Despite Big Win, Red Zone Struggles a Concern

The scoreboard may have said 26-0 when the final gun sounded on Sunday at Lambeau Field, but the offense was only able to put the ball in the end zone once. Four Robbie Gould field goals and a Devin Hester punt return accounted for the rest of the scoring. Perhaps the critics are nitpicking, but red zone efficiency certainly needs to be addressed.

On the surface, everything was just fine with the offense last Sunday.

Rex Grossman emerged from an up-and-down preseason and looked ready to live up to his first-round billing. The fourth-year quarterback completed 18-of-26 passes for a career-high 262 yards and a touchdown.

Thomas Jones got the start in the backfield, and although he didn't put up mesmerising numbers, 21 carries for 63 yards wasn't too bad considering he missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury. Cedric Benson contributed with 34 yards on 11 attempts, and any time you can get 32 total rushes out of your tailbacks, that's a good sign.

Muhsin Muhammad backed up all of his strong talk with six catches for 102 yards, proving he is still a top-flight receiver in this league with his first century-mark effort in a Bears uniform. Fellow wideouts Bernard Berrian and Rashied Davis only had one reception each, but Berrian's was a 49-yard TD strike that quieted the Lambeau Field crowd in a hurry.

It has been years since the Bears had a legitimate threat at the tight end position, and offensive coordinator Ron Turner showed that all the talk about getting them more involved wasn't just lip service. Newly-svelte Desmond Clark reeled in five passes for 77 yards and was a big factor in the aerial attack.

The special teams did their fair share, as well, coming up with a fumble recovery after a kickoff and scoring a touchdown on a sparkling punt return from rookie Devin Hester. Kicker Robbie Gould was perfect on the day with four field goals, connecting from as far away as 40 yards with plenty of room to spare.

Unfortunately, Gould probably never should have attempted all four of those field goals, and therein lies the potential problem for this team.

As well as they played, as lop-sided as the score was, as loud as their announcement that they are the best team in the NFC North was, four field goals and zero touchdowns in the red zone is not a good sign. Drives sputtered down the stretch, the running game came up empty deep in Packer territory, and Grossman made another head-scratching throw in the back of the end zone that resulted in an interception.

Does head coach Lovie Smith need to be worried?

If all he wants to do is defend last year's division title, then no, he has no reason to be worried. The Bears went 11-5 last season with an offense that was not near as potent as this one could possibly be. Grossman brings much more to the table than Kyle Orton, Berrian and Davis look to be contributors - along with Mark Bradley - assuming they can stay healthy, and the Jones-Benson one-two punch should make the running game formidable.

But if Smith envisions a Super Bowl run for his team, then yes, he has the right to be concerned.

The Bears can win games kicking field goals, that's for sure. The defense is potentially even better than 2005's suffocating unit, and Hester looks to be a difference-maker already in the return game.

That being said, championship teams score touchdowns. Jones and Benson need to find a crease and explode toward the goalline. Muhammad needs to use his size and strength to wrestle the ball away from defenders on the fade route. Clark needs to find a soft spot in the end zone like he did the final preseason game in Cleveland. Gould had a great training camp and could be one of the better kickers in the NFL very soon, but he would much rather be lining up for extra points.

It's only one game. Bears fans need to remind themselves not to get too high or two low after such a small sample of full-speed football. However, a letdown at Soldier Field against the Detroit Lions, another division rival, this Sunday will erase many of the good vibes the team created in Green Bay.

A 12-3 win would be nice, but a 28-3 touchdown barrage sounds much better.


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