Against the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular season opener, we got our first chance to view Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman's brand new offense. It was a performance that was very sloppy in the first half, yet borderline brilliant in the final two quarters.
Chicago's offense rallied back from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter, scoring two crucial touchdowns down the stretch. We go to the game film to dissect the 10 most significant offensive plays from Sunday's 24-21 victory.
-First play of the game. The Bears line up in an unbalanced left, I formation. QB Jay Cutler is under center and WR Brandon Marshall is wide right. At the snap, Cutler fakes a handoff to RB Matt Forte, then turns to Marshall, who is running an in route. Yet Marshall is blanketed with a corner on his back and a linebacker underneath. Cutler then turns back to the left side of the field and finds TE Martellus Bennett wide open on a 7-yard hitch. Bennett drops the pass.
Last season, this play likely would have ended in Cutler forcing a pass to Marshall in double coverage, the results from which are anyone's guess. Yet on his first offensive play under Trestman, Cutler checks down and finds his second read. Right there, that's progress.
-3rd and 2. Chicago lines up three receivers and the Bengals counter with a nickel set. They are showing blitz off the right edge. At the snap, the outside linebacker blitzes but is picked up by RT Jordan Mills. DE Carlos Dunlap flies off the ball right at RG Kyle Long, yet Long steps inside to double team the nose tackle. This gives Dunlap a free run at Cutler, who is barely able to get off the incompletion before taking a shot to the chest.
Long and Mills have struggled with blitz pickup since camp. And sure enough, the first time the Bengals send an extra pass rusher, Long lets his guy go free. Overall, Chicago's offensive line didn't allow a sack but credit must be given to Cutler, who did a good job of avoiding the rush and getting the ball away. These types of rookie mistakes must get cleaned up or it will eventually hurt the offense.
-2nd and 7 from Cincinnati's 9-yard line. The Bears line up in a two-tight-end set with Bennett and Steve Maneri stacked on the right edge. Cutler is in shotgun with a receiver split wide to either side. At the snap, the Bengals bring a four-man rush that gets no pressure. Bennett releases up the right hash and into the end zone. He makes a head fake to the outside but it doesn't fool LB Rey Maualuga, who is in Bennett's hip pocket. Cutler sees his tight end clear the linebacker and just tosses an easy pass over the top of the defender. Maualuga gets a hand on the pass yet Bennett keeps his concentration and grabs the ball. He then gets hit by the safety, yet Bennett hangs on to the pass and keeps his feet in bounds.
This play shows Cutler's trust in Bennett, particularly in the red zone. The big tight end is athletic and knows how to use his big body in jump-ball situations. It was a strong play by the Bears' newest end-zone threat.
-3rd and 7 at the Chicago 35-yard line. The Bears line up in a three-receiver set with Cutler in shotgun. The Bengals are showing blitz all over the line of scrimmage. At the snap, Cincinnati brings seven pass rushers. Bennett and Forte stay in to block and the offensive line is able to pick up every rusher. The sheer number of bodies results in pressure, yet Mills and Long create a seam through which Cutler takes off. Just before he reaches the line of scrimmage, Cutler finds Bennett, who released from his block when the play broke down, on the right sideline. Bennett then rumbles for a 30-yard gain.
And here we go, the rookies are learning. On this play, Long gets a hand on the defensive tackle, yet he sees the blitz coming and peels off to clip a linebacker coming up the middle. This allows Cutler the room he needs to run. It was a great overall effort by the guys up front to pick up a kitchen-sink blitz, and an outstanding play by Cutler to turn a potential 10-yard loss into a 30-yard gain.
-1st and 10. The Bears lines up in a three-receiver set with Cutler in shotgun. At the snap, Cutler hands the ball to Forte on a quick draw. On the right side, Long, Mills and Bennett all slip past the defensive linemen and clear to the second level immediately. RG Matt Slauson pulls behind the play and explodes into the two down linemen, creating a seam for Forte, who finds himself in open space with three blockers in front of him. Long ends up missing his block and the play goes for just six yards but it was a solid play design and a great kick-out block by Slauson.
A few plays later, the Bears have 2nd and goal at the 2-yard line. They line up in the exact same formation and run the exact same run play. Again, Slauson clears out the right side on the kick-out and Forte is able to waltz into the end zone for the score.
-2nd and 15 from the Chicago 20-yard line. The Bears line up with Cutler in shotgun and Forte to his right. Bennett and Alshon Jeffery are to the right side of the formation, with Maneri and WR Brandon Marshall on the left side. Before the snap, Maneri motions right. At the snap, Cutler fakes a handoff to Forte heading left. Cutler then rolls out to his right. Marshall runs behind the offensive line and tries to clear into the right flat but he's covered. Cutler lifts his arm to throw but then thinks better of it. Instead, he turns back and finds Forte 1-on-1 for a 24-yard gain.
Like he did on the first play of the game, Cutler avoided forcing the ball to Marshall and found the open receiver. Again, he's showing progress.
-3rd and 2. With Cutler in shotgun, the Bears stack two tight ends on the left side with Marshall split wide right. The Bengals counter with man coverage, with two defenders across from Marshall, leaving just one safety in the deep middle. At the snap, Marshall clears the corner in front of him and gets an outside release. Cutler fires a touch pass over the defender, timed perfectly before the safety can get there. The play goes for a 38-yard gain.
The Bengals played a lot of Cover 2 in this game, forcing Cutler to rely on underneath routes for most of the contest. Yet on this play, Cincinnati showed Cover 1 and used single coverage on Marshall. That's a look that makes Cutler salivate and he took advantage of it.
-4th and inches at the Cincinnati 26-yard line. The Bears line up in an I-formation with a tight end on either side of the line. At the snap, Cutler hands the ball to Forte on an off-tackle right play. There is penetration up the middle, so Forte immediately bounces the play outside. FB Tony Fiammatta swings wide and puts a nice block on the linebacker, which gives Forte enough room to pick up eight yards and the first down.
Overall, Fiammetta did not have a strong game as a lead blocker but on this snap, he made a crucial block on arguably the biggest play of the game. Forte also showed his trademark field vision with a phenomenal first cut that left half of the Bengals' defense in his dust.
-1st and 10. On the next play, the Bears line up Jeffery wide left with Marshall in the slot. Cutler is under center with Fiammetta and Forte stacked in an I-set behind him. The Bengals counter by placing a linebacker across from Marshall, who sees it and points it out to Cutler. The linebacker then creeps up to the line and ends up blitzing, leaving Marshall 1-on-1 with the safety. Cutler fakes a handoff and lobs a bullet to Marshall on a deep out route in the front corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Cutler said after the game the play was meant for Bennett down the seam but you have to believe he was chomping at the bit once he saw Marshall manned up on a safety. Honestly, it was just a matter of time before this one ended in a Bears touchdown.
-3rd and 1 at midfield. With less than three minutes in the game, the Bears line up in a short-yardage situation. RB Michael Bush is stacked behind Fiammetta in the backfield. The call is an up-the-middle run, yet it's not blocked very well. Defensive linemen Domata Peko and Carlos Dunlap both get good push on the right side. Yet Bush just lowers his head and slams into the defenders, driving his legs until he picks up the first down.
Bush was a major disappointment last year but that was due in large part to a shoulder injury that plagued him all season. Now healthy, he showed on this play why the Bears are paying him $3.5 million per year. He single-handedly picks up this crucial third and short, which keeps the game -linching drive alive and allows the team to run out the clock and seal the victory.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.