Mike Martz: Offense still experimenting
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It's supposed to look "dysfunctional at times", Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz admitted.
But all the preseason experimentation comes to an end Saturday, when the Bears host the Arizona Cardinals in their third exhibition outing, which is widely considered as somewhat of a full-contact dress rehearsal for the regular season.
"We're in bits and pieces right now, and we felt like [we should be] after this part of the season," Martz said. "We're trying to isolate guys, trying to look at plays. It's different when you're putting an offense in because you're taking things -- groups of plays in the running game and protections -- and just trying to get them season-ready. It's a different approach than what you would think it would be in a normal game."
Although the matchup Saturday against the Cardinals isn't considered a "normal" outing for the club, it's as close to the real Bears as observers will see before their Sept. 12 opener against the Lions. The team held a training-camp style practice on Monday, before taking starting a regular-season approach to Tuesday, which it plans to continue throughout the week.
Martz said the club has purposely placed offensive linemen in one-on-one situations this preseason to see how they'd handle themselves in difficult environments, in addition to feeding the ball to running back Matt Forte early in last week's game and calling for Cutler to more or less force a throw to Hester on a crucial third down against the Raiders.
Subjecting the offense to adverse conditions during the preseason equips it to better deal with such situations in live action, when it counts most, Martz said. The offensive coordinator cited the five sacks allowed by the first team against the Raiders as an example. Had it been the regular season, the club would have made adjustments to plug the leaks.
Yet Martz wanted to see how the line would perform without schematic assistance.
"That's a very small percentage of what we do, just having those five guys block," Martz said. "We don't do very much of that. You slide, you turn, you chip, you double chip; there is so many different ways. There are 37 protections or more that we have to help with that. There's nobody in that group, if we needed help on a [player such as] Peppers, who we can't go right to it and help. What we want to do is put those guys out on air against real good players, and [make them] learn how to pass block and deal with it. In the event that we get a big dog over there that we've got to take care, we know how to do that."
But can they; not just on the line, but as an entire offense?
Martz pointed to steady improvement as the goal going into the first two preseason games, but now it's time to see everything finally come together with the club actually devising a loose game plan for the Cardinals.
"It's going to matter to us," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "We want to go out there and be crisp and put it all together. There have been a few times in practice where everything has really jelled, and we've [gone] out there and lit it up a few times. But a game-like atmosphere is when we have to do it. We can do it a million times in practice, but if we don't do it on Sundays it doesn't really matter. We need to look crisp. The offensive line needs to perform. I need to put the ball where I need to put it. Everybody needs to be in their spots. There's been a lot of emphasis on this third game for us."
The Bears quarterbacks have completed 57.4 percent of their passes this preseason for a passer rating of 73 (Cutler's passer rating is 101.6), while the rushing attack is averaging 4.8 yards per carry in two exhibition outings while scoring only one touchdown.
Forte wants this game to be the one in which the offense stops getting in its own way.
"It's very important," Forte said. "The past two preseason games, we've had some setbacks on offense, and we really want to take it as we're trying to go into the season without going out there and making mental mistakes. If you cut down the mental mistakes, obviously, talent and your discipline will take over, and you'll make plays."
Bears coach Lovie Smith mentioned the club's 41-21 loss to the Cardinals last season in his opening remarks Tuesday, moments after the team walked off the field, in addition to discussing the need to "show up a little bit better than we did last time."
The Bears installed their first- and second-down game plan for the Cardinals on Tuesday, and based on the intense preparation taking place, this week's game could be the best time to make snap judgments about the team's new offense, which up to now, has spent the bulk of its time on experimentation and player evaluation.
"We put quite a bit into this third game, traditionally," Smith said. "We'll do it this week."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.