**This article was written by Dave Jenis**
Management for the Chicago Bears wasted very little time this past offseason when it came to making a decision on Jay Cutler and a contract extension. Despite the strong play as a backup by Josh McCown, the Bears are committed to the guy they traded for five years ago. When you look at the statistics, it is hard to argue with his productivity. In fact, a healthy Cutler could make the Bears the most efficient offense in fantasy football in 2014.
Last season, Chicago finished 5th in the NFL in passing yards, and 16th in rushing. They return all their key pieces from a season ago, and at the beginning of the season, they will be healthy as well. Cutler has only led the Bears to the playoffs in one of his first five seasons with the club, but he will have his best supporting cast in his career heading into 2014.
People in fantasy football already know about established veterans like wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte, but others stepped up in 2014 as well. Alshon Jeffery actually had more receiving yards than Marshall in 2013, despite only finding the end zone seven time. Martellus Bennett had his best fantasy football season of his career as well at tight end, catching 65 passes for 759 yards and five touchdowns.
Throughout the history of the team, defense has been a calling card. With the current roster setup, it is going to be hard to get that reputation back any time soon. They are decent at stopping the passing game, but they finished last in the NFL with their rush defense in 2013, giving up 161.4 yards per game.
Cutler missed five games last year, and the play of McCown had some people wondering if he would ultimately lose his job in Chicago. Management has faith in him, and fans should do. He has the weapons to have a monster season in 2014.
22.9: The percentage of games won during Lovie Smith’s nine-year tenure when trailing at halftime (14-47). In 2013? 1-0.
87.3: Jay Cutler’s total QBR (ESPN’s QB rating metric) in the fourth quarter since the start of last season. Significance? It happens to be the highest in the NFL over that time frame.
249: The number of yards that Devin Hester compiled on five kickoff returns against Minnesota on Sunday, breaking his own 2006 record for return yards in a single game (225). His 49.8 yards per return ranked as the third best in franchise history among players with three or more returns in a game.
After decades of inept offenses and embarrassing predictability, Phil Emery decided he’d seen enough. No more unfathomable play-calling stupidity; no more relying solely on the defense to win games. It was time to make a change. The result? Marc Trestman at the helm, an offensive genius with a true knack for keeping quarterbacks upright and ultimately transforming them into stars; a revamped offensive line consisting of players that actually care about improving their craft every day and protecting their quarterback (looking at you, J’Marcus Webb); and a tight end who can actually catch the ball and not fall down while attempting to do so (flicking you off, Kellen Davis).
So far, the outcome of Emery’s offseason decision-making has been nothing but positive for this franchise. The Bears are 2-0, having won both games in comeback fashion while giving me and other diehards alike near heart attacks along the way. The going will only get tougher from here on out, as trips to PIttsburgh, Detroit and home dates with New Orleans and New York (Giants) loom over the next four weeks (and, of course, the two inevitable games against Green Bay down the road), but there’s no reason to believe that this team can’t find itself playing football in January for the second time in seven seasons. What has led to this early season success, you ask? Let’s take a look.
The Offensive Line
I’m fully aware that newly acquired (and highly paid) left tackle, Jermon Bushrod, has been straight up bad. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the worst of Chicago’s offensive linemen on Sunday against the Vikings by surrendering a sack, a quarterback hit and three hurries (he graded out negatively against Cincinnati as well). However, we’re talking about a guy with a legitimate track record, having protected Drew Brees’ blind side in New Orleans for four years and making two Pro Bowls, not a beady-eyeballed 330-pound ogre who can’t tie his own shoes, eats Taco Bell on the reg and seems to actually enjoy sucking at life. Bushrod will be fine.
The focus here is on the right side of the line, which contains two hard-working rookies in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, both of whom dominated in the preseason. The duo did an excellent job in week one containing arguably the NFL’s best defensive tackle in Geno Atkins (he did absolutely nothing all afternoon). Surprisingly, Mills actually finished the first week of the season with one of the best games for any offensive lineman, as he posted an overall blocking grade of +3.4. He struggled a bit more against Minnesota when matched up against the underrated Brian Robison all game but, nevertheless, has yet to give up a sack from his side of the line. Long and Mills haven’t perfected anything yet – they will have their ups and downs throughout the year – but it’s certainly safe to say that the two of them have made Phil Emery look even smarter (if that’s possible) than he already is.
