Weekend Focus: Mike Martz’s Offense in Chicago
“I think all of the guys in the huddle knew it. We are on the verge of becoming I think a very good offense.”
Pre-season optimism is still rife in Chicago and there will be more than a sceptical eyebrow raised when quarterback Jay Cutler insists this Bears offense is on the verge of becoming very good. Racking up 463 offensive yards to the Detroit Lions’ 168, the Bears should have been out of sight even before the controversial Calvin Johnson ‘touchdown’ was annulled. But red-zone woes and turnovers plagued the Bears as they scraped past the Lions 19-14.
The arrival of offensive coordinator Mike Martz will either make or break Chicago this year and this game suggested the Bears still need to improve if they hope to secure a play-off berth. Martz is famed for instigating the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ in St Louis as his exciting offense won the Super Bowl in the 1999 season. Since then Martz has performed indifferently at Detroit and San Francisco before he shored up in Chicago. It his time in St Louis which is fondly remembered though and the Bears are hoping his arrival will kick-start Cutler’s Bears career.
Cutler’s first year in Chicago was turbulent. He led the league in interceptions and with Matt Forte struggling at running back; he was under even more pressure to produce. In his first game leading Martz’s offense, Cutler went 23/35, 372 yards with two touchdowns and a solitary interception. He led the league in interceptions last year and he threw one early on with a suicidal ball into triple coverage. There were so many Lions in close vicinity that they could afford to deflect the ball twice before intercepting. Aside from this though, Cutler had a reasonable day at the office.
But Cutler isn’t the most problematic piece of the Bears’ puzzle. Questions surrounding the offensive line, running game and receivers are still crucially unanswered after this performance against the lowly Lions. A narrow 19-14 victory would have seemed like a travesty in the past two years and this defeat marked Detroit’s 21st consecutive defeat on the road. But the Lions are markedly improved, particularly on defense and had their quarterback Matthew Stafford completed the game the Lions may have produced something of an upset.
The offensive line did little to quell the doubters. Martz has come under fire in the past for exposing his quarterbacks to defensive fronts all too often. Yesterday was no different as Cutler was sacked on four occasions and flushed out of the pocket on countless others. The sight of the Bears quarterback picking himself up from the turf was all too familiar. The Lions front four is much improved but the Bears will face even more fearsome pass rushes this season. Jared Allen and the Vikings will have been buoyed by what they saw and after watching how disruptive Clay Matthews was against the Eagles, Cutler may have slept uneasy. Thoughts of facing DeMarcus Ware next week won’t ease these fears either.
To Cutler’s credit he countered the additional pressure by scrambling and making plays with his feet. He amassed over 20 yards rushing and had another 10 yard rush called back for holding. Cutler will need to utilise his athleticism on countless occasions this year if he is to keep plays alive.
The offensive line did little to aid the running game either. Twice the Bears were within touching distance of the end zone only to be held up. After a Lance Briggs fumble recovery, the Bears were inches from the line and couldn’t punch the ball in with four chances. An indictment of the offensive line and Forte, the Lions somehow held them up on three occasions with a risky play-action call on third down not materialising.
Forte’s biggest contributions came in the passing game and he was Chicago’s star man in the receiving game. He produced an 89 yard touchdown on a screen pass, taking it to the house after some good blocking. He also caught the game winning touchdown as the astute Cutler recognised a mismatch before firing to Forte in the corner of the end zone. Martz does like to utilise his backs in the passing game and Forte’s big afternoon bodes well for the team. Chester Taylor also saw plenty of time and he is another back useful on little dump down passes. These two could yet be Cutler’s biggest weapons especially with the wide receivers having a quiet afternoon.
Cutler’s favourite target was Devin Aromashodu who he frequently looked for. Tight end Greg Olsen will not be as productive under Martz and so it proved here. Meanwhile Devin Hester continues to struggle in his quest to become an established receiver. Johnny Knox grew as the game went on but both he and Aromashodu risked incurring Martz’s wrath after failing to run the correct routes.
Ultimately this system will hinge on the productivity of the receivers. Its dependence on timing and the receiver’s adjustments are just as pivotal as the quarterback’s cerebral capabilities.