Bears fans actually saw glimpses of Ron Turner’s ideal offense when Rex Grossman briefly impersonated a top-flight quarterback during the 2006 season when the Bears made the Super Bowl. With the acquisition of Jay Cutler, Turner can now run his West Coast offense, which features a liberal dose of down field passing.
The whole Lovie Smith mantra of the Bears running when they got off the bus has proven to be bluster apt for the Windy City, wise talk that does not follow with action.
In today’s NFL, you need to have an efficient and consistent passing game that can control the ball and move the chains, with enough running game sprinkled in to keep defenses honest. The best offenses also have the ability to capitalize on big plays made in the down field passing game.
For a fleeting moment, Grossman to Bernard Berrian formed a potent connection that caused defenses to start game planning against a Bears passing game. However, once defenses started accounting for Grossman as a threat he disintegrated into the quarterback currently looking for a job without much luck.
Unlike Grossman, Cutler has displayed the consistency the past two seasons to prove that he belongs in the talks for best young quarterback in the NFL.
Adept at hitting the tight end down the middle, a wide receiver on out patterns along the sidelines, or the streaking open man on go routes, Cutler can accurately make all the throws needed to lead an NFL offense.
An underrated route runner, Devin Hester showed the ability to run crisp intermediate and deep routes on the sidelines to go with his ability to get down field.
Greg Olsen has proven to be a good target in the middle of the field, with the added bonus of being able to split out wide and work the sidelines with his 6'5" frame.
Rookie Juaquin Iglesias did a nice job on the outside in college and hopes to transfer those skills to the NFL. He will need to practice and gain experience at working the middle of the field, but with Olsen and dependable veteran Desmond Clark at tight end he will not have to be rushed into that role.
Finally, dual threat running back Matt Forte can be a safety valve out of the backfield in the passing game, get down the sidelines on flare routes, and pick up blitzing rushers as a pass blocker.
No More Restrictions
When Grossman failed to pan out, Turner had to scale back the Bears playbook because of the inherent weaknesses of Brian Griese and Kyle Orton.
Griese lacked the arm strength to make deep sideline throws. Orton struggled with those throws as well as the deep ball rarely connected with Hester and others.
Used to playing in blustery conditions in Denver, Cutler should have no problems making the necessary throws accurately in Chicago and his 63 percent career completion percentage will be a welcome sight for Bears fans used to seeing open targets over or under thrown.
The Bears also have a strong running back that defenses have to game plan for in Forte, who had 1,715 yards from scrimmage in his rookie season (ranking third in the NFL).
Forte’s 3.9 yards per carry in 2008 is deceiving (and actually impressive in a way) in that defenses immediately started putting eight and nine men in the box after he rushed 304 yards in his first three pro games.
Overly reliant on the run game at times last season for obvious reasons, Turner can now mix up his play calling and take more chances that the Bears can earn good yardage on early downs (not having to call a run up the middle or four yard out route that defenses concede).
Turner proved back in 2006 that he can get creative with his play calling when he has confidence in his quarterback to make good decisions. With the dual threats of Cutler under center and Forte in the backfield, look for Turner to suddenly become a play caller that can out-think defensive coordinators.
After finishing the 2008 season 26th in the NFL in yards per play, 25th in yards per pass, 27th in yards per drive, and 22nd in offensive efficiency, the Bears now have the firepower to score quickly and not have to rely on 15 play scoring drives.
What To Expect in 2009
As I just mentioned above, the Bears offense will definitely be a more explosive unit that will no longer rank towards the bottom of the league in big plays.
Just taking in the raw amount of attempted passes and running plays, the Bears actually threw the ball approximately 55 percent of the time in 2008. However, many of those passes came from the screen pass, dump off, and short out variety, so that figure feels a little deceiving (short passes basically acting as glorified running plays).
While the ratio of passing and running plays may not be much different in 2009, the passing plays should be far more efficient and grab much bigger chunks of yardage.
In 2006, the Bears averaged 12.2 yards per completion compared just to 10.9 yards per completion in 2008. That translates to a 650 yard difference (based on 500 attempts) over the course of a season, the difference between the nine wins in 2008 and the 13 wins of 2006.
Quick out patterns can often be replaced by deep posts/sideline outs that Hester has become very proficient at running.
Short button hook patterns run by the tight ends will be replaced by 10-15 yard patterns that utilize the speed of Olsen and Clark as well as Cutler’s ability to fit the ball in small windows.
Down and distances like second and 10 and third and eight will not be so daunting and the play calling on first down can be reflected as such.
Turner loves calling the play-action deep ball on first down but could not call that play very frequently the last two years. With Jay Cutler on board, expect the Bears to take chances like that with much greater frequency.
A final reason for optimism for the Bears offense in 2009 is a much improved offensive line. While Cutler suits the strengths of Ron Turner’s offense much better than Orton, he will also have a much cleaner pocket that will give him the needed opportunities to make plays.