Another little something to point out: for the first time in god knows how long in Chicago, the coaching staff, along with the offense, has actually shown that it trusts its line. Trestman has been calling a lot of three-step drops for Cutler and keeping seven men in to block on slower-developing routes. Cutler has had faith in his O-line, demonstrating his ability to step up in the pocket, survey the field and spread the ball around to receivers other than Brandon Marshall. He is learning to trust the concepts of the offense and not force as many plays as he’s used to — all because the offensive line is finally giving him time to throw.
It isn’t always pretty, but for whatever reason, Jay Cutler knows how to win games late. His decision-making will never be perfect (he has too much confidence in his arm and his receivers to ever change his ways), but he is playing as well as we’ve ever seen him play in a Bears uniform. Sure, the interceptions will almost always make me want to pull my eyebrows out,. But with the game on the line and defeat staring him in the face over the last two weeks, Cutler has delivered. He’s registered a game-winning 8-play, 81-yard touchdown drive and a game-winning 10-play (including a spiked ball), 66-yard touchdown drive in back-to-back weeks by overcoming the adversity of multiple turnovers and staying cool, calm and collected in both the huddle and pocket. I hate on Cutler far more often than I support him, but it’s moments like these that take me back to the excitement I felt the day Jerry Angelo traded for him. He deserves all the credit in the world for the fourth quarter greatness he has displayed, so here’s to hoping 15 more weeks of working with Coach Trestman will continue to bring out the best in our quarterback.
Ladies and gentlemen, Devin Hester is officially back, and all it took was a little confidence. It only took six years for someone within the Bears organization (Phil Emery, Marc Trestman, and Aaron Kromer) to realize how stupid it was to try turning Hester into a receiver; it just wasn’t made to be. Fans knew it. Players knew it. Analysts knew it. But naturally, the coaching staff did not. The man needed to continue to focus on returning kicks and returning kicks only. None of that slant-over-the-middle-and-try-not-to-get-obliterated bullshit; none of that streak-down-the-field-and-tiptoe-the-sideline nonsense. Just. Return. Kicks. After a mini-hiatus from the kick return spotlight (his longest kick return last year was 40 yards), Hester now has gained his mojo back, averaging nearly 47 yards per return and consistently answering opponent touchdowns with very favorable field position. The 2013 Devin Hester highlight reel is already in progress; there’s no doubt there will be a bunch more to add by season’s end to his case for the Hall of Fame.
Sex, Drugs and Turnovers
The void left by Brian Urlacher will be tough to fill for a long time, but with the Cover 2 still in tact and Lance Briggs now calling the plays, the defense is still doing what it does best: forcing turnovers. The Bears rank only behind Seattle in the takeaway department with six (three interceptions, three fumble recoveries), and it all starts with, you guessed it, the formidable cornerback combo of Peanut Tillman and Tim Jennings. Tillman picked up week one right where left off with two interceptions (had a touchdown called back) and two passes deflected, as he continues to add to his legitimately realistic Hall of Fame case as well. Jennings did the same, finishing off the first two weeks of the season with an interception return for a touchdown, a forced fumble and two passes deflected of his own. Tillman may have had a hard time defending A.J. Green while throwing up on the sideline during breaks (due to dehydration) last Sunday, but overall, these two men continue to provide unheralded consistency for another rock solid Bears defense. I may not ever know what I’m going to eat for my next meal until ten minutes beforehand, but I am always certain of one thing days in advance: the Bears will force a turnover or three come Sunday (or Monday), and I’ll never stop appreciating that.
On top of that, Briggs has solidified himself as the true leader of this defense and simply hasn’t missed a beat since taking over play-calling duties. He continues to grade out positively in coverage (+3.2 against Minnesota according to Pro Football Focus), disrupting any passes thrown within his vicinity and adding 17 tackles to the mix. Some things never change.
