The 4-3 Chicago Bears started the season strong but fizzled in the 2 games leading into the bye week. If the 4 wins this year brought concerns about the offensive line and play calling, the latest losses to the Seahawks and Redskins have brought even more scrutiny to the flaws of this first place team.
Almost as frustrating as the play itself is the way the coaches and players talk around the issues facing the team. Media and fans want straight answers to the questions and criticisms directed at the team. To say head coach Lovie Smith and his staff are guarded during press conferences and interviews is an understatement so we have to look beyond the words to find the true meaning.
“It’s always going to be a process, not only for me but for the receivers. They’ve got to be at the right spot at the right depth at the right time against the right coverage. So there are a lot of variables that are involved…”
Those who know the concept behind the Mike Martz offensive system understand Cutler throws to predetermined spots on the field and relies on his receivers to be there when the ball arrives. Cutler wants it to be clear that not every one of his 7 interceptions this season (including 4 to DeAngelo Hall last week) were his fault. When receivers run wrong routes or break off routes early in this offense it leads to turn overs because, unlike other systems, the quarterback has already thrown the ball before the receiver has made the mistake. Until the receivers become more experienced or more talented receivers are brought to the team Cutler will make some turn overs through no fault of his own.
“This is a critical point because the play of the offensive line was substantially better from even the week before, and I think that’s going to be huge.”
When it comes to the offensive line Martz is either taking the “think positive” approach or isn’t watching the same games as the rest of us. He speaks glowingly of the line and its improvements and praises the work of offensive line coach Mike Tice. Despite what he says Martz realizes that blocking is causing much of his teams’ offensive issues. The concern is, if he does really believe the line is improving, it gives him no reason to change his play calling. Until he admits to himself that only better talent will significantly improve the blocking he won’t commit to what he constantly promises; more running players and shorter, quicker drops for his quarterback.
“Protection-wise, it’s still a problem. It’s somethind we have to fix. We never really got the running game established. We didn’t get a whole lot done.”
Lovie Smith recognizes the offense is losing otherwise winnable games. Smith has generally been hands off with the offense being a defensive-minded coach. His criticisms of the offense this year are a clear message to Martz that he needs to be less stubborn with his “my way is the right way” mentality. Ironic coming from a coach that feels the same way about his version of the Cover-2 defense.
“When you have that many turnovers, of course there is a problem. I can’t say [who was at fault]. I know Jay was trying to win the football game as much as anyone out there.”
Coach Smith believes exceptional defense and special teams coupled with a ball-protection offense can win games. Last season must have been tough to stomach and it is possible one reason Jay has taken so many sacks this season is because he has been pressured to avoid turn overs when under pressure. Unlike what Brad Childress did with Favre last week, Smith will never completely throw Cutler under the bus but a defensive coach won’t fully accept that a vertical offense will come with its share of interceptions without a proper line and great receivers. This Bears’ team currently has neither.
This coaching staff will never directly communicate with the media or fans so its up to us to read between the lines each week.