The Chicago Bears are struggling on offense. It's a familiar refrain in the Windy City but one that seems extra hard to swallow this season. With a brand new system in place and a number of new pieces on the roster, hopes were high for the offense coming into 2012.
So far, the group has been a major disappointment.
The team currently ranks 27th in the NFL in total offense. The running game is holding its own, ranked 13th overall, but the passing attack has been dismal, averaging just 186.3 yards per contest, which is 28th in the league.
The new offense, developed by first-time offensive coordinator Mike Tice, has stumbled out of the gate. To most, it's hard to tell the difference between this system and the one run by Mike Martz the past two seasons. Yet the Bears are only three games into the campaign, which means there is plenty of time to right the ship.
"It's the first year in the offense. It's going take time," Jay Cutler said today. "Very few offenses go out there first year offensively with a new offensive coordinator, new system, and put up 30-40 points a game. It's a whole season. You've got to build on each and every game and get better."
RB Michael Bush
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
In each game so far this season, the offense has struggled to find a rhythm, particularly in the early going. In each of the first two contests, Cutler was sacked on the first play of the game. In Week 1, the group overcame the bad start but in Week 2, things snowballed out of control.
"[The first drive] sets the tone," said Michael Bush. "As an offense, you don't want to come out pinned inside your own red zone. If you come out slow, it's going to be a long game."
First downs have been a huge hurdle for the offense. The Bears have 57 total first downs, 22nd in the league. The team is averaging just 3.32 yards on first down, which is dead last in the NFL. Their 282 total yards on first down is also 32nd in the league, 28 yards fewer than the 31st ranked team (Arizona).
"[When you have a lot of] three and outs, first downs, putting ourselves in second and 15, second and 12, it's hard to call a game. It really is," Cutler said. "You've got to get positive yards on first and second down and give yourself a chance. When you're fighting a second-and-eight plus, third-and-eight plus, it doesn't really matter what you call. It's just hard. You're fighting uphill. So getting positive yards on first down whether it's run or pass and the same on second down and giving yourself a chance is vital."
Those failures on first down have made everything harder for the offense and haven't allowed the group to get into a rhythm.
"You can't win in this league when you're in a lot of second-and-long, third-and-longs," said Brandon Marshall. "We need to clean that up but I really like what we're doing."
Much of the problem has been the protection up front. The Bears have allowed 11.0 sacks, fourth most in the league. The club ranks 29th in sacks per pass attempt. As we've seen in the past, when Cutler loses confidence in his offensive line, he gets happy feet in the pocket and begins forcing throws to avoid sacks, often leading to interceptions.
"I go to the game confident [in the offensive line] every game," said Cutler. "We really like this game plan so far. I think the coaches have done a good job of putting it together. It's just a matter of us mixing it up enough, and keeping them off balance with our play calling and executing the plays."
Success on offense will be hard to come by this week against the Dallas Cowboys, who boast the best defense in the NFL through three weeks. Their 3-4 defense is ranked second against the pass, while their 7.0 total sacks are 10th best in the league.
QB Jay Cutler & T J'Marcus Webb
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
"These guys are a little bit different than some of the 3-4s we've seen in the past," Cutler said. "Any 3-4 is going to have great edge rushers. There's going to be a lot of Sam and Will blitzing, some man. They're playing a little bit more zone than I think they have in the past with coach Ryan. They mix it up well. But first and foremost you've got to protect your edges with those two guys coming off the ends it makes it hard."
That means the team's starting offensive tackles, Gabe Carimi and J'Marcus Webb, will once again have their hands full. Carimi has really struggled in pass protection so far, allowing 11 hurries through four games, fifth most in the league according to Pro Football Focus. He must improve.
Yet Webb is the player that must truly step up this week. He'll be facing off against DeMarcus Ware, one of the best, if not the best, edge rusher in the game. Ware had 19.5 sacks last season and already has 4.0 this year.
"We're going to do our best to get our game plan prepared and make sure we have the edges shored up and make sure we're taking care of [Ware] because he can be a problem," said Cutler. "If you leave him alone too many times one on one, he's going to make a play. So you've got to keep him guessing, throw a lot of stuff at him, and hopefully at the end of the day keep him off you."
The Bears may get a boost this week with the possible return of Matt Forte, who practiced yesterday.
"Just stepping on the field he helps us out," Marshall said. "You have to pay attention to him whether it's in the running game or the passing game. Matt's running around pretty good, he feels good, he'll definitely help us out a lot."
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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.