In the domed arenas of the Louisiana Superdome and Ford Field, in Week 2 and Week 6 this season, the Chicago Bears' offense looked clueless. The crowd noise hit a pitch in both stadiums that forced Chicago into numerous mental mistakes. Referees in both contests had sore arms after the game from flinging penalty flags on Bears players.
Against the Lions, Chicago committed nine false start penalties. Six came in the first half – an NFL record for the most false starts in a half. It was a stunning breakdown in communication, one that forced the Bears into a silent count, which also ended up being ineffective.
It was almost as if the team wasn't prepared for the raucous crowd. Bears players say they learned from those games and that this week will be different.
"We're aware of what we're going into now," said Roberto Garza. "We had a rough start there in Detroit and New Orleans. I think we learned from that."
The Bears often practice amidst artificial crowd noise, even during home games, as they feel the Soldier Field crowd can often be too loud when the offense is on the field. Yet they still haven't been able to get on the same page on the road in hostile environments, something that has severely hurt the team in both contests.
"It's up to our guys to sit in there and be aware of what's going on around us," said Chris Spencer, who will start at right guard for the third straight week. "Going to Philly, it's going to be loud. When things have to change we have to be able to sit in there and not jump."
The team has also had problems getting the calls down from Mike Martz in the booth to Jay Cutler on the field. A few weeks back, Martz hinted it was a technical issue with malfunctioning equipment – a problem that he said followed the club on the road. Whatever the real reason, the team must do a better job of quickly relaying plays to the quarterback.
Coaches say it's something they work on every week but Cutler didn't sound overly confident that the issues have been resolved.
"I hope [they are]," Cutler said. "That's all you can do at this point. There's going to be some problems. There's going to be glitches like in any game. Hopefully we're consistent throughout the game in what we're trying to get done."
The offense has worked with a silent snap count this week in preparation for Monday night's game at Lincoln Financial Field, where more than 67,000 Eagles fans will be worked into a frenzy.
"We've been down that road and hopefully we've learned from it," said Cutler. "Hopefully we'll eliminate our turnovers and our false starts and get the calls in. Hopefully it's smooth. We won't know until we get into it on Monday though."
With Frank Omiyale firmly entrenched on the bench, the Bears have a much better chance of limiting their mistakes up front. Yet if history repeats itself, and the offense crumbles under the cacophony, the group can expect a long night in Philly.
Easing back Carimi
Rookie T Gabe Carimi has been out since week 2 after dislocating his kneecap. He practiced for the first time last week and has been a full participant ever since. Yet he's still wearing a brace on the knee and the coaches don't appear to be in much of a hurry to insert him back in the starting lineup.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice believes Carimi needs a certain number of reps in practice before he's ready to return to full-time action.
T Gabe Carimi
"We're all going to know he's ready to go," Tice said. "So, it's going to just take some good, hard practices and wear him down and get him some endurance in the leg and confidence in the leg. Each day he's getting better."
Tice admitted that before he got hurt, Carimi was outplaying the rest of the offensive linemen. Which means the team's 2011 first-round draft pick is going to start again this year, there's just no need to rush him back too early.
"He's our starting right tackle so whenever he's ready to go, he'll be inserted," Garza said. "We have a lot of faith in Gabe and we've seen what he's able to do. When he comes in, we'll be a better offensive line."
If Carimi sits for another week – which looks to be the case – then the Bears will be using the same starting front five on Monday for the third week in a row – LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza, RG Chris Spencer and RT Lance Louis.
The unit has played progressively better in each of the last three contests. Players feel the time together has helped them build continuity and trust in each other.
"Offensive linemen need that consistency," Spencer said. "They need guys that are going to be there beside them so we kind of get to know each other and know how to react to one another. As we grow and grow we keep getting better and better together."
The unit has given up just six sacks in their three games together, while RB Matt Forte has averaged 116 rushing yards per contest during that span.
"That group that we have right now is really consistent and has a good feel of what we're trying to get done," Cutler said. "The communication is a lot better."
Yet when Carimi is inserted back into the starting lineup, one of the five current starters will be relegated to bench duty. In a sense, right now the players up front are auditioning for a starting position in the future.
"We're all pros. We know what's at stake," Spencer said.
It's a good problem to have and provides depth and flexibility in case of any injuries going forward.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.