Bears are exposed most when their first quarter stinks
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org December 1, 2012 4:48PM
Updated: December 2, 2012 11:45AM
Like so many Bears trends, this one sounds better than it is: Since the Bears acquired Jay Cutler, they are 21-1 when they lead after one quarter.
That sounds great. And when you combine it with the fact that the Bears have outscored their opponents 68-28 in the first quarter this season — the second-largest margin in the NFL — you’d think the Bears would be 9-2 or 10-1 with a bullet.
Yet the Bears, though legitimate contenders, are a soft 8-3 today. Soft because against the three best teams they have played — the Packers, Texans and 49ers — they have scored zero points in the first quarter. And it’s impossible to lead after the first quarter when you don’t score.
That 21-1 first-quarter record with Jay Cutler rings hollow when the Bears literally can’t get out of their way at the start of a game. On the first play against the Vikings, Matt Forte ran into fullback Evan Rodriguez and fumbled. On the Bears’ next offensive snap, Jay Cutler tripped over center Roberto Garza’s foot and was sacked.
It’s been that way all season, and the Bears don’t seem to have an idea of how to fix it. At least they’re aware of the problem.
‘‘We’re going to make sure probably the rest of the way out that we’re careful early in the games,’’ offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. ‘‘We’ve had some bad starts and don’t want to come out and shoot ourselves in the foot early. So we can manage some of those calls and make sure we don’t put ourselves in harm’s way with some of the earlier calls.’’
The challenge is even greater Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. The Bears will be trying to pull off an unusual trick: improving a struggling offensive line by replacing its best player, right guard Lance Louis, with former right tackle Gabe Carimi, who started learning how to play guard last week.
‘‘The challenge is making sure they’re all on the same page, all have the same calls,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘In the middle of the game, third quarter, fourth quarter, we can’t have a slip-up. They’ve got to have it down pat.’’
Cutler’s getting ahead of himself. The Bears need to get the first quarter, the first series, the first play from scrimmage down before they worry about the third or fourth quarter. In six of their 11 games, the Bears have had a negative play on their first snap of the game — three sacks, two fumbles and a holding call. This team literally needs to run the first play of the game without a hitch and go from there.
It’s an old tale, but it bears repeating: It all starts with Cutler. His 41.7 passer rating in the first quarter is 41st among the 42 quarterbacks who have started this season.
‘‘I’ve got to get rid of the ball,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘Coach Tice has to dial up some good plays and keep those guys protected. They’ll throw a lot of different looks on the offensive line and in the secondary. We’ve got to get B [Brandon Marshall] going, hopefully get Matt Forte going.
‘‘So it’s a collective group, but I drive the thing, so I’ve got to get off to a fast start.’’