Turning a New Page in the Chicago Bears Playbook

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Turning a New Page in the Chicago Bears Playbook
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It is amazing how one player can single-handedly change the mentality of an entire football team’s offensive approach, but that is exactly what quarterback Jay Cutler has done with the Chicago Bears.

The Bears have almost always been a run first (and sometimes run second and run third) kind of team, partially because they possessed a wealth of talent at running back, but more importantly because they lacked significant talent at quarterback. That all changed during the offseason when Chicago traded with Denver for the 25-year-old Cutler, a QB with a powerful arm, accurate aim and the mobility to keep a play alive.

In 2008, the Bears offense revolved around rookie running back Matt Forte, who finished the year fourth in the NFL with 316 rushing attempts. That is a lot of abuse on a rookie’s body, but handing the ball off to Forte is what Chicago had to do in order to move the ball. This year, what Chicago needs to do is snap the ball to Cutler and let him do the rest.

The Bears’ offense was limited the last few years because of the inexperience or inabilities of its last few quarterbacks. On passing plays with Kyle Orton at QB, the Bears favored quick, short slants that could keep Orton on his feet and not force him to throw anything too deep. That works, to a certain extent, but when the Bears were backed up in second and long or third and long situations, that type of play calling could not get them a first down.

With Cutler, though, there are no real limitations. The quick slants will still work, particularly with wide receiver Devin Hester, who has the speed and illusiveness to turn a five-yard crossing pattern into a 65-yard touchdown. Long bombs from Cutler to Hester should also be more successful than when Orton or back-up QB Rex Grossman tried to air it out to the speedy playmaker.

Tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark both played pivotal roles on the offense during stretches of the 2008 season — the two combined for 95 catches for 941 yards and six touchdowns — but Chicago was inconsistent with getting them the ball, partially because of the need to give it to Forte. Without a big wide receiver to throw to, Cutler will count on both tight ends to play a more prevalent role consistently throughout the 2009 season.

Really the sky is the limit for Cutler and offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who excels at developing an offensive scheme that matches the talent available to him. Turner was forced to develop a system that hid Orton’s weaknesses last season. Cutler does not have any glaring weaknesses for Turner to cover up, though.

While Cutler will cause a redesign of the offensive playbook, Chicago’s defense will also see a significant change with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who should have more success with the Bears than he did with the Lions. Marinelli spent three seasons as head coach in Detroit, where he compiled a 10-38 record, but before that he spent a decade as defensive line coach in Tampa Bay with Bears head coach Lovie Smith.

The defensive line is Marinelli’s strength. The top-five single-season sack totals in Buccaneers history all came in the 10 years Marinelli was in charge of the line, including in 2000 when the team set a franchise record with 55 total sacks. It is those kind of numbers that are exactly what the Bears are looking for out of their defense in 2009, particularly after two sub-par seasons.

Between Marinelli’s coaching and Smith taking over the defensive play calling duties from defensive coordinator Bob Babich, Chicago’s defense, much like its offense, will have a new look and find more success in 2009.

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