe the Bears are strong enough at the wide receiver position. While the addition of Cutler instantly makes the Bears' wideouts better, their youth, inexperience, and, in some cases, lack of talent will show as the season progresses.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Bears are extremely solid at the tight end position. Veteran Desmond Clark and emerging star Greg Olsen are excellent receiving TEs and will be featured prominently in the offense.
This season, with the addition of Cutler, look for Turner and the Bears to split Olsen (and occasionally Clark) out wide more often to get them more involved in the passing game. Having a big tight end with leaping ability on the outside will often provide a mismatch against a smaller corner.
The majority of Cutler's impact on the team will be on the offensive side of the ball, but his presence will also have an effect on the defense.
Adding Cutler to the offense improves it, which means fewer three-and-outs for the Bears. The more time the offense spends on the field, the less time the defense has to, meaning they will hopefully not tire out late in games as they have the past two years.
The Bears blitzed on 38.6 percent of their defensive plays last season, third most in the NFL. With a fresher (and deeper) defensive line, the Bears should produce a much needed pass rush this season, allowing coach Smith to call less blitzes.
The Chicago Bears are, and always have been a team built around defense and the run game. But, with their best quarterback in decades running the offense, that perception might change a bit this coming season. With deep balls, QB scrambles, two back sets, and tight ends split out wide, the Bears offense will have a bit of a new look with Jay Cutler in 2009.
Quotes taken from chicagosports.com