Amongst all of the positive play the Bears have shown us on both sides of the ball, not everything has been smooth sailing. The defensive line has been shockingly horrendous in both games so far, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Some feel Julius Peppers and Henry Melton aren’t in the football shape they need to be in to have any sort of success; others are making excuses for Peppers, who experienced flu-like symptoms throughout Sunday’s game. Whatever the case my be, it’s time for this entire unit to get its act together. Outside of Stephen Paea, who has been very productive (specifically in stopping the run), no one has shown any signs of life whatsoever. Shea McClellin, who continues to vastly underachieve given his draft position, and Corey Wootton have done next to nothing, while Pro Bowlers Peppers and Melton have been even worse. I’m confident Peppers will find his stride and start getting to the quarterback, but Melton has only given us one great season to feel the same way. If he’s looking to get paid as much as he was expecting to this past summer, then it’s time to stop partying at John Barleycorn (saw him at the River North one twice this summer) and start focusing on pressuring and sacking the quarterback (he has zero pressures so far). Get your shit together, Henry. You too, Julius.
If this Bears defense can start getting some pressure on the quarterback with its four-man front (Pittsburgh’s completely depleted offensive line should be a great place to start), this team can be as dangerous as anyone. The rest of the team has shown new signs of life under Marc Trestman and his coaching staff, giving fans every reason to believe a playoff berth is within reach. With a relatively tough four-game stretch coming up, the true identity of the 2013 Chicago Bears will become much clearer.
Until then, see you in Pittsburgh.
***This article was written by former sports columnist of the Pioneer Press, Scott Gutmann – his debut on The City of Broad Shoulders***
It took just one swing to learn a lot about Marc Trestman’s golf game at last month’s Encompass Championship in Glenview. The Bears’ new head coach chose to hit an iron off the first tee, a 424-yard par-4, during the Champions Tour pro-am event. Trestman obviously isn’t too fond of his driver, and he later acknowledged that as a golfer he’s a pretty good duffer.
Bears fans hope he’s better as a football coach, but don’t blame them if they’re about as confident in Trestman as he is in his driver. After all, the Bears’ fourteenth head coach in their illustrious history has not worked in the NFL since 2004 and spent the last five years in the Canadian Football League, aka pro football Siberia. And yet somehow, when Bears General Manager Phil Emery seemingly endless parade of candidates finally reached the finish line, it was Marc Trestman who hit the tape first.
Trestman had served as an NFL offensive assistant for seventeen years with nine different organizations. He is credited with helping nurture the likes of quarterbacks Steve Young and Rich Gannon. In 2002 Trestman was the Oakland Raiders’ o-coordinator as they led the NFL in total offense and passing yards per game. Gannon was the league’s MVP and the Raiders made it to Super Bowl XXXVII.
That was then, this is 2013. There are 32 NFL franchises, and for reasons unknown not one chose to employ Marc Trestman the past eight seasons. Not as a head coach. Not as an assistant coach.
Makes one wonder why the hell not.
In his maiden search for a head coach, Emery interviewed no fewer than thirteen candidates. He wanted a coach who would be more media friendly than predecessor Lovie Smith, who seemed to have a genuine disdain for the main conduit between him and the general public. Emery also said he was looking for someone who was very organized, positive and synergistic. Maybe he confused football coach with investment banking COO.
Emery eventually cut his pageant of coaching candidates to three finalists: Trestman, Bruce Arians and Darrell Bevell. Arians merely was 2012 NFL coach of the year in an interim role with the Indianapolis Colts. Bevell’s Seattle Seahawks offense made the Bears look like they were wearing roller skates in a crucial Soldier Field matchup last December.
