Down 21-17 to the Green Bay Packers with less than two minutes to play in the first half, the Chicago Bears last week were in a position to take a 24-21 lead, as well as momentum, into the Soldier Field locker room.
Instead, on a 2nd and goal from the 9-yard line with no timeouts remaining, quarterback Jay Cutler found tight end Martellus Bennett at the 1-yard line and time ran out. The Bears were unable to post even three points and were then outscored 17-0 in the second half.
Overall, the Bears went 2 for 4 in the red zone against the Green Bay Packers. That, combined with two turnovers, led to the lopsided home loss.
“We were productive until we got in the red zone. We’re used to scoring in the red zone and we didn’t do that this time,” coordinator Aaron Kromer said this week.
Since Marc Trestman was hired as head coach, rarely has Chicago’s offense had to overcome red-zone inefficiency. The Bears finished seventh in the NFL in 2013 in red-zone touchdown percentage (58.3) and through four game this season are second in the NFL with a 71.4 TD percentage.
Going 2-4 for against the Packers, when the offense was moving the ball at will between the 20s, was a road block the Bears could not clear.
“We need to do a better job with the plan and we need to do a better job executing the plays that are called,” Kromer said. “There is no excuse for us to go two for four in the red zone and one for three in the goal-line area. We just have to do a better job of planning for that and executing the plays that we call.”
The Bears accumulated 496 total yards in Week 4, 235 coming on the ground, with 33 first downs. Yet their inability to match the Packers in scoring, despite out-gaining them by 139 yards, is the main reason the Bears are 2-2 and not 3-1.
“I don’t think we can expect more than 500 yards of offense but as far as points, yeah, we have to finish drives better,” said Kromer. “They did a good job on defense and we didn’t do a good job on offense and we’re used to doing that. We have been very productive inside the 10 and inside the 20-yard line and in that particular game we were not. We expect wholeheartedly to score when we get that close.”
After the team finished second in the league last year in points scored (27.8 points per game) the Bears have fallen to 17th this season in points (23.0). With the defense unlikely to find consistency this year, the offense will need to take on more burden in winning, meaning more points will be necessary during the next 12 contests.
After missing last week due to pneumonia, Bears defensive end Jared Allen practiced the past two days and is listed as probable on the injury report. Despite losing 15 pounds during his illness, dropping from 254 down to 239, Allen is going to give it a go against the Carolina Panthers, although his reps will likely be limited.
“We had him in a rotation the last time he played. We moved the guys around,” Trestman said. “I think we’ve really got to see where Jared’s at. He looks like he’s gained a lot of energy this week. I mean his energy’s been high. Hopefully the loss of weight won’t debilitate him too much in the game but we’ll just see how it goes. It’s good to have him back. He’s certainly practiced during the week and he’s going to play. That’s a good thing for all of us.”
Trestman said Allen will start the game at his usual right end position but he’ll be monitored as the game progresses. Considering how ill he was recently, it would be surprising if Allen played more than 20 snaps against the Panthers, meaning Willie Young and Lamarr Houston will have more on their plates this Sunday.
Marshall FINALLY HEALTHY
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall practiced in full this week, his first full practices since the first week of the season. He said he hasn’t been anywhere near 100 percent the past three contests, during which he’s caught just eight passes for 73 yards – although five of those catches have gone for touchdowns.
“I wasn't really even able to run back then. I couldn't even jog,” Marshall said. “We did some good things last week that really sped up the process and now I feel like I can do pretty much everything on the field.”
Marshall said he’ll be back to full speed against Carolina, which is good news for a Bears offense that has struggled to finish drives this season.
“I’m always on top of my body and doing things to stay healthy, be preventive and also get back to being explosive. It doesn’t matter if it’s an ankle injury or if it’s a nagging hammy, you’ve just got to stay on top of it,” Marshall said. “Like I said, I’ll be full speed and can do more this Sunday, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The Bears finished 2013 with the 8th best offense in the NFL and the 5th best passing attack. After four games this year, the offense ranks 20th in total offense and 14th in passing. With Marshall and fellow Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) both back to 100 percent, Chicago’s offense could be no the verge of finally playing up to its potential.
“We have a deadly offense and it’s funny because we haven’t really lived up to our full potential and I really believe in the next couple weeks we’ll probably hit full stride,” said Marshall. “So if we continue to hang in there and continue to get better every single play, every single week, I think in the next couple weeks we’ll put it all together.”
NEW-LOOK OFFENSIVE LINE
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod injured his knee and ankle in practice this week and will not play on Sunday. It will be the first game he’s missed since 2009.
“We’re practicing hard. We’re doing what we have to do and accidents happen,” Bushrod said. “I just got it rolled up on a little bit.”
“It's a different position, so you definitely have to prepare,” Ola said. “Technique-wise, I have to be a lot better. It's just different adjusting to the tackle position as opposed to guard. You definitely have to key in to the matchups.”
Ola said he’s fully aware of the importance of his performance against the Panthers.
“You definitely don't want to be that guy who gets Jay hit,” said Ola, “or I will be back to flipping burgers or something.”
With Ola at left tackle and Slauson back at left guard, the Bears will trot out their third different offensive line in five games this year.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.