COMMENTARY | Another season, another new offensive system for the Chicago Bears and free-agent-to-be QB Jay Cutler. But while in years past the Bears have tried to correct some of the offensive failures through a new coordinator, GM Phil Emery decided this offseason was the time to make a change at the top.
Out was Lovie Smith, a defensive-minded coach who many Bears fans fell in love with even before he guided the team to Super Bowl XLI. In comes Marc Trestman, an offensive guru and former Canadian League Grey Cup Champion as a head coach with the Montreal Alouettes who is tasked with bringing both consistency and efficiency to the Bears offensive huddle.
That may not be as tall of a task as it would have been in years past, thanks in large to more key additions by Emery this offseason.
The Bears boast four new starters along the offensive line, including a pair of rookies (G Kyle Long and T Jordan Mills) on the right side as well as Pro Bowl LT Jermon Bushrod. (LG Matt Slauson rounds out the newcomers, with C Roberto Garza the lone holdover.) They also brought in dual-threat TE Martellus Bennett to provide another weapon for Cutler over the middle of the field.
But, as has been the case in years past, the man under the microscope will be Cutler himself, who is playing for both a new contract and to prove the nay-sayers wrong in a city more accustomed to a dominant defense than offense. Because the defense isn't expected to take many steps back this year despite the loss of (among others) retired MLB Brian Urlacher, it will be the offense that will determine Chicago's fate.
The test for this group starts Sunday against a stout, physical, and ballhawking Cincinnati Bengals defense, one that will surely be tough to maneuver against. While that may be the case on paper for them, the Bears have the personnel and ability to rattle off long drives and possibly wear down the opposition.
Here are three things Cutler and the offense have to do to be successful in their season opener:
Protect Cutler: It has been the same old story in Chicago for Bears fans ever since (and long before then) Cutler was brought on board: when will they finally have a group of offensive linemen that can keep the QB upright? Since he was brought on board in 2009, Cutler has been sacked 148 times in his 56 starts, including a league worst 56 in 2010.
With the aforementioned changes along the offensive line mentioned above, the Bears hope they have found the right mix of guys to keep their prized jewel upright more often than in prior seasons. The key matchup to watch here will be on the interior, where the Bengals boast one of the best DT duos in the NFL.
Domata Peko and Geno Atkins, he of the newly-signed 5 yr., $55 million extension, will provide a stiff test for Slauson, Garza, and Long. This unit appeared to play well together in the preseason for Chicago, however, with Long being especially adept at handling one-on-one battles in the passing game. None of those units, however, were nearly as skilled as the Bengals, and the Bears will need to control the line of scrimmage in the passing game in order to give Cutler time to sling the ball all over the field.
Use the pass to set up the run: While this concept may seem backwards to many Bears fans who were used to seeing Mike Tice's play calling last season, Trestman has gone on record as saying the Bears plan to do a lot of this during the season. The objective is simple: use your big, physical weapons at the receiving positions (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Bennett) and their athleticism to spread the field and open up running lanes for Matt Forte and Michael Bush.
If the Bears are able to dissect a very skilled Bengals secondary (led by CBs Leon Hall and Terrence Newman, SS George Iloka and FS Reggie Nelson) in their base 4-3 defense, that will force the Bengals to use more nickel and dime packages. While the Bengals aren't entirely uncomfortable doing this (they played in the nickel over 50% of the time last season), it should be noted that they spent a first-round pick on CB Dre Kirkpatrick this year, a sure sign that they feel their secondary needs an upgrade.
Trust receivers not named Marshall: Much has been made about the Bears' o-line struggles in years past, including in previous paragraphs in this very article. That unit deserves some, but not all, of the blame for the Bears struggles in the air.
Lo and behold, this all falls back to Cutler, who too many times last season appeared to zone in on Marshall, his favorite target, and not look elsewhere. Defenses would jam him off the line and bring safety's over the top almost immediately and Cutler still would look to force the ball in Marshall's direction.
While throwing to Marshall a lot isn't necessarily a bad thing, it would be a benefit to the Bears and Cutler if they spread the ball around with Marshall possibly still not 100% after offseason hip surgery.
Jeffery, Bennett, Forte, and WR Earl Bennett (who is questionable with a concussion) are all capable of picking up the slack should the Bengals come out doubling Marshall early on. Trestman will undoubtedly have numerous plays in the game plan featuring these four other receivers, so it will be on Cutler to trust the man calling the plays.
Billy Grayson is a Yahoo contributor from Chicago and diehard Chicago sports follower. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
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