Why Trestman? Maybe Emery was swayed by the two Grey Cups and 59-31 record in five years of coaching the Montreal Alouettes. He could have liked the fact Trestman didn’t insist on bringing in his own defensive staff as Arians (who eventually landed as the Arizona Cardinals’ boss man) reportedly did. Or perhaps Emery and Trestman hit it off over a steak dinner, boom. (After all, Jim Hendry’s five-star dinner date with Milton Bradley led to a three-year deal for the latter . . . and a death sentence for the 2009 Cubs.)
Or maybe the ultimate reason Emery chose Marc Trestman is he believes Trestman is the man with the brainpower to do what other coaches have not: turn Jay Cutler from a top-15 into a top-5 quarterback. Good luck with that — after seven NFL seasons, Cutler still makes rookie-caliber mistakes. Perhaps Trestman will have the temperament and game plan to succeed where Lovie Smith and his three o-coordinators in the last four years failed.
Lots of questions await Trestman, Emery and the rest of the Bears organization as they approach the 2013 season’s first tee time. Most important: Will Marc Trestman be a capable driver?
**I realize it’s been a couple of months since my last post, and I apologize. I got busy and I got lazy, but Monday night’s win gave me some of my mojo back. After two long months, the hiatus has been lifted for the time being, starting with a recap of the Bears’ beat down of the Cowboys.**
Punt, punt, punt, pick six, touchdown, pick, pick six, field goal, pick, pick. This is how each of the ten Tony Romo-led drives ended for America’s beloved Cowboys on Monday night. It was a statement game for both Chicago and Dallas, and it was Chicago who rose to the occasion and then some. The Bears simply embarrassed the Cowboys, and it all started with a defense that continues to shit in the mouths of any and every doubter that said it’s too old to continue its greatness this past off-season.
In a three-hour clinic, the grizzled veterans of the Chicago Bears defense let the world know that age doesn’t mean jack. Sure, Urlacher, Briggs, Peppers and Tillman are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, but with age comes wisdom, and it’s that very wisdom and knowledge that has helped this defense make up for any lost speed and athleticism.
Briggs and Tillman took two of Romo’s five interceptions to the house, while Urlacher and Peppers continued to hold down the fort and establish themselves as two of the greatest defensive leaders that we have in this game. They’ve anchored a front seven that has been in complete shut-down mode since Week 1, allowing a measly 67.2 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry to opposing running backs, good for third in the NFL. That front seven includes third-year tackle Henry Melton, who has been bull rushing his way through offensive lines like this streaker through a tennis court had he been successful (I may or may not have forced that analogy just so you can watch that video – it’s too funny). He recorded a team-leading fourth sack Monday night, as well as a tackle for a loss, and he was the direct cause of the Briggs interception to top it off. Dude’s been a beast. Straight up.
The younger guys in the secondary, including Tim Jennings (single-handedly caused another interception) and Major Wright (two interceptions) are playing out of their minds, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to stop. Before Monday’s game, Tim Jennings was arguably the best cornerback in football over the first three weeks; opposing quarterbacks had posted an absolutely ridiculous passer rating of 4.9 when throwing his way. Through four games, he has four interceptions, nine pass deflections and 16 tackles. He may not have been as impressive in Dallas, but he sure as hell has been as important as anyone to this unit’s success thus far. I can’t say enough about how far that man has come. As for Major Wright, he’s finally healthy (fingers crossed). Maybe that’s all it takes for him to play good, smart football.
We can go on and on about the Bears’ defense and their inspired efforts, constantly keeping us in games over the years even when we have no business winning. However, I can’t move forward without mentioning the solid (not fantastic, but solid) performance by the offense. Most people who know me know I’ve never been a Jay Cutler fan. The fact that we are both Type 1 Diabetics is the only thing that keeps me sane when talking about him sometimes (people don’t realize how unbelievably impressive and tough it is for anyone to play quarterback in the NFL with a disease like that). That being said, I really only care about the Bears scoring points and winning football games, and Cutler has proved very little throughout his career from a success standpoint (1 playoff appearance, 1 playoff win). I want to see a Super Bowl appearance before I start fully supporting him after the awfulness and poor demeanor he displays on the field sometimes.
