Commentary

Where to begin?

Bears' offensive struggles are so widespread, even players are at a loss for words

Updated: September 27, 2011, 2:47 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Now, he doesn't like to swear, but Lovie Smith just plumb doggone hates it when reporters say "the Mike Martz offense."

"First of all," Smith likes to say, "it's the Chicago Bears' offense."

Smith might want to hold the flag on those challenges. Give Martz the credit or the blame, because if I were the head coach of this team, I'd defer on the credit for that rag-tag bunch.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bears needed to dust off old record books to find the last time they looked so bad running the ball.

The Bears put together their worst rushing performance since 1952 on Sunday in a worse-than-it-looks 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Bears' "12 will get you 13" rushing attack combined with a passing game that could best be defined as scattershot. Take away Matt Forte, like the Packers nearly did, and the Bears' offense would be lucky to win a sandlot game.

Does this pass-happy, finish-sad offense even have an identity three games into the season? Is atrocious an identity?

"The first game we were clicking, and the next two we were kind of misfiring and here and there," Jay Cutler said. "So until we're more consistent, I guess we don't."

Here's Forte with another sad-sack summary:

"We didn't run the ball well," he said. "We threw the ball a little bit, and we got things going. We had a bunch of three-and-outs. We didn't play well at all."

Roy Williams is new here and thus far is not doing much to reverse his declining reputation. But at least he's a go-to guy for quotes.

"We haven't been that consistent offense that drives and drives," he said. "It's three and out and then go down to score, then three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out and drive a little bit."

The Bears had six three-and-out drives, including three in a row to start the second half, one drive that lasted one play -- an interception -- and another that lasted two plays, also ending in an interception. The Bears' other one-play drive was a winner -- a 32-yard touchdown pass that was all effort from tight end Kellen Davis.

The Bears had a series in the fourth quarter that was so awful I'm not going to describe it until the end of the column because I'm afraid I'll lose readers to a fatal case of ennui.

While Forte, one of the most dynamic backs in the league, only picked up 2 yards on nine carries, Cutler was hit or miss. He did have his deep ball working a few times, and threw for 302 yards, just eclipsing Adam Podlesh's 298 yards punting. Cutler also looked like he was working on a different game plan than his receivers, overthrowing passes by alarming heights.

Sure, Martz can draw up the most creative passing game since Don Coryell, but sometimes you feel like the Bears would be better off with Cutler drawing plays in the dirt with his finger. That's what half the plays look like anyway, when confusion seems to be the only thing everyone agrees upon.

I'm painting a bleak picture because that's the reality right now. You can't say the Martz offense is a lost cause just yet, one season and three games in, because the Bears currently are struggling with key injuries.

Depth at skill positions is always a problem at Halas Hall, because, as general manager Jerry Angelo said at the NFL combine in 2010, "We just don't collect talent. That isn't what this is about."

The two missing pieces in the loss were right tackle Gabe Carimi and receiver Earl Bennett. Running back Marion Barber hasn't played yet, but it's not like the Bears are a franchise that likes to get off the bus running the football or anything.

Bennett's absence for most of the past two games (Roman Harper knocked him out in the first quarter in New Orleans with a chest injury) has been noticeable. He's the receiver Cutler trusts when the pressure's coming, and just by his absence he's second to Forte in the offense's MVP race. Undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher is a willing replacement, but Bennett clearly has better hands.

Williams, the kind of guy who always looks like he's coasting even when he's not, said his groin injury was bothering him but he felt compelled to play. Give him credit for trying, but he wasn't doing anything worth the time spent on the sideline exercise bike. He and Cutler need to figure some basic stuff out, because they were so out of sync you wondered whether they'd ever met.

One can start to feel the frustration and maybe some tension among the offensive players, especially Cutler. He gets a lot of flak for his dismissive personality, but he's addressing the team's problems in a matter-of-fact style. The fact is that the Bears' offense is awful, and it matters.

Asked about the all-pass, no-run game plan, Cutler said, "We are 0-2 doing it, so it's not looking very good."

Cutler isn't allowed to audible in Martz's offense. Instead, he and the receivers have built-in options that should negate the need to change a play at the line of scrimmage. In theory.

What if the game plan should change, he was asked.

"It's so hit-and-miss with what we are doing well and what we aren't doing well that I don't even know where to begin there," he said.

And the man behind the curtain -- well, we don't know what Martz was thinking after this one. He's off-limits until Wednesday. Last week he took the blame for the offensive imbalance in New Orleans.

Both Smith and Angelo were adamant that the Bears would get back to running the ball before the Green Bay game. That didn't happen, though Forte wasn't pinning the blame on Martz.

"We didn't run the ball because we weren't able to," Forte said. "We just played bad out there. Obviously when they're shutting the run down, you try to throw the ball a little bit. So it just didn't happen."

The Bears' final numbers were epically bad. The 12 rushing attempts for 13 yards is, we think, the second-worst rushing game in team history. All the Bears game books before 1966 burned in a fire, a team spokesman said, but their online records show it's the worst game since 1960.

It's not like the run game was working Sunday. Green Bay's front seven was getting plenty of penetration against the Bears' wobbly line.

To their credit, the offensive line minimized the pressure on Cutler (only three sacks for a loss of 24 yards! Progress!) who had plenty of time to throw downfield, but Forte got tackled for a loss six separate times. He only had nine carries, remember.

Then again, it's not like the Bears were looking for seams all game. Forte only got three carries in the second half, not much better than his scant touches in New Orleans.

Once again, Forte led the team in receptions, with seven catches for 80 yards. Cutler did connect on deep passes to Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Davis. His two picks were intended for Williams.

After watching this game in person, it seems like the Bears were stuck in neutral all game, but they had chances to steal the game.

In their last drive of the first half, Cutler completed a 40-yard pass to Knox and Forte took a pass 28 yards to the Packers' 7 before Cutler threw three straight incomplete passes. They wound up kicking a field goal and going into the half down 17-10.

Lance Briggs forced a fumble to start the fourth quarter and Cutler and Davis connected for a 32-yard score to make it 27-17.

Four plays into the Packers' next drive, Brian Urlacher made a phenomenal interception, nearly identical to the one he had in the season opener.

"Once 'Lach' got that pick, that's when the momentum, I felt, changed around," Hester said.

The Bears had the ball at their own 45-yard line with 9½ minutes to play. The ensuing drive was mesmerizing in its awfulness.

The series started with a Frank Omiyale false start. Cutler was picked off on the next play, but offsetting fouls -- holding on the Bears, roughing the passer on the Packers -- negated the turnover. Then a holding call made it first-and-25. On second-and-20, after a 2-yard Cutler run, Hester got into a slap fight with cornerback Sam Shields. Hester said Shields had been instigating for a while, but the Bears receiver was tagged with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. That made it third-and-33.

There are no plays for third-and-33. Even in the Mike Martz offense.

Last week, everyone was trying to figure out whom to blame for the debacle in New Orleans. Now it's clear: It's everyone. For a team that has set the standard for offensive inadequacies, the Bears look worse than ever.

As a not-so wise man once said here, the pieces are in place. The result is a puzzle.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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