Through Jay Culter all things are possible. With a franchise quarterback at the controls the Bears will finally emerge from the offensive dark ages and be catapulted into the 21st century.
Not so fast.
In fact there may be more noticeable changes on the defensive side.
With Cutler under center certain plays will work better, others will be called more often and there will be some tweaks here and there to fit his strengths. But Ron Turner isn’t going to scrap his playbook and turn the Bears into the Indianapolis Colts.
So what’s the offense really going to look like? Probably some sort of cross between 2006 and 2008.
In 2006 the Bears used a combination of a straight ahead running style mixed with play-action passes and deep shots down the field.
2008 brought a lot of two tight-end sets, more pulling guards and misdirection in the running game, and a passing game that used motion to create and exploit the mismatches Greg Olsen and Matt Forte cause all over the field.
This season Turner will be pulling elements from both ’06 and ’08, while mixing in more shotgun and rollouts to make Cutler more comfortable and take advantage of his mobility.
Turner’s not going to try and reinvent the wheel.
For all the flack Ron Turner has taken during his second stint as the Bears offensive coordinator, particularly the last two seasons, it’s hard to find many in the NFL who’ve done more with less.
Turner has done that by valuing execution over style; better to run a play correctly than risk a mistake by getting too fancy.
Don’t expect to see Cutler airing it out 35-40 times per game. The Bears are still going to “get off the bus running,” focusing on controlling the ball and tempo of the game.
Jay Cutler’s biggest impact will be on enabling the Bears to stretch defenses and strike quickly.
Even though more drives will end up in the end-zone instead of on the foot of Robbie Gould, the play-calling should look awfully familiar.
Fans won’t see anything too fancy on the defensive side this year either, but really that’s the change.
After two years of lining Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs up over the center and frequently blitzing—or at least faking blitz—under the direction of Bob Babich the Bears should return to a purer version of the Cover-Two with Lovie Smith at the helm.
That means relying on the front four for a pass rush, gap discipline to stop the run, and everyone on the field flying to the football.
It also means turning defense into points, pouncing on any mistake made by opposing offenses and trying to take it to the house. If the Bears don’t score four or five defensive touchdowns this year it’ll be a disappointment.
And the way they’ll do it won’t look particularly exotic.
Expect a lot less blitzing and line stunts unless the pass rush is completely ineffective. Instead of trying to regularly overwhelm the offensive line with numbers Lovie will pick his spots to send Briggs or nickelback Danieal Manning.
In fact the most common blitz the Bears will probably use is a run blitz with strong safety Kevin Payne that was a key part of their fifth ranked rush defense last season.
Many have said and written that the Cover-Two is a fad past its time and that offenses have figured it out.
While the Bears may not be ready to return to the NFL’s elite the theory behind the Cover-Two defense still works. By eliminating big plays and forcing the opposition into long drives the defense increases the chances the offense makes a mistake.
For all those still questioning Lovie’s tactics, this season will be the referendum on them.
But don’t be too quick to dismiss the Cover-Two as past its prime, because the moment someone thinks a scheme can’t work in the NFL is the moment someone else beats them with it.