With that awfulness, though, comes occasional greatness (read Grantland’s Bill Barnwell’s dead-on perception of Cutler from the other week here). Monday night was one of those occasions. It was one of Cutler’s most efficient performances in a Bears uniform, as he completed 75% of his passes (18 of 24) and threw two touchdowns to give him a passer rating of 140.1 and a QBR (ESPN’s QB Rating metric) of 81.1. Time and time again, he found Brandon Marshall over the middle of the field (Marshall reeled in seven of his eight targets), allowing the offense to move the chains and maintain a consistent offensive balance (28 rushes to 24 passes). The running game may have been a little weak (3.7 YPC for the running backs), but given the fact that Forte re-tweaked his ankle on his first run and is still trying to get his rhythm back, I can live with it.
The offensive game plan was nothing short of magnificent, so for the first time this season, I applaud Mike Tice (the beat down of the Colts doesn’t count; it’s not hard to score points on that horrendous defense without its best player in Dwight Freeney). He called a flawless game, and most importantly, he found a solution to the offensive line woes (at least for the time being) that every fan has been begging for: use our tight end blocking machines, Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams, to help chip in during pass protection, otherwise known as “Max Protect” (essentially dedicating more personnel to protecting the quarterback and taking pressure off the offensive line). There was no doubt in my mind that Tice would eventually figure it all out, like he did as our Offensive Line Coach the past two years, but it takes balls to swallow your pride, realize what you’re doing wrong as a coach/coordinator and actually fix it.
If Tice hadn’t finally implemented this game plan, the NFL’s best defensive player in DeMarcus Ware (yes, the best defensive player – 104.5 sacks in just over seven seasons is no joke, people) would’ve made J’Marcus Webb his personal bitch. I legitimately lost sleep all last week thinking about Ware ripping Cutler’s head off and posting it on a stick for Kristen Cavallari and their newborn son to come home to, Joffrey Baratheon-style (Game of Thrones reference and spoiler alert; do yourself a favor and watch that show if you don’t already). But thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Besides one sack and a forced fumble that happened to be Cutler’s fault and not Webb’s, Ware, along with the rest of the Dallas front line, mind you, was relatively quiet all night. Snaps to Mike Tice for finally implementing a game plan that played to the strengths of the offense and covered up the glaring vulnerabilities that it has demonstrated. Here’s to hoping he and the rest of the unit continue down this path to collective stardom. The sky is the limit for this offense, and accomplishing what it did against a very underrated and much improved Cowboys defense should make us all feel comfortable.
We’ve all seen this before with the Bears – looking terrible one week and fans acting like the world is about to end, then winning a huge game in extremely convincing fashion the next – I get that. But so goes the roller coaster that is Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears’ offense. The lows get so low that we actually feel like vomiting, while the highs get so high that we never want to get off and can’t help but feel better about our lives – there’s never a medium. As long as we can accept that, let’s all just buckle up for the ride, pray the offense can continue playing like this consistently and allow the defense to remain our blueprint. If all goes well, this ride may very well lead us straight into the Superdome on February 3rd.
Once word got out that Matt Forte and the Bears had finally agreed on a long-term contract (four years worth roughly $32 million with roster bonuses and incentives), it felt as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. It scared the living shit out of me that the most important player in our offense (other than Cutler) was just hours away from holding out. With him, we’re a Super Bowl contender. Without him, we’re not. It’s as simple as that. And to the people who previously thought that Forte’s presence is overrated and that Michael Bush can easily carry the load: stop talking. Right now.
Forte’s uncanny athleticism and versatility are what separate him from today’s mediocre running backs and make him one of the best in the biz. I understand that the last two Super Bowl champions had gotten less production out of their backfields than the Bears have gotten from their offensive line (Giants ranked dead last in 2012, Packers ranked 24th out of 32 in 2011), indicating that the NFL has rapidly transitioned into a passing league, but why does that matter? Without Forte, this is an offense without a true identity. ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright did him justice in coming up with these stats:
Since entering the league in 2008, Forte ranks sixth in the league with 6,218 yards from scrimmage and is the only player in NFL history to gain 900 yards rushing and 400 receiving in each of his first four seasons. Forte is also one of four Bears to gain at least 4,000 rushing yards (4,233) and 1,500 receiving yards (1,985) in his career.
