More screens would help Bears’ struggling offense
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com November 2, 2012 9:47PM
Mike Tice Offensive coordinator There’s zero chance Tice remains as offensive coordinator. He might get a chance to stick as an offensive line coach. Injuries and average personnel didn’t help, but Tice never found a rhythm as a play-caller.
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Updated: December 4, 2012 6:16AM
With a developing offense struggling to stay ahead of its own defense in the touchdown department, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice gets inundated with advice — some of it actually useful.
Get Matt Forte more rushes. Call more roll-outs for Jay Cutler. Throw more passes to Devin Hester. Throw fewer passes to Hester. Don’t throw any passes to Hester. Throw more on first down. Run more on first down. Use Evan Rodriguez as the downfield threat he was drafted to be. Get Michael Bush more touches. Use more no-huddle. Use only no-huddle. Just let Cutler run the offense and concentrate on the offensive line.
So one more won’t hurt: Develop a better screen game. A screen pass is like the pick-and-roll of football — a fundamental X-and-O play that works on any level if it’s done right. You don’t need Marshall Faulk or Brett Favre to run it (though it helps). It negates a pass rush when you can’t block one. It works well in bad weather. And even if it doesn’t work, it still provides a benefit as a change-of-pace play a defense has to worry about.
‘‘Yeah, we’ve got to call more screens,’’ Tice said. ‘‘We’ve got to do a lot of things. But we’ve got to get more plays. We had  plays against Detroit. We come back this week, and we’re grading  plays ... let’s say 15 are in two-minute. So you had 40 plays in the game?
‘‘It’s hard to call a screen [when you run 40 plays]. It’s hard to call a keeper. It’s hard to do anything. We’ve got to do a better job on first down. That’s the key to us right now. Doing a better job on first down. It opens up the whole playbook. Run it. Pass it. Screen it. If we do a better job on first down, a lot of that stuff will come. I love the screen.’’
Tice called a screen pass against the Panthers last week, but it didn’t work out as planned. On a third-and-21 play at their 32, the Bears tried to set up a screen to Forte. But Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, after getting blocked by Chilo Rachal, saw Cutler looking to pass and recovered to cover Forte. Cutler was sacked by Charles Johnson and fumbled, and the Panthers recovered at the Bears’ 16.
That shows you how far the Bears have to go in the screen game. They actually have to learn how to fail. The standard procedure is to throw the ball away. But Cutler didn’t react quickly enough and lost the ball.
Then again, everybody’s learning.
‘‘It was third-and-21,’’ Tice said. ‘‘That was probably a crummy time to call a screen.’’
It’s a work in progress. A screen game — like the open tight end downfield — usually is a byproduct of an offense already in high gear. The unbeaten Falcons are averaging 27.3 points on offense, in part, because of a screen game installed by new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter — a ‘‘good friend’’ of Tice’s and a former colleague at Jacksonville.
Matt Ryan was 9-for-10 for 81 yards and a touchdown on screen passes against the Eagles last week. Against the Panthers, Falcons running back Michael Turner had a 60-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
It takes time to develop, but the Bears have plenty of room to use their running backs in the passing game — starting Sunday against the Titans. The Colts beat the Titans last week on a ‘‘throwback’’ screen to running back Vick Ballard for a 16-yard touchdown in overtime. The Steelers’ Isaac Redman, a Bush-like bowling ball who can make defenders miss, had four catches for 105 yards against the Titans.
‘‘We like screens,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We’d like to get them called more. Called a few in the Panthers game — caught the wrong coverage. It’s a feel thing for an offensive coordinator, when to dial it up. But I think Mike’s getting better and better. With our backs, with getting [Forte] on the outside, it’s something we need to incorporate more.’’