Third-Down Issues Continue to Haunt

If the Chicago Bears don't do a better job of keeping drives going, then Mike Martz's offense will never be all it can be. Right now, Jay Cutler and Co. are dead last in the league in third-down conversions.

Considering the Bears were 0 for 12 converting third downs last Sunday, quarterback Jay Cutler is pretty confident they'll be better Sunday against the Redskins at Soldier Field.

"One [conversion] would be an improvement, so it's not going to be that hard," Cutler said. "Like everything else, it's going to start up front with those guys [on the offensive line], and I'm going to have to identify the coverage and get the ball out on time. We have no way to go but up."

When it comes to making good on third-down opportunities, the Bears' offense has been at Ground Zero for three weeks. While losing two of three games, offensive coordinator Mike Martz's group has converted just 3 of 40 third downs and plummeted to a 17.6 percent success rate on the year, by far the worst in the NFL. The winless Buffalo Bills are next worst at 26.3 percent.

"Execution is a big deal," Martz said. "You go back and look, are you getting guys open, are you protecting, is he making good decisions? It's the littlest things. A tipped ball. A slip on a route. There are just some goofy things that have happened to us here recently. We can certainly change up and simplify as well, but I think we know what to address here. We made mistakes in areas where we normally don't make mistakes. The routine things, and that's frustrating. We'll fix that."

On an offense that is the league's worst at protecting the quarterback, 26th in rushing yards and 29th in interception percentage, there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the third-down failures.

"We have to complete some balls," Cutler said. "We have to hit some hots. I'm going to have to get a little more accurate, and we're going to have to protect better. Everyone. It takes 11 guys. This offense is so detailed. If one guy is off, it's going to have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the play."

The NFL average for third-down conversions is 38.5 percent. The Bears have failed to reach that level in every game since the season opener against the Lions, when they converted 42.9 percent of their third downs.

The Bears have not converted any of their last 22 third-down situations with Cutler at quarterback.

Mike Tice
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

According to offensive line coach Mike Tice, he and Martz are working well together, even though the Bears have struggled to protect the quarterback and score points consistently this season.

Tice said the offense remains a work in progress, though.

"We're trying to work through who we are," Tice said, "and we're trying to work through together what we can ask the guys to do, not just in the O-line but across the board – backs, receivers, quarterbacks. What are we? What are we going to be going forward?

"We've had some great meetings through the course of the season trying to figure those things out. Sometimes we think we got them figured out. Then all of a sudden this guy's hurt, and we've got this guy. What can he do?" ...

Even wide receiver Rashied Davis, whose position is often on the receiving end of some of the most violent hits, thinks the league might be overreacting to a weekend that saw more than its share of big hits.

"We all know what we signed up for when we started playing this game," Davis said. "I know what the risks are. Everybody knows what the risks are. I'm all for player safety and my safety and all of that, but at the same time, it's a rule that's very hard to enforce and everything is up to judgment. I don't think that most guys are out to hurt people." ...

Cutler spent his first three seasons playing in Mike Shanahan's offense in Denver. But now Cutler is running Martz's scheme in Chicago, and he'll be facing Shanahan's Redskins on Sunday. He says the two are similar in many ways.

"They're both going to attack defenses," Cutler said. "They're going to make sure that every play has an answer, they're going to rely on their ability as schemers and as play-callers to beat the defense and they're going to make sure that the quarterback isn't out there kind of just holding the ball looking for things. They're going to make sure everything happens in a timely manner, and both are great guys."

"If you just think about it, most of the TV stations, big hits, touchdowns, big plays and big hits are normally shown over and over. So we're probably feeding that. A lot of people come to the stadium to see big hits. I mean, that's a part of football." – Coach Lovie Smith

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