Those numbers, by themselves, should indicate how impactful Matt Forte is on the football field. His incredible ability to protect Jay Cutler, catch 50, 60 or even 70 balls out of the backfield, and his knack for breaking off long runs (especially last season) will ultimately be the offense’s biggest assets yet again. Except this time, there will be more playmakers to help this team score points and no Mike Martz to call atrocious plays. The additions of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett’s great health will force defenses to pick their poison with this offense. No more worrying about whether or not Roy Williams, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester can run the correct routes and hold on to the football anymore. The threat of Forte opens up the field for our everyone and vice versa, putting less pressure on Jay Cutler and much more pressure on opposing defenses. The legitimate balance in our offense should also keep the defense off the field more, giving them the opportunity to make stops more efficiently, and allow the punting unit to stay on the sidelines longer, meaning that opposing offenses won’t have as many short fields to work with. One little thing Forte does on the field can positively impact a number of different facets of the game.
The deal Forte signed was great for both sides. The Bears locked up one of their most valuable players for four years, and Forte gets insurance and nearly $18 million guaranteed until the age of 3o, which is known to be the age in which great running backs lose whatever ability they used to have and become backups or platoon candidates at best. Some may argue that Forte got shafted and deserves more money (which he very well may), as he was originally seeking a contract comparable to that of Darren McFadden ($10 million/year, $26 million guaranteed) or Chris Johnson (9.17 million/year, $30 million guaranteed). But, given the amount of leverage the Bears had in this negotiation (Forte was more than likely going to be franchise tagged again next season), this is probably the best deal that he could have gotten. It makes him one of the six (or so) highest paid running backs in the league, ahead of the likes Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner and in the same ballpark as Ray Rice, Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Not too shabby of a list, that’s for damn sure.
After the way last season ended in such disappointing fashion, the only way for this team to go is up. Locking up Forte was a major step in the right direction and should give Bears fans the optimism we’ve lacked since Cutler broke his thumb. Not only is Forte a great player, but he’s also a great teammate and professional. He couldn’t have handled this situation any better by playing out his contract and doing what was best for the team, unlike what many football players would do. Forte’s presence alone should put the Bears in position to make a run in the playoffs next winter, and I’m confident he’ll live up to the expectations of his contract and then some. September 9th can’t come any sooner.
The Chicago Bears had arguably the worst corps of receivers in the NFL last season. Even after missing four games, Matt Forte still led the team, from the backfield, with 52 receptions. The top two receivers on the depth chart, Johnny Knox and Roy Williams, caught 37 balls a piece, good for 109th in the league. Knox finished with a team-high 727 receiving yards. More importantly, the Bears haven’t had a single 1000-yard receiver since Marty Booker in 2002. In fact, this franchise has only produced 11 1000-yard receivers EVER. The Arizona Cardinals had three of them on THE SAME TEAM just four years ago. I can go on and on about this, but one thing is clear: the Bears have lacked a playmaker (outside of running back) for as long as most of us can remember. It’s probably no coincidence that we’ve only won one Super Bowl in its 46-year existence (and that happened to be the best defensive team in the history of the NFL). Jerry Angelo, the worst man ever, didn’t seem to understand this. Hence his firing after the season.
Insert Phil Emery. What was his first move? He went out and got us a dangerous playmaker in Brandon Marshall. And Jay Cutler went from a very unhappy person to just an unhappy person, which says a lot. With the news of Marshall finally being cleared of any wrongdoing for a nightclub incident in March, I figured there’s no better time than to breakdown what kind of impact he should have on Cutler and this Bears team going forward. Below is a chart of Marshall’s numbers over the past five seasons:
The touchdown numbers may scare you, I know. However, that has more to do with Cutler, Orton, Henne and Moore, all of whom are known to be poor red zone quarterbacks, than it does Marshall. He finished in the top five in both targets and red zone targets during his three full seasons in Denver, and he finished in the top 12 in targets and top 6 in red zone targets during his two seasons with Miami. Simply put, quarterbacks trust Marshall, especially inside the 20 yard line. The numbers alone show you that he is as reliable a wide receiver as there is in this game. It is very difficult to maintain the consistency that Marshall has at the professional level. Even with terrible quarterbacks throwing him the ball in Miami, he still managed to put up very solid numbers.
