The talk of training camp this season was the much-improved Chicago Bears offense. With the additions of Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush, and Matt Forte with a new contract, the offense put on a daily show in Bourbonnais.
When the Bears posted a whopping 41 points against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, everyone assumed the offense was as legit as advertised.
The group then came crashing back to Earth in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, a contest that highlighted a number of issues that needed to be addressed on the offensive side of the ball. Their performance in Lambeau showed that the offense is still a work in progress and has a lot of work left to do.
Throughout the offseason, new coordinator Mike Tice talked about the offense being a group effort, that it would be the product of a three-headed monster: Tice, quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates and quarterback Jay Cutler. This was a major shift in philosophy from former OC Mike Martz, who was a control freak to the utmost level.
Jeremy Bates & Jay Cutler
David Banks/US Presswire
This year, instead of one guy building and directing the offense, it would be a group effort between Tice, Bates and Cutler. Tice would handle the run game, Bates would handle the passing attack and Cutler would make changes on the field as he sees fit. It was obvious after Week 2 this collective approach would take a while to perfect.
So after five weeks, where does this offense stand? To answer that question, let's review the games.
The Bears beat the Colt by 20 points, with Cutler throwing for 333 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT, and the running game gained 114 yards on the ground. Yet it was hard to gauge the performance, though, as Indianapolis was a team in transition playing its first game after shifting from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
Yet through five weeks, the Colts are ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense. Looking back, the Bears posted 41 points on a formidable group, an accomplishment that should not be devalued.
Brandon Marshall led all receivers with 15 targets, 9 catches and 119 yards in Week 1. The ground game averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and Cutler was sacked twice.
The Packers pummeled the Bears 23-10 at Lambeau. Cutler was sacked five times, which led to a complete meltdown on the field. He made poor decisions the entire game, repeatedly forcing the ball to Marshall, resulting in four interceptions and a 28.2 QB rating.
The run game also struggled, picking up just 94 yards on 23 carries. When you take away Cutler's 12-yard scramble, the ground game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.
Matt Forte led all players with four catches for 49 yards. No receiver had more than two catches in the game, with Marshall finishing with 24 yards on two grabs.
For the second week in a row, Cutler struggled. He finished this contest with 183 passing yards, 0 TDs and an interception, good for a 58.9 passer rating.
The ground game rushed for 103 yards as a team but it took them 34 carries, good for a paltry 3.0 average. Marshall led all receivers with 11 targets, 5 catches and 71 yards. Alshon Jeffery also had five catches on seven targets.
Things looked their worst after this game. You could give the team a pass on the road in Green Bay on a short week of rest but a home game against the Rams' 17th ranked defense that resulted in just 274 total yards on offense is unacceptable. Following this contest, it was unclear what direction the offense was headed.
On the road against the Cowboys, Chicago's offense appeared to take the next step. The team finished with 360 total yards, with Cutler throwing for 275 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 140.1 QB rating. He was sacked just once.
The ground game again had trouble moving the ball consistently, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
Marshall again led all receivers with 7 catches for 138 yards and 1 TD. TE Kellen Davis finally showed up in this contest, finishing second on the team with 3 catches for 62 yards.
This game was a tale of two halves. Facing one of the worst defenses in the league, the Bears could muster just three points in the first half against the Jaguars. Yet the lethargy was wiped away at halftime and the second half was a much different story. Including two touchdowns from the defense, Chicago reeled off 38 unanswered points in the final two stanzas in Jacksonville.
Cutler was just 10 of 20 for 110 yards in the first half but finished 23 of 39 for 292 yards and two touchdowns, good for an 88.8 passer rating. Marshall was targeted 17 times in the game, more than four times the second most-targeted player. He finished with 12 receptions for 144 yards and a TD.
The run game finally found its rhythm in this one, rushing 33 times for 214 yards. Forte led all rushers with 22 carries for 107 yards, followed by Armando Allen, who had five carries for 59 yards, which included a 46-yard TD run in the 4th quarter. As a team, the Bears averaged 6.5 yards per rush in Week 5.
Chicago's offense has outscored opponents 42-21 the last two games and has looked like the team everyone predicted them to be in training camp. Much of that has to do with Tice's commitment to the run. Through five weeks, the Bears are averaging 30.2 rushing attempts per game. Martz was wont to abandon the run as soon as the ground game began to struggle but Tice has been much more patient. Even when the team isn't picking up big chunks on the ground – they've averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in a game just twice so far – Tice continues to run the ball. This is a huge shift in philosophies from the last two seasons. With Tice calling the shots, the Bears actually do "get off the bus running."
WR Brandon Marshall
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
Chicago has just one turnover the past two games, after giving the ball away six times through the first three contests. This also has been a big reason for the group's success. Cutler has been the culprit for all eight turnovers – seven picks, one fumble. The rest of the team has been solid in securing the pigskin.
The ground game struggled early on but the 6.5 yards per carry they averaged against the Jaguars is very encouraging. The backfield has dealt with some injuries and the offensive line has taken a while to get acclimated. The switch at left guard from Chris Spencer to Chilo Rachal has also provided a boost for the rushing attack. Tice isn't going to stop running the ball, and the team's ball carriers should be at full health coming out of the break, so the ground game should continue to improve.
The passing attack is entirely dependant on Marshall, which is slightly worrisome. At this point, if Marshall goes down with injury, the offense could crumble. He has been targeted 56 times this year, 33 more than Jeffery, the next most-targeted player (23). So far, targeting him that many times has worked, yet the Packers showed what happens to the offense when Marshall is taken out of the game. He acts like a crutch for Cutler, who may fall flat on his face if Marshall goes down with injury.
The offensive line has allowed 14 sacks on the season, sixth worst in the league. Yet they've given up just three the past two weeks. As a group, they are improving as pass blockers but a lot of the recent success has to do with the scheme. Tice has made it a point to give LT J'Marcus Webb help on the blind side, using backs and tight ends to chip and double on the left edge. This has resulted in Cutler staying relatively upright, helping him avoid the meltdowns. As run blockers, the front five has been inconsistent but they are developing. The team currently ranks 11th in the league in rushing.
Like we stated earlier, this is a work in progress. Anyone who thought this was going to be a 35-points-per-week offense right out of the gates was fooling himself. It has taken time but the unit is showing signs of improvement every week, which is what you want to see out of a new offense run by a first-time coordinator.
If Tice, Bates and Cutler stick with the game plan and the stars stay healthy, there's no reason the offense can't develop into a group that can, if need be, keep pace with Packers and Lions in a shootout.
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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.