November 27, 2011
After Jay Cutler(notes) fractured his finger in the Bears win over the Chargers, back-up quarterback Caleb Hanie(notes) will make his first career start as the Bears take on the Raiders. Everyone from Lovie Smith to Brian Urlacher(notes) has professed faith in Hanie, but that doesn't mean anyone expects him to go out and replicate Cutler's feats.
Chicago will start with not scrapping the playbook completely. Hanie has been a part of Mike Martz's system in Chicago for as long as Cutler, so he knows the plays as well as anyone. He sees similarities between his style of play and Cutler's, so he thinks he will slide into the scheme easily.
"I feel like we're pretty similar,'' Hanie said. ''Our offense is built around being mobile in the pocket and making accurate throws and getting the ball out quick, while … protecting the football. So that plays to my strengths.''
The game plan will likely be less high-flying and ambitious as it is when Cutler is under center. Cutler and Johnny Knox(notes) are capable of connecting on long bombs, but Hanie doesn't have the same kind of arm strength. Earl Bennett(notes), the Bears go-to slot receiver, and running back Matt Forte(notes), should get more looks.
The once-rigid Martz has already changed his offense to make it a better fit with the Bears personnel, so he should be able to roll with this latest punch.It's no longer the offense that Martz implemented in St. Louis and Detroit. It's one that is molded to who the Bears are.
"We kind of tweaked it," Martz said. "We can really run the football. Those two big tight ends and the back and the line, they are just getting better every week. It allows you to go bang, bang, bang, get them all up there, and then throw it.
One of those tweaks is how Martz featured Forte from early in the season. He has been stymied in the last two games, not breaking 100 all-purpose yards for the first time since week two. He will need to contribute again for the Bears to weather this Cutler-less storm.
Cutler brought the Bears to 7-3 by playing the best football of his career. Chicago is going to have to learn to win without his contributions if they are going to make it to the playoffs.
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