Now, think about the impact Marshall had on Cutler. During their two full seasons together in Denver, Cutler targeted Marshall an average of 186 times. That’s unheard of. Consider the fact that Denver was 10th in the NFL in total yards per game (346.3) in 2007 and 2nd in 2008 (395.6), and you realize that the Cutler-Marshall combo is a perfect marriage (if you think a supporting cast of Eddie Royal, a running back by committee and Tony Scheffler is scarier than Forte/Bush, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and a healthy Johnny Knox, you’re sadly mistaken). With Cutler at the helm during his first three seasons in Chicago, the offense averaged just 217.1, 194.1 and 231.9 yards per game, respectively. His completion percentage went from 62.9% as a full-time starter for the Broncos to 59.9% with the Bears. And finally, his interception rate has gone from 0.89 picks per game to 1.20. The argument can be made that the Bears offensive line has been horrendous, so obviously Cutler’s numbers were going to take a hit. However, a lot of that had to do with the way Mike Martz ran his offense. His outrageous stubbornness to establish a balanced offense and actually allow the Bears to play to their strengths (running the ball) put a ton of pressure on Cutler, leading him to force throws way more often than he should have. There will also be no more seven-step-drops, so the sack/rush/hurry numbers will undoubtedly go down.
Just having Marshall on the field completely changes the way defenses will have to game plan for us. Plus, the Bears did themselves justice by going out and signing Michael Bush, the former Oakland Raiders running back. He’s a straight beast inside the 5-yard line, something Matt Forte certainly can’t consider himself thus far. Adding these guys will only take the pressure off of Cutler and Forte to carry the load. Marshall will help stretch the field and open up opportunities for other guys to make plays. With extra weapons and more time in the pocket without Martz calling the shots, there will be less forced throws, so Cutler’s decision-making, particularly in the red zone, should (hopefully) improve (he ranked next-to-last in bad decision rating in 2011). No more holding our breath, praying our below-average receivers run the correct routes and make the plays that NFL receivers are supposed to make. If Alshon Jeffery lives up to his potential (put up 88-1517-9 during his sophomore season with South Carolina), the Bears could own one of the scariest offenses in the NFL. Consider this stat that Peter King came up with in yesterday’s Monday Morning Quarterback:
The Chicago Bears could field the tallest set of receivers in club history — and, in fact, one of the tallest ever to take the field — this year, depending on the play-calling whimsy of offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
If the Bears line up in a five-receiver set, with two tight ends and three wide receivers, here’s how they could threaten the opposition:
At wideout: The 6-4½ Brandon Marshall and 6-3 rookie Alshon Jeffery could line up split out, with 6-0 Earl Bennett or 5-11 Dane Sanzenbacher the third receiver; Sanzenbacher is more suited to play inside. This is dependent, too, on the recovery of 5-11 Johnny Knox from a severe late-2011 back injury.
At tight end: Returning are 6-7 Matt Spaeth and 6-6½ Kellen Davis, who could be used as sixth, or sixth and seventh linemen to buttress a shaky line. And fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez, an athletic 6-2 tight end, could get some playing time if he proves his worth as a receiver too.
Conjures memories of the Chargers two years ago, when they could send three receivers 6-4 or taller downfield — Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates — with the 6-2 Legedu Naanee in reserve.
That’s pretty incredible to think about. Provided Cutler and Marshall don’t skip a beat, Mike Tice patches up the offensive line, and Forte’s knee heals up, the Bears offense will finally be able to keep the defense off the field longer and may very well turn itself into a juggernaut.
Only 2.5 months ’til training camp. CAN’T WAIT!