Under first-year coordinator Mike Tice, the Chicago Bears' offense has been a mess. Heading into the final week of the season, the unit ranks 28th in the NFL in total yards and 29th in passing offense. The group has had almost no identity and has struggled mightily to put up points in the second half of the season, having scored 17 or fewer points the last seven weeks in a row.
Yet despite that, Chicago (9-6) still has a chance at making the playoffs this week. If they can beat the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, and if the Green Bay Packers can win on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears will sneak into the postseason as the sixth seed in the NFC.
"It's part of how it goes," Jay Cutler said today. "We put ourselves in this position so we can't do anything but wait. But first and foremost we've got to beat Detroit and it's not going to be an easy task for us. They played us tough the first time and we're going to get their best shot."
Chicago pulled out a 13-7 victory over the Lions in Week 7 this year. Yet that game was at Soldier Field, with the team coming off an extra week of rest due to the bye. This Sunday's game will be a much tougher challenge, on the road with a banged up roster against a divisional opponent that would like nothing more then to knock the Bears out of the playoffs.
"They're disappointed in their season so they'd like nothing more than to make us disappointed for the rest of the year," said Cutler. "But we can't worry about anything else other than our game plan and taking care of our business."
If Cutler has his wish, that game plan will involve spreading the ball around more in the passing attack. Through 15 games this year, Brandon Marshall has 179 targets, which is second most in the league and more than all of Chicago's other wide receivers combined.
The lack of production out of the team's second, third and fourth receiver has held back the offense this season, forcing Marshall to play Superman each and every contest.
"I think in an ideal world you'd like to get some other guys in the mix," Cutler said. "If you can have three guys at 70 [catches], four guys at 50, 60, 70, and really spread it around, I think it makes defenses a lot more honest."
Unfortunately for the Bears, that hasn't happened this season. While Marshall is second in the NFL in catches (113) and receiving yardage (1,466), no other Chicago receiver has more than 24 catches and 291 receiving yards. It's an unbalanced attack that leaves just one receiver for whom opposing defense must game plan. The Lions know that, if they can limit Marshall on Sunday, they'll have a great chance at playing spoiler.
"Our job is to go out there and get a division win and keep them from being in the running [for a playoff berth]," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said today.
Chicago's defense has been dealing with some major injuries in the second half of the season. Still, they have played well enough to keep the Bears in nearly every game during the recent skid, in which the club has lost five of their last seven contests.
It's been the offensive players that haven't held up their end of the bargain. Penalties, dropped passes, missed blocks and missed assignments have continuously de-railed promising drives the past two months. It's a problem that must quickly be fixed if the offense is going to put up enough points for a victory in Detroit.
"I think we're going to be fine," said Cutler. "I think we'll get off to a good start this week. We've got to run the ball, take care of the ball; we can't give their offense anything easy because they move the ball up and down the field pretty well. It's just like any other game; red zone, third down, first down, and if we do those things and get the running game going a little bit, we should be fine."
The task could be much tougher this week as Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte is dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out of the contest.
"He seems to be walking around OK. I think he's optimistic that he'll play but I don't know," Cutler said. "If we can have Matt, we can have Matt. And if we can't, then other guys have to step up."
In every sense of the word, this is a big game for the Bears, the team's offense and Cutler.
"We've got to win," said Cutler. "There's nothing else to be said about it. And quarterback play, these are games you've got to have."
Historically, the numbers favor Chicago's signal caller. In 11 career games against Detroit, Cutler has thrown 11 touchdowns compared to just one interception, with a QB rating of 100.9.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.