The Chicago Bears have not yet conducted a full team practice with both veterans and rookies. As such, the coaching staff is taking a cautious approach to building the offense, which is arguably the biggest unknown regarding the 2015 Bears.
“Part of coaching is adapting your scheme to players and putting them in position to have success. That won’t change whether it is offense, defense or special teams,” head coach John Fox said during rookie minicamp. “Right now we are evaluating our players to figure out maybe what kind of scheme will be the best. We’re going to be constantly changing it so it’s a little early to predict what that is yet.”
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase ran Denver’s offense for two seasons with Peyton Manning. Here were the Broncos’ offensive rankings in 2013 and 2014:
Those are impressive rankings, yet do they mean anything for the Bears?
Gase was never a coordinator before 2013 and it’s fair to wonder how much influence Manning had in developing and executing offensive schemes and game plans.
This is Gase’s first offense without Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in league history. Not only that but Gase is taking a substantial step back at quarterback, by far the most important position on the field, with Jay Cutler.
Will Gase just replace the cover of his Broncos playbook with the Bears’ logo or is he starting from scratch?
“We’re still evolving right now,” Gase said last week. “The big thing about this offense is it’s flexible, it’s fluid. We’re going to play to the players’ strengths. We’re not going to do, ‘hey, this is what we did in Denver.’ Nobody cares. We’re going to do what we do here in Chicago.”
With Manning, Gase emphasized the aerial attack, averaging 291 passing yards per game in 2014 and 340 yards per contest in 2013. Yet to reach those levels, the Broncos had to dial up a plethora of pass plays. Manning finished 8th in the NFL in pass attempts last year (597) and 1st in 2013 (659).
In terms of balance, the Broncos ran 1.37 pass plays for every 1.0 run play in 2014, and 1.46 to 1.0 in 2013.
While that was an effective ratio with Manning, the same can’t be said for Cutler, who often struggles the more he’s asked to carry an offense. Since 2009, the Bears are 12-24 when Cutler attempts 35 or more passes, so piling up Cutler’s plate as if Manning were at the helm isn’t likely to succeed.
If the Bears are truly dedicated to building the offense around player strengths, a balanced approach appears far more likely.
The value of a strong run game is not lost on Fox. Consider this: in three of four years before inheriting Manning, rushing offenses under Fox finished 3rd, 3rd and 1st in the NFL.
So instead of forcing Cutler to do the heavy lifting – also known as “pulling a Trestman” – the Bears would be better served leaning heavily on the run game.
When considering this year’s draft class – which included two offensive linemen and a running back – it appears Gase and Fox are on that same page.
To supplement the run game, a large dose of play action will do Cutler wonders. Under Trestman, ball fakes were a downright joke, with Cutler barely pulling the ball away from his body long enough to give even the slightest illusion he was handing it off. If Cutler takes a page from Manning, who actually puts the ball into the running back’s gut before yanking it out, play action can be very successful.
In addition, it would behoove the team to move Cutler out of the pocket on a regular basis. He’s had a lot of success throughout his career on bootlegs and rollouts, particularly under Mike Shanahan in Denver from 2006-2008. It was an aspect of Cutler’s skill set almost completely ignored by Trestman. Don’t expect the new staff to make the same mistake.
“I’ve known Adam for a long time,” Cutler said during voluntary minicamp. “He’s got kind of a blend of an offense. Some of the stuff I know. Some of the stuff is completely foreign. Some of the stuff is all new. I don’t think he really is going to figure it out until we get more practices in and he can kind of see what we have offensively.”
What the Bears have offensively is a foursome of running backs, led by two-time Pro Bowler Matt Forte, who was third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year. The club signed Jacquizz Rodgers in free agency and spent fourth-round picks in two consecutive drafts on Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford.
There is not dearth of talent in Chicago’s backfield, so it would be shocking if Gase is as short-sighted as his predecessor. If the Bears fail to evolve into a run-first team, then all bets are off considering Cutler’s penchant for turnovers. Gase and Fox understand this as well as anyone.
The passing attack won’t be ignored, especially with Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery and first rounder Kevin White on the field. Gase knows how to beat opposing defenses through the air and has weapons at his disposal. The key for him, as it was with Trestman, is to avoid game plans that rely too heavily on Cutler and the pass catchers.
“I really have a lot of respect for Adam and the staff he put together,” said Cutler. “Fox has a reputation, he knows how to win. They have a blueprint. I’m excited about where we’re going and the future.”
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.