The Bears are 4-3 heading into the bye compared to 6-1 after seven games a year ago. But it seems a bit of context is called for.
The Bears began the year with a brand new head coach and staff, new starters at every position on offense but quarterback, running back, one of the receiver spots and center, and four new starters on defense, including the nickel back.
The goal was dramatic improvement on offense while holding the line on defense.
OFFENSE: 2012 2013 Total Yards 319.6 367.7 Rushing 124.0 112.9 Passing 195.6 254.9 Third-down conversions 40% 36.1% Penalties 51 – 352 31 - 273 Touchdowns 21 25 Points 185 213 Time of possession 31:43 29:16 Jay Cutler 2012 – 58.1%, 1,545 YD’s, 7.19 Avg, 9 TD’s, 8 Int’s, 25 Sacks/175, 78.9 Jay Cutler 2013 – 64.9%, 1,658 YD’s, 7.4 Avg, 12 TD’s, 7 Int’s, 10 Sacks/71, 91.7 Matt Forte 2012 – 95 – 436, 4.6, 2 TD’s & 18 – 134 Matt Forte 2013 – 116 – 533, 4.6, 6 TDs & 35 – 362 Brandon Marshall – 50 – 675, 13.5, 4 TD’s Brandon Marshall – 46 – 540, 11.7, 5 TD’s
Clearly, Jay Cutler is playing his best football under new coach Marc Trestman, in part because of his own improvements in efficiency and in part because the offensive line is doing so much better protecting him.
But it’s the production of Matt Forte that is the most impressive among individual players on offense. There is, however, a glitch in his numbers.
Forte has four runs of 44 yards or longer, totaling 205 yards. That means his other 112 carries for 328 yards have averaged just 2.9 yards a carry. Michael Bush has 24 carries for 44 yards, a 1.8 average.
There is a direct correlation between the inconsistency in the run game and the struggle to convert third downs and control time of possession. Those areas must improve to keep the team above water until Cutler returns from injury.
It also exposes the reality that there still is plenty of work to do on the offensive line. The use of Eben Britton at tight end as a sixth offensive lineman to protect Cutler is obviously working, but that group must now establish it can blow people off the line and run much more consistently between the tackles.
Still, the offense is significantly improved with Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer deserving a B+ or A-.
The defense is a completely different story.
DEFENSE: 2012 2013 Total Yards 316.0 391.0 Rushing 77.9 117.3 Passing 238.1 273.7 Third-down Efficiency 34% 44.3% First Downs 131 147 Sacks 23 /155 9/66 Interceptions 16 10 Forced Fumbles 16 15 Fumbles Recovered 7 8 Touchdowns 9 23 Points 100 206
Having allowed more than twice as many points as a year ago, Trestman, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and their staff get a D. All that separates them from an F is the fact that they are somehow 4-3.
Unlike the offense, where all the key players have shown improvement, on defense Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are the only players playing as well or better than they did last year.
You know they’re really in trouble when it’s difficult to determine what’s been worse, the defensive line play or the play at safety?
There is tremendous concern that the playoffs are out of reach with Cutler and Briggs joining Henry Melton, Nate Collins and D.J. Williams with serious injuries, but that is premature. If Josh McCown can play like he did in Washington until Cutler gets back, and veterans Julius Peppers. Corey Wootton, James Anderson, Tim Jennings and Tillman can play to their abilities, there is hope.
With St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas, Cleveland and Philadelphia still on the schedule, in addition to Baltimore, Detroit and two with the Packers, there are plenty of winnable games left.
The biggest questions are how soon can Cutler and Briggs get back, and what will Trestman do until they do?
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.