Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bears Offense Looks Explosive

I'll preface everything that follows this statement by saying that it's only the preseason. The history of the NFL is littered with preseason MVPs who never amount to anything, and good preseason records ultimately mean nothing. Just ask Peyton Manning, whose previous team, the Colts, nearly always lost most of their games in the preseason only to move on to their typical 12 win regular season. But all of that aside, the Bears, in particular their first team offense, looked spectacularly explosive last night. It is potentially the most explosive Bears offense I have seen in 25 years, and yes, I realize that is not saying much.

Watching that first play from Jay Cutler, as he connected on a 41 play bomb to his "new" target Brandon Marshall, you got the feeling that this was the sign of things to come. I remember Cutler being interviewed later in the game, and he was asked if that play call was Mike Tice's idea, or if it was Cutler's idea. Cutler smugly smiled and hinted that it was his and Marshall's decision. If that was true, even if it was slightly admitted, it means the world for both Cutler and Bears fans. It was refreshing to see Cutler have some freedom at the line. We're all aware of the draconian policies of previous offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who wouldn't let his franchise QB have audible privileges that any 10 year old playing Madden has. So now, to see Cutler check at the line, and indicate to his receivers a quick hot route, or something of that nature, well, it's just refreshing. Especially when it culminates in a 41 yard bomb to Marshall.

The new offense already has everyone happy
That first drive was a thing of beauty. For the 82 yard touchdown drive, there was the 41 yard toss to Marshall, a 4 yard dart to Devin Hester in the flat that just missed exploding for more, a mid range third down pass to Marshall on the sideline that Marshall turned into 20 yards, a 16 yard pass to rookie Alshon Jeffery, and then finally a 1 yard punch into the end zone by newcomer Michael Bush for the touchdown. So although the drive did not feature anything from Matt Forte, it did illustrate to Bears fans both what the newcomers will bring to this offense, and what Cutler is able to do with capable receivers around him.

Cutler now has the freedom, comfort, and tools to flourish
The offensive line was also competent last night. You saw Cutler comfortable in the pocket besides a few plays where he utilized his underrated mobility to escape some pressure. Cutler was able to stand up in the pocket and find the open receiver. Even when receivers weren't open, he still found them with accurate passing, like a nice little toss to Earl Bennett later in the game. Backup Jason Campbell did take 3 sacks though, which is why I only labeled the offensive line "competent." They must know that there is a lot of pressure on them, as the perception of them, right or wrong, is that they're the weak link of a potentially dangerous offense. I also wonder if some of those sacks were on Campbell, who might not be 100% comfortable with the offense yet. All told though, the first team offensive line did not allow Cutler to get sacked once. You could tell it made Jay comfortable, because the solid protection was the first thing he mentioned in his interview. I thought J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams played well at left tackle, a position that was full of the most question marks coming into the season. Whether the security of the much-maligned offensive line appears to be taking shape because of their self-improvement, their improvement as a cohesive unit, the change in the style of offense by Tice, or all of the above, the important thing is that they look MUCH improved over the beginning of last season.

With all the focus on the passing game, it's easy to overlook the versatility the running game exhibits now. To be sure, the carries were limited for both Forte and Bush, but Bush made the most of his 5 carries by punching in 2 touchdowns. We didn't get the opportunity to see what a truly balanced offense, with plenty of carries for both running backs, would do to counteract the passing game, but we can sleep easy knowing that with one borderline elite running back in Forte, and a very serviceable, good backup in Bush, they will get their chances to keep defenses off guard with a good ground game. Also, knowing that new OC Tice is a former lineman and line coach, you can guess that he will place an emphasis on getting Forte and Bush more than their fair share of touches.

The running backs have looked great in limited action
Just imagine what this will do for the offense. It makes the Bears' offense one of the modern era, where defenses struggle to prepare for the versatility, balance, and explosiveness that comes from so many different angles. When you have players like Bush and Forte in the backfield, it theoretically gives them more firepower in the backfield than many other "explosive" offenses. Would you take Forte and Bush over the Packers (James Starks, Brandon Saine, Alex Green, Cedric Benson), Lions (Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams, Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure), Patriots (Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead), Saints (Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles), Eagles (LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis), or Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw, David Wilson, D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott)? Out of those teams, I would take maybe the Saints and Eagles over the Bears. Actually, I'd probably only take the Eagles and LeSean McCoy over Forte and Bush.

To be sure, the NFL has moved in the direction of a passing league. You saw Drew Brees break the NFL single season yards passing record last year, and Matthew Stafford also throw for over 5,000 yards. The league clearly values its franchise quarterbacks and offenses are now tailored to that fact. But in the same vein, running backs can provide such an explosive balance to an aerial attack that becomes increasingly valuable as the season goes on. You think Green Bay would have loved to have a more solid running game to fall back on as the Giants' pass rush attacked Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs? And think of the two teams in the NFC Championship game last year: San Francisco and the Giants. San Francisco in particular relied on defense and their running game. I guess the long, drawn out point that I'm trying to make is that now that the Bears have taken steps to bring their passing game up to an elite NFL level, having such quality running backs in Forte and Bush makes the offense potentially lethal. 

Now again, I recognize that it's the preseason, and that Week 1 could hit and the Bears don't perform up to expectations. But really, does anyone expect that? Do you think that Cutler and Marshall won't perform the way they have their entire careers, especially when they played together? Forte could possibly go through a season much like other big name running backs who are fresh off a big contract, but none of those warning signs are present to indicate such. Forte showed up to camp in impeccable shape (unlike, say, Chris Johnson last year) and has looked solid in limited action thus far. I guess at the very least, it's extreme homerism from me. I just watched a Bears offense last night that looked unlike any I've ever seen in my lifetime. You had a franchise quarterback with great tools at his disposal walk out of the huddle with pure, unadulterated confidence, in complete control and with complete freedom to make his own offense work. And work it did. The players that Bears fans have been clamoring for on offense are finally here. I can't wait to see it play out.