In Pat Kirwan's book "Take Your Eye off the Ball" – an outstanding, in-depth guide to analyzing football through the eyes of a scout – he discusses the time spent each week in practice developing audibles.
"The bottom line is that in the NFL today," Kirwan writes, "with all the different looks a defense can throw at its opponent, teams can't exist without an audible package."
Audibles are the way for an offense to counteract the defense on the fly. A quarterback can read and react on the field to what the defense shows pre-snap. It's one of the crucial pieces in the chess match that goes on during each and every NFL contest.
Yet in the offense of former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, audibles didn't exist. For the past two years, Jay Cutler has not had the opportunity to change plays at the line of scrimmage. His OC was such a control freak that Cutler was essentially handcuffed as a field general.
If the play was an off-tackle left run, and the defense stacked four players in that run gap, Cutler could do nothing about it. He had to line up and send his running back into a hole filled with defenders.
As I'm sure Kirwan would agree, that is no way to run an NFL offense.
It's likely one of the many reasons Martz was let go at the start of this offseason. That's not to say that Martz wasn't a positive influence on Cutler. The two combined to go 18-9 during their time together, with Cutler making big strides in his ability to read secondaries on the fly.
He should be able to carry that over into this year's offense, run by new OC Mike Tice – a coach that does not cling to some antiquated belief that quarterbacks have to run every play as called from the booth.
This was evident during the first OTA practice session open to the media last week. During walkthroughs, Cutler stepped to the line, read the defense and then audibled into a different play. Not since 2009 under Ron Turner has Cutler had the opportunity to adjust plays under center.
One of the biggest changes between Martz and Tice is the new OC's willingness to let everyone else do their jobs, without micromanaging every aspect of the offense. Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates – who was signed this offseason and spent three years in Denver working with Cutler and Brandon Marshall – is essentially the passing coach who will be the leader in developing the aerial attack each week.
At practice, Bates is the one calling the plays and relaying the information directly to Cutler, who then has the opportunity to change the call based on how the defense lines up.
Instead of having just one person (Martz) in charge – and only one person to blame – Chicago's offense will be the result of three minds working as one. Cutler on the field, Bates on the sidelines and Tice from the booth overseeing it all. Each of the three heads will play an equally important role as to the success of the team's offense in 2012.
This group effort is a welcome change for Cutler.
Jay Cutler & Mike Tice
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
"I think Jeremy has a really good feel of what I like to do and what I don't like to do," said Cutler. "There's plays out here today that I told him, ‘I don't like them. Let's think about getting rid of them.' He's fine with that. It's a give and take. That's a breath of fresh air around here, being able to give ideas and everyone giving ideas and let's pick the best ones that work for everybody."
Tice didn't completely overhaul the offense or the terminology, which has allowed for a much smoother transition than would normally take place when a team switches coordinators.
"There's a lot of similarities, there's some differences," said Cutler. "We didn't want to completely overhaul things, but in the passing game we definitely wanted to make some key changes, not only to help me but to help the offensive guys and put them in positions to be successful."
But with added control comes added responsibility. In years past, Cutler could essentially deflect all criticism regarding the offense to Martz. Now, if the passing game flounders, Cutler will have to accept more of the blame, especially considering the numerous weapons surrounding him at the skill positions.
"We have some great athletes on offense," Tice said. "We have to put them – as coaches – in a position to show us and show the fans and show the people that love the Bears their athleticism and their explosiveness. We want to be explosive."
Given the talent on offense, and the collective effort of the three experienced professionals in charge of it, there's no reason this year's offense can be leaps and bounds better than it has been the past two seasons. And if not, three people, not one, will have to take responsibility for its failure.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and 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.