As the Bears begin preparations for the playoffs, their offensive play-calling in Sunday's loss to the Packers should remind them of the formula they used to win seven of eight games prior to the regular-season finale.
The balance of rushing and pass plays that helped produce a 7-1 record after the bye was nowhere to be found at Lambeau Field. A similar imbalance could make the Bears' postseason a short one.
In the eight games after their bye at the end of October, the Bears were the only NFL team that had more run plays than pass plays. But they inexplicably abandoned that strategy against the Packers. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for 47 passes and 18 runs. Cutler threw 39 passes, was sacked six times and ran twice when chased from the pocket. That's similar to the ratio that the Bears used in back-to-back home losses to the Seahawks and Redskins just before the break, during which Martz and Co. made a commitment to the ground game that fueled the run to the playoffs.
Cutler was sacked 10 times in those two losses and threw four interceptions with just one touchdown pass.
Going pass heavy against the Packers made even less sense because the Bears were having success running the ball in the first half, even though they didn't do it much.
After averaging 7.2 yards on nine running plays in the first half, Martz called just nine more running plays in the second half, which produced 37 yards. There were also two Jay Cutler runs for eight yards on designed pass plays.
"Offensively, I like the way we ran the football," coach Lovie Smith said. "We see going into the playoffs that you have to rely on the run. There will be times when you'll have to be able to run the football or just want to run the football, and we see that we can do that."
So why not run it more?
Instead the Bears tried unsuccessfully to force the ball to their wide receivers. Cutler threw 13 passes to Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, which produced a total of one catch for 16 yards. Both of Cutler's interceptions came on passes intended for Hester or Knox.
"Passing-game wise, we know that we have weapons, and we can pass the football when we want to pass the football in the playoffs," Smith said.
That absolutely wasn't true against the Packers. The only thing the Bears proved in that game is that their wide receivers can be taken out of the game by quality cornerbacks, especially when Cutler is pressured. Smith admitted that the inability to protect Cutler was a problem.
"I think it's a concern every time you give up a sack," Smith said. "That's a little bit too much pressure on our quarterback. (There were) a lot of reasons for that."
One major reason was that the Packers didn't have to worry about stopping the run.
The Patriots did the same thing when they jumped to an early lead in Week 14, forced the Bears to throw and limited Knox and Hester to four catches for 33 yards.
Asked about the lopsided pass-run ratio vs. the Packers, Smith mentioned the final, futile drive when, with time running out, 13 straight pass plays were called.
But even before that, the Bears had called 34 pass plays and 18 runs, which defies logic, considering that they averaged 5.5 yards on run plays that didn't involve Cutler scrambles. On their 45 pass plays, not counting Cutler's two runs, the Bears managed a total of just 117 yards, an average of 2.6 yards per play.
After the 2009 season, the Lions turned over about 60 percent of their roster. They swept out every defensive back not named Louis Delmas.
"I know the nucleus of this team is coming back," center Dominic Raiola said. "We've walked out of here in the past not knowing what was going to happen. But I see a lot of these guys, most of these guys, coming back."
That, as much as the season-ending four-game win streak, is fueling the players' optimism for 2011. The coaching staff and the systems are expected back intact for a third straight season, unheard of during Matt Millen's reign in Detroit.
"Across the board, offense and defense, we are still looking to improve the roster," coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. "We are still looking to improve our starting 22. But we aren't looking at an overhaul. Even at the spots where we do have need, it's not like it was last year with the defensive backs where we erased everybody except Louis Delmas.
"There are a lot of guys here that we will continue moving forward with, and a lot of them might not be starters."
Every starter and main backup on offense is expected to return for 2011. On defense, starting defensive end Cliff Avril can be a restricted free agent (pending what happens with the new collective bargaining agreement), while starting cornerback Chris Houston and defensive end Turk McBride could become restricted free agents.
The Lions, though, can tender all three of those players. Among those who have probably played their final games with the Lions are outside linebacker Julian Peterson, cornerback Nathan Vasher (unrestricted) and safety C.C. Brown (unrestricted).
Outside linebacker Landon Johnson is also unrestricted, but the Lions may try to bring him back.
"We have talked before about having to address the starting 22 before you can address your depth," Schwartz said. "What has happened this year is, because of the injuries and other things, we have been able to address a lot of the depth issues. Now we have to start adding pieces to the starting 22."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Head coach Mike McCarthy had some strong words for Aaron Rodgers and the offense Monday, as the Packers turned their focus to the start of the playoffs.
"I think he's had a good year," McCarthy said of his quarterback, "but it's time for him and the offense to put their best foot forward when we go to Philadelphia."
The Packers sputtered on the offensive side Sunday but still beat the Chicago Bears 10-3 in the regular-season finale to gain the final NFC wild-card spot.
Green Bay will play at the NFC East champion Eagles in a first-round game Sunday.
A week after the Packers put up 45 points for the second time, they had one of their worst scoring efforts this season. They were shut out for nearly three quarters and didn't get their lone touchdown until Rodgers' 1-yard throw to tight end Donald Lee with 12:42 left in the final quarter for the deciding points.
"We just didn't make any plays," Rodgers said. "You've got to give (the Bears) credit. I didn't throw the ball as well as I have this season, and we had a couple of opportunities we didn't make.
"I think everybody took a collective sigh of relief that this one's past us and now we're on to the playoffs."
Rodgers was 19-of-28 for 229 yards with an interception as he came up 78 yards short of becoming the first player in league history to throw for 4,000 yards in each of his first three seasons as a starter.
The Packers also had a fumble by receiver Donald Driver, dropped four passes, incurred four penalties by rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga and failed to punch the football in for a touchdown after having first-and-goal at the Bears' 1 in the third quarter.
"I didn't like the way we handled the football (Sunday)," McCarthy said. "We did not execute at the level we're capable of. But, we're 10-6, we're in the playoffs, we're a damn good offense, and we need to get ready for Philadelphia."