Is best yet to come for Bears' offense?
Bears have regained their balance since bye and insist they can get a lot better
MIAMI -- The monster-play prospects of Mike Martz's offense conjured highlight-reel daydreams among some of Chicago's skill players when the coach arrived at Halas Hall.
Yet what's produced on the field doesn't exactly scream "Greatest Show on Turf." For now, the "Just Good Enough Show Anywhere" will do for the Bears, who won their third consecutive game Thursday night with a 16-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins.
"Just from what we've all heard about the Greatest Show on Turf, we know what this offense can do," Bears receiver Johnny Knox said. "We're doing better at going through some of the finer details, and it's starting to show. We're just glad we're moving the ball just enough to get these wins. But at the same time, we know there's a lot we're leaving on the field."
For now, that's acceptable because the Bears continue to improve enough offensively to successfully complement the stifling defense, which on Thursday pitched its first shutout since 2006 as the team won its third game in 12 days for the first time in 17 years.
"We're doing what it takes to win," Bears center Olin Kreutz said. "If we've got to throw the ball 90 times a game, we'll do that to try to win. We're playing better, but we're not playing our best."
That's a welcome change from the direction the offense seemed to be headed going into the bye week, which fell on Oct. 31. Going into that week, the Bears were coming off their third loss in four weeks as the offense failed to convert a single third down in two of the three defeats.
Quarterback Jay Cutler suffered 19 sacks over those three miserable weeks and missed a game after being knocked out of another (New York Giants on Oct. 3) with a concussion, only to throw four interceptions in one half just two weeks later.
Clearly, something wasn't right. Perhaps Martz, looking to duplicate past success, expected more from his young offensive players than they were capable of providing, given the complexity of the offense and the fact that it was new. So during the club's bye-week self-evaluation, the staff looked to find plays that accentuate strengths and eliminate ones that expose weaknesses.
"Obviously, Mike has expectations of what he wants to do with our offense," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "But you have to play [games] to know what you can and can't do. I felt that you have to protect the quarterback, and we needed to do things differently than maybe what we wanted to do early on. We adjusted. Mike and the whole staff adjusted. Our players are more comfortable, and they have to be in order to play with any confidence."
After achieving third-down efficiency of 0, 20, 0 and 20 percent during the stretch in which they lost three of four, the Bears have converted at least 56 percent of third downs in each of the past three games.
The Bears ran the ball no more than 16 times during each of the three October losses, while throwing the ball at least 39 times in two of the three defeats. The club evened up the run-pass ratio over the past three weeks. In fact, the Bears have actually run the ball more than they've thrown it.
"Winning games and just moving the chains," Cutler said. "[The Dolphins] were going to sit back all day and not give us any big plays. They were going to take care of the deep ins and some of the deeper throws, so we had to check it down. We ran the ball exceptionally well, and the way the defense was playing, we didn't have to do much."
So in other words, the Bears' offense didn't have to live up to the Greatest Show on Turf reputation associated with Martz.
Just prove to be effective.
Running back Matt Forte ran for 97 yards and a 2-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The output was his second-best performance of the season, in terms of rushing.
"I just knew that [Martz] liked to throw the ball [when he first arrived]," Forte said after Thursday's game. "But I wasn't gonna just be [close-]minded. I knew there would be a lot of opportunities to get the ball both ways. When we go back and watch film, sometimes there's yards left on the field. If we would've blocked it a certain way, or if we would have made or done something different ... it's motivating to see how much better we can be than we [actually] played, and we won the game. So we just want to improve every week and get better than we were last week."
That seems to be what's transpiring. While the offense isn't exactly the high-octane attack everyone expected after the arrival of Martz, it continues to make strides. The club has averaged 22.6 points during its past three wins, in addition to 303.6 yards.
So with the defense performing the way it did Thursday night (allowing 187 yards), the plan is for the offense to make enough strides in the coming weeks to peak at just the right time. With just six games to go, time is running out, Kreutz said.
"We're getting a little bit better and better and better. [If we can] keep getting more film on our offense against certain looks to learn from while we're winning, that's a big plus for us," he said. "We've got to keep on improving. There's only so [much longer] you can keep saying [we haven't peaked]. There are only six games left, and this is when you've got to be playing your best ball. Eventually we've got to put it all together."
Receiver Earl Bennett agreed, adding that until the unit is performing at its best, the club doesn't have a problem scraping by with whatever works.
"We're going off what's working, pretty much. Matt [Forte] and Chester [Taylor] did a pretty good job running the ball tonight, and when we needed plays in the passing game, we made them. Most importantly, we won," Bennett said. "We're constantly getting better. We haven't reached our peak; we're nowhere near it. Each week we're finding out something new. It gives us a lot of encouragement because there are a lot of guys out there making plays. Johnny [Knox] mentioned that we leave some plays out there. So we've got to start capitalizing on some of those plays."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.