Against the Green Bay Packers last week, the Chicago Bears' offense racked up 190 total yards – the group's third lowest single-game yardage total of the season. That lack of production is especially concerning this late in the campaign, when an offense should be reaching its peak heading into the playoffs. Instead, the Bears are regressing and have scored more than 17 points in just one contest since Week 9.
"You sit there after the game and you feel horrible and you think of what you could have done differently, better," coordinator Mike Tice said today. "You look at the last number of weeks where we didn't score enough points — what can you do better? So I said to myself when I came in Monday, ‘What can I do better to help me get better to help us win?‘ And that's the approach I'm taking this week."
The problem for Tice is that Chicago ranks in the bottom half of the league in nearly every offensive category.
OC Mike Tice
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports
Yards per game: 29th
Yards per play: 28th
Passing net yards per game: 28th
Passing net yards per play: 27th
Passing, percent had intercepted: 30th
Sacks per pass play: 30th
First downs per game: 25th
Third down efficiency: 16th
Fourth down efficiency: 24th
Red zone TD percentage: 19th
The only major offensive category in which the Bears rank in the top half of the league is rushing yards per game (12th). Yet in rushing yards per attempt, Chicago ranks just 19th.
So with every area of the offense struggling, where does Tice even begin?
"If I had that answer, the numbers would be up," he said. "We still have two games left in the regular season and we're going to continue to work at scoring points like we have in games earlier this season. I can't give you that answer. We're all searching right now."
Based on those comments, it's obvious the guy in charge of righting the ship isn't oozing confidence right now. But why should he? Since Week 2, Chicago's offense has been ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per game, peaking briefly at 19th overall in Week 5. Since Week 10, the group has been ranked 28th or worse each week.
The expectation was that Tice, a first-time offensive coordinator, would be able to gradually improve as a game planner and game-day play caller as the season progressed. That has not happened, with the Bears making the same mistakes – missed assignments, mental mistakes, miscommunication, drops, missed blocks, penalties – week in and week out.
Brandon Marshall expressed his frustration this week, saying he needs to find different ways to help the offense succeed.
"We can't keep making the same mistakes," Marshall said. "Not everyone's going to be perfect, but, even in that game I made some bone-headed mistakes. It's just making the same mistakes over and over – we can't do that. You hear the word accountability being thrown around. You see guys starting to look at themselves, and that's what it's about, especially at this time of the season when you're sitting where we're sitting. You take a look in the mirror and you figure what you need to do to get better."
Marshall has been the only constant on the offense – he's currently first in the league in catches (107) and second in receiving yardage (1,398) – so, realistically, there isn't much more he can do. Going forward, the onus falls on his teammates to improve, as well as Tice.
"It's hard when you have a string like this. Frustrations mount," said Tice. "We're all accountable. It starts with me. I'm wearing the hat. I have to do a better job. I've been in this league a long time and know how that pecking order works. It falls on my shoulders."
Mike Tice & Brandon Marshall
The Bears started the 2012 campaign 7-1, yet have dropped five of their last six, including three straight, and no longer control their playoff fate. Every part of the team can take blame for the recent skid but the majority should be heaped on the offense. Despite mounting injuries to key players, Chicago's defense still ranks in the top half of the league in nearly every defensive category – rushing yards per attempt (18th) and fourth down efficiency (27th) are the only exceptions.
Yet, despite the recent freefall, the Bears still have a shot at making the playoffs.
"We have two weeks left. I've been on an 8-8 team that went into Green Bay and won a playoff game, got in the playoffs," Tice said. "You just have to play the game you're playing. We have to win our game."
That game this week is against the Arizona Cardinals, who, despite their 5-9 record, have a strong defense that will provide another tough challenge for Tice.
The Cardinals have held opposing quarterbacks to a 68.0 rating, the lowest in the league. Opposing QBs are completing 54.4 of their passes, third lowest in the NFL, while Arizona's 36 sacks are fifth most in the league.
"They show a lot of different looks, they're not afraid to blitz you and have talented guys in the secondary and linebackers. It's challenging," Jay Cutler said. "They create turnovers, they're really good on third down, so we've got our hands full."
The Cardinals have intercepted 14 passes in the second half of the season, the most over that time span. They lead the league in total picks (22) and defensive interception percentage (5.0 percent). Second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson is second in the NFL in picks (7.0), behind Chicago's Tim Jennings (8.0).
Based on these numbers, it will be a tough week for Tice to get Chicago's offense back on track.
"At the end of the day when you're on offense it's about scoring points," Tice said. "We need to score more points. We need to execute the game plan. We need to make sure we have a good game plan. We need to make sure I call plays where the players have a chance to make plays. Do a better job at that. And then have a great, great week of practice and go down there with good energy and win the damn football game."
This is a big week, for if the offense sputters out this season, it could cost Chicago a shot at the playoffs, and will likely cost Tice, Smith and the rest of the coaching staff their jobs.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.