Bears' Offense Becomes Force

For all the talk about Chicago's defense and special teams, Jay Cutler and Matt Forte lead an underrated offensive attack that has been averaging 28.0 points per game down the stretch and put 38 on the board against the vaunted Jets last week.

Other than quarterback Jay Cutler and returner Devin Hester, the Chicago Bears' offense lacks a household name. But that doesn't mean the Bears' attack won't provide a much bigger challenge for the Green Bay Packers than it did in Week 3.

In that game back on Sept. 27, the Bears were held to 276 yards, allowed three sacks and converted 3-of-12 on third down and 0-for-2 in goal-to-go situations. Their longest scoring drive covered merely 44 yards.

However, Chicago has found its stride down the stretch. Even with a 36-7 loss to New England two weeks ago, the Bears are averaging 28.0 points per game in their last five contests, including 78 points in back-to-back wins over Minnesota and the New York Jets.

The Bears have won seven of their last eight games to win the NFC North and earn a first-round bye. It starts with Cutler, who is playing the best ball of his career. In those seven wins, Cutler has thrown 16 touchdown passes with five interceptions. In his last five games, he's had passer ratings of 146.2 vs. Philadelphia, 117.0 vs. Detroit, 106.6 vs. Minnesota and 104.2 vs. the Jets.

Compare that to his first seven games, when the Bears were 4-3, with Cutler's seven touchdown passes matching his seven interceptions and just one game of a 100-plus passer rating.

Cutler's reputation is that he'll throw the ball up for grabs when under pressure, but that trait has mostly vanished of late behind an offensive line that has started together for the last eight games.

"Jay Cutler is playing very well," coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. "I think this segment of the season, this is the best he has played. (The need to pressure the quarterback) won't change, regardless of who is playing, but you definitely want to get after him. He is able to make all of the throws. They have been very productive in big plays of late. I don't think you can just put that one tendency on one individual. Some players handle pressure other than others. They seem to be playing a lot better in the fourth quarter of the season."

Cutler has taken a ton of sacks, with his 46 leading the league by a mile over Washington's Donovan McNabb (37). But, like was the case with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers last season, the Bears have mitigated those issues. In the first seven games, Cutler was sacked 27 times, an average of 3.9 per game. In the last eight games, he's been sacked 19 times (2.4 per game) — and better still, five times in the last three games.

Given time, Cutler has thrived like never before. His passer rating of 90.6 is the best of his career, and his plus-nine in touchdowns vs. interceptions (23-14) is better than 2008 and 2009 combined (52-44).

Outside of fantasy football geeks, his receivers aren't exactly a who's-who but they shouldn't be underestimated. Johnny Knox (51, catches, 960 yards, five touchdowns) ranks fifth in the league with an 18.8-yard average, sure-handed Earl Bennett (46-561-3), Cutler's former Vanderbilt teammate, is a reliable possession receiver who's dropped just one pass, and Devin Hester (39-459-4) is the Bears' best player, according to McCarthy. Tight end Greg Olsen (36-375-5) has seen his numbers drop under coordinator Mike Martz but caught 60 passes last year.

Meanwhile, running back Matt Forte has been superb during the second half of the season as Martz has gone to a 50-50 pass-run split since the midseason bye. In the first 10 games, Forte averaged more than 4.1 yards per carry just once. Since then, Forte has rushed for 411 yards on just 72 carries, a 5.7-yard average, including 113 yards, a 5.9-yard average and a 22-yard touchdown against the Jets' fourth-ranked run defense last week.

For the season, Forte has rushed for 978 yards on a career-best 4.4 yards a pop — a far cry over last year's 929 yards and 3.6 average. Plus, he's caught 43 passes for 487 yards. In Week 3, Forte was held to 29 yards on 11 carries and 14 yards on two catches as part of a four-game stretch in which he didn't average more than 2.9.

"You can make a case that the MVP of our team here lately has been Matt Forte," Bears coach Lovie Smith told Packers beat reporters during a conference call. "He's really been playing outstanding ball, whether it's catching it out of the backfield, or running, whatever we've asked him to do."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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