NFC North: offense

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler expressed encouragement with how the Chicago Bears are trending toward no longer depending on the defense to carry the team, but understands that while it’s shown signs, the offense hasn’t exactly arrived.

“We didn’t do enough on our part to help win games [in the past],” Cutler said. “We put the defense in a lot of bad spots.”

The majority of the time now, it’s the offense bailing out an injured Chicago defense, which hasn’t surrendered fewer than 21 points in a game all season. The Bears rank No. 3 in scoring, and 11th in total offense, with Cutler sitting in the top 10 in five passing categories (passer rating, touchdown passes, completion percentage, completions, and passing yards).

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler leads a Bears offense that ranks No. 3 is scoring.
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTBD
Still, Cutler admits the offense hasn’t put together a complete game, but has found ways this season to put together some of the best showings of the quarterback’s tenure in Chicago.

“We’re getting there. We’re getting better and better,” Cutler said. “We’ve got a lot of good guys on the outside. The way the offensive line’s playing, we just got to keep it simple and get the ball to those guys efficiently because the way we’re blocking it’s making things easy for me.”

What might be easiest for the team, however, is a consistently complete effort from the offense, defense and special teams. Defensively, the Bears are allowing 395 yards per game, which ties for 26th in the league, and the unit is surrendering 28.6 points per game (27th).

But the defense has found a way to continuously force turnovers, which have been beneficial in helping the offense. The Bears are tied for second in takeaways (17), and rank No. 2 in points scored off takeaways (62).

“The most empowering thing is that turnovers are most of the game. If you play smart and create turnovers and take care of the ball, that’s the No. 1 factor in final scores,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “It’s not time of possession. It’s not yards gained. It’s turnovers. Turnovers are the most relevant stat, and up to this point we’ve been very good at it, which has enabled us to be in every game and have opportunities to win in the fourth quarter.”

The special-teams unit, meanwhile, has allowed a punt return for 57 yards, and a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown by Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson, in addition to a 46-yard return by Jerrel Jernigan in the win over the New York Giants.

In recent years, defense and special teams carried the Chicago Bears, and picked up the slack left by the team’s anemic offense.

Now, offense is arguably the strongest facet of the team.

“It’s a team deal, like we say,” said Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “The receivers have been doing a good job of getting open. We’ve been protecting. [Cutler] has been getting the ball off quickly. And so that’s when everybody looks good. When guys aren’t getting open or guys aren’t getting picked up in a blitz, that’s when [Cutler] doesn’t look good.”

Cutler calls what’s transpired over the first six games as “give and take” between the offense and defense, but looks forward to the time when his side of the ball can consistently carry the load.

“It takes the whole team,” Cutler said. “We haven’t put together four quarters yet. We’ve made some plays when we had to. We leaned on the defense in the fourth quarter in the Giants game, and they came through for us. I think we can be happy with the progress we’ve made offensively and the strides that we’re [making].”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer took exception Wednesday to the perception that the club has struggled in the running game and at adequately protecting quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Bears gave up three sacks in their first 12 plays from scrimmage Sunday in a loss to the New Orleans Saints, and the ground game churned out 94 yards with the offense in pass mode due to the club falling behind 20-7 at the break.

"Right now, if you look at statistically where we are -- and that's what a lot of people do; we're seventh in the league in rushing yards per carry, and we're sixth in the league in sacks given up," Kromer said. "So we have had one [bad] quarter and everyone panics that we can't play football in Chicago anymore. I say they're wrong."

Kromer's partially correct in his assessment.

The Bears rank 11th in the NFL in total offense (368.6 yards per game), are tied for sixth in rushing average (4.6 yards per carry) and are tied for fifth in sacks allowed as just one of seven teams in the league to surrender fewer than 10 through the first five games.

Chicago's offense is also No. 3 in the NFL in scoring (29 points per game).

Perhaps the offense's two most pronounced areas of deficiency are third-down conversion percentage (36) and average time of possession (29:10), two areas in which the team is 21st in the NFL. Last week's game skews Chicago's overall time of possession stat somewhat, given the offense possessed the ball for just 24 minutes while the Saints maintained possession for 36.

So despite the Bears losing two in a row, the club knows the season hasn't gotten away; that they're still trending upward offensively in terms of development.

"I think the key is you keep doing the things you know are right. You keep working on the things to make the corrections. You stay even-keeled," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "You don't lose your mind. You try to have common sense about it. You know it's a long road. It's a long journey and anything can happen, and you try not to reach and do things that others think you maybe should be doing. You try to be real pragmatic about it. We continue to grade ourselves, critique ourselves and try to find ways that we can detail our work and get better."

At this point, that's all the team should be doing to ensure they've developed sufficiently enough that during the playoff push in November and December they're able to deliver.