Do tight ends still have a place in Mike Martz's offense? Greg Olsen thinks so.
Speaking to the media after Sunday's 35-24 win over the Seahawks in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, Olsen acknowledged his role may have changed from that of the high-profile receiver he was a year ago, but he feels what he's doing now is just as important to the team's success.
"I'm still out there," said Olsen, who caught three passes for 113 yards and a TD from quarterback Jay Cutler. "I might be doing different things, such as picking up blitzes or lead blocking like a fullback, but that's something I've grown to enjoy. I see myself giving Jay the chance to step up and play."
Against the Seahawks in the first half, Olsen's role seemed to have changed once more, reverting back to where he was a year ago. On Cutler's first career pass in the postseason, he found Olsen down the middle on third-and-2 for a 58-yard catch-and-run to the end zone that just about set Soldier Field on its ear.
Although he was quieter in terms of production during the second and third quarters, Olsen's blocking helped give Cutler more than enough time to make good decisions. The fourth-year tight end seemed satisfied with the opportunity to be out on the field doing whatever he could to help the Bears win.
"I'm not trying to prove a point," Olsen said when asked about Martz's history of ignoring the tight end position in the passing game. "I'm just happy to be a part of this offense. You'll find that throughout this team. Every guy out there is all in it for everybody else, rather than looking for individual glory."
Olsen did acknowledge the importance of his early score, which gave the Bears a 7-0 edge three minutes into the first quarter, saying it helped set the tone and gave the offense some early momentum. But again, Olsen preferred to give most of the credit to others around him, this particular time to his signal caller.
"For the rest of the game, Jay was the one moving us up and down the field," he said. "He did everything that he possibly could have done. But it was a big receiving day, and I was proud to be a part of it."
Olsen could very well be Chicago's not-so-secret weapon in next Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Packers, the third time the two division rivals will meet this season. Cutler feels that most teams already know how formidable Olsen can be, even if his receptions dropped from 60 a year ago to 41 in 2010.
"They have a good idea how dangerous Greg is," said Cutler, who completed 15 of 28 passes and accounted for four scores, two through the air and two on the ground. "I have had confidence in the guy since the day I got here. I love the way he can go vertical and stretch the field."
The approach that Martz favors utilizes as many offensive weapons as possible in order to spread defenses and stretch the field.
So far, so good.
Against Seattle, Olsen and fellow tight end Kellen Davis; receivers Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and running back Matt Forte were all on the receiving end of Cutler throws for a total of 274 yards. 176 rushing yards were recorded thanks to Forte and No. 2 back Chester Taylor on handoffs, Bennett out of the Wildcat formation and Cutler on scrambles, including a quarterback draw for a 6-yard touchdown run. The Bears offense totaled 437 racked up yards on 77 plays.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, could only muster 276 yards on 60 snaps.
The numbers support Olsen's assertion that tight ends can fill a multitude of roles for the good of the team. But how will Martz's system work against the Packers, a team Olsen watched only briefly Saturday while they dismantled the No. 1-seed Falcons 48-21 at the Georgia Dome?
"I just caught the second half because our meetings ran so late, and by then it was a blowout," he said. "But from what I did see, it was a statement game for Green Bay. It was very clear who and what they are as a team. Now it's on us to make a similar statement here next week. The whole offense in Chicago is capable of that. To win [five] games in a row like we did, and then seven out of our last nine, is not easy. I definitely have a goal. But in my mind, it all starts with the quarterback."
Olsen's role next weekend might not only be that of protecting Cutler and blocking on running plays, but also stepping back into his old job as the primary target for his close friend. It worked against Seattle and could be equally effective against Green Bay, all for the right to go to Super Bowl XLV.
And although he seems content to labor in relative obscurity now, his numbers in the first half Sunday suggest that Martz would be well served to highlight Olsen again in the passing attack. One way or another, however the battle plan is drawn up, Olsen can't wait for the game to begin.
"Going against the Packers will make it fun," he said. "There's no better matchup around. I'll enjoy this win for a little while. Then it's time to get back to work."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.
Olsen Satisfied with Monster Day
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