When one looks at the box score from last night's contest between the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans, the telltale statistic is turnovers, of which Chicago committed four. All four happened in the first half, yet the Bears were still within a touchdown at halftime. The game was far from over.
Don't get me wrong; the turnovers were brutal. A fumble on the first play of the game by TE Kellen Davis immediately set the team back. On the following series, RB Michael Bush took a momentum-building 4th-and-1 carry 11 yards, before he put the ball on the ground. Those two fumbles blew out the tires on a struggling pickup truck before it ever got out of the driveway.
QB Jay Cutler also got in on the fun, throwing two interceptions in the next four drives. And the worst part about these turnovers? All four came in Houston territory. Had the Bears just hung onto the ball, they likely would have scored enough point on those four drives to earn the victory in a defensive battle.
Yet the Bears were only down seven at halftime and were well within reach of another second-half comeback. Cutler went down with a concussion, and while Jason Campbell is a step down, he's no Caleb Hanie. Campbell has 70 NFL starts under his belt, so it's not like the pickup truck was all of the sudden being driven by a blind man.
The problem with the Bears' offense yesterday, and throughout the 2012 season, is two-fold. It's equal parts execution and play calling.
Look back at the stat sheet and you'll see the Texans ran the ball 12 times more than the Bears (35-23). A consistent complaint throughout Chicago is that first-time offensive coordinator Mike Tice cannot stay committed to the run. It's a valid criticism, as on numerous occasions this season Tice has been too quick to abandon the run game in favor of a pass-happy attack.
That's an issue of play calling. It's symptomatic of a coordinator that has never had the duty of calling every offensive play in a 16-game schedule. Tice doesn't have the experience of quickly searching through a list of 300 or more plays to find those that can be successful in each of the countless situations an offense goes through every game.
In essence, you could say that Houston won on Sunday night because they stayed committed to the run, while the Bears didn't. Yet look closer and you find clues of an offensive line that just wasn't creating holes.
The Bears finished the game with 115 yards rushing at 5.0 yards per carry. Yet those numbers are skewed by three Cutler runs that totaled 37 yards. The club's main ball carrier, Matt Forte, ran 16 times for just 39 yards, good for a 2.4 average. That is a problem of execution, of an offensive line that just could not create running room against Houston's 3-4 defense. The failed blocking, and not Tice, is what led to Chicago passing the ball 33 times.
The stat sheet also shows Bush with three carries for 34 yards. He fumbled on his first touch of the night, which sent him into Tice's doghouse. But at what point in a contest does punishing someone become a priority over winning the game?
Forte was not picking up yards on the ground. He had 11 yards on 7 carries at the half. It just wasn't working. Tice should have considered leaning on Bush, his other quality running back, who seemed a better fit against the Texan's powerful front seven. Yet Tice gave Bush just two carries in the second half, choosing instead to keep pounding Forte into the teeth of Houston's defense. It was again a failure in play-calling but also in personnel management.
This was also a problem in the use of Kellen Davis, who was having a horrible night. After fumbling his first reception, the Bears immediately went back to him on the next drive, resulting in an interception. Yet Tice kept calling his number, resulting in three dropped passes in the second half, one of which would have put the Bears in position to potentially score a game-tying touchdown. When you have a player that is struggling, one that has never proven to be a viable weapon in the passing attack, why keep throwing to him?
The final problem is a combination of play calling and execution. WR Brandon Marshall last night once again led the team in catches (8) and receiving yards (107). It was his fifth 100-yard game of the season, exactly the type of campaign you want from a No. 1 wideout.
The second-leading receiver last night? TE Matt Spaeth.
Chew on that for a second …
Spaeth had three catches for four yards. In fact, outside of Marshall, no other Chicago player had more than nine receiving yards. Tice, as well as passing coordinator Jeremy Bates, has not figured out a way to get the other receivers in the offense involved. In nine weeks, they still can't get the guy with the best hands on the team, Earl Bennett, more than a catch or two per contest (one catch for nine yards against Houston).
Yet it's not just the fault of Tice and Bates, the receivers themselves deserve a lot of the blame. Dropped passes, poorly run routes and general miscommunication within the offense has plagued Chicago's second and third tier of pass catchers.
And to top it all off, Campbell, also known as "Check Down Charlie", will be at the helm for as long Cutler's concussion keeps him out. To put it kindly, this offense is a mess.
Going forward, Chicago's offense cannot repeat last night's performance if they truly expect to win a championship. The players and coaches all need to own up to their mistakes and get the problems fixed.
Point the finger anywhere you want. Everyone is culpable.
If they do not collectively fix these problems, which have lingered through nine weeks, then this team – which boasts arguably the best defense the franchise has seen in more than 25 years, one that held the Texans to just one touchdown – has no hope of playing in February.
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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.