Bears’ spotty offense will have to pick up the pace
BY MARK POTASH November 5, 2012 11:22PM
Updated: December 7, 2012 6:24AM
The knock on the 7-1 Bears is an old one: ‘‘They haven’t beaten anybody.’’
As entertaining and impressive as the Bears have been with their 40- and 50-point onslaughts, their seven defensive touchdowns and Charles Tillman headed for the ball-punching wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they have beaten one team with a winning record. And playing the Colts (5-3) and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in the opener might have been just another stroke of good timing that has put the wind at their back this season.
The Bears beat the Lions (4-4) at home. They’ve played three beatable teams on the road — the Cowboys (3-5), Jaguars (1-7) and Titans (3-6) are a combined 3-9 at home. The only time the Bears played a good team on the road, they lost to the Packers.
But if the Bears haven’t beaten anybody, who has? The Texans (7-1) and 49ers (6-2) — teams expected to give the Bears the validation tests they apparently need — hardly have sterling résumés.
The Texans have beaten only the Broncos in Week 3 when Peyton Manning was still getting acclimated and the Ravens — a shaky 6-2 themselves. The 49ers have beaten only the Packers, and that was in the season opener when the Packers were in an early funk.
For what it’s worth, the Bears’ second-half opponents are a combined 42-27 (.609). But while the Texans, 49ers and Packers (6-3) are likely playoff teams, the Vikings (5-4) and Seahawks (5-4) are struggling. And by Weeks 16 and 17, the Cardinals (4-5) and Lions could be playing for next season. On paper, the Vikings and Lions are playing more difficult second-half schedules than the Bears.
Regardless, the Bears are bracing for the degree-of-difficulty to increase in the second half. And they should. Everybody knows them now.
‘‘That’s what it’s all about,’’ defensive end Israel Idonije said. ‘‘It’s not going to get easier. It gets harder. Teams play you harder. They elevate. We’ve got to elevate. It’s about continuing to play at a high standard and the next week outplay yourself. We’re ready for that.’’
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been conditioning his players for this all season. Even after lauding a ‘‘special’’ performance Sunday against the Titans, in the same breath he challenged them, as Idonije put it, ‘‘to be special again.’’
‘‘It doesn’t matter how good it is,’’ Idonije said. ‘‘It’s never good enough. That’s the mentality.’’
Everybody knows the challenge lies with the Bears’ offense, which will have to solve some fundamental pass-protection issues in the second half against better competition and sometimes in less-than-ideal conditions — not the easiest thing to do.
That’s offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s job, but even coach Lovie Smith seemed to know that the Bears’ postseason success could hinge on their offense improving in the second half.
‘‘Right now, we’re talking an awful lot about our defense,’’ Smith said Monday, ‘‘but before this season is over — hopefully this week — it’s going to shift where we’re going to be talking an awful lot about the weapons we have and the offensive plays that we’re making.’’
Running back Matt Forte is ready for the challenge of facing a tougher schedule in the second half.
‘‘I expect that,’’ Forte said, ‘‘not because of the records, but late in the season, teams kind of figure out what you’re doing. It becomes a little tougher.
‘‘These games coming up are going to be tough, but we’ve got to continue to take strides, especially in the run game, and hopefully open things up for the passing game.’’
‘‘Hopefully’’ seems to be the operative word. Smith mentioned Forte’s 103 yards rushing and Jay Cutler’s three touchdown passes to Brandon Marshall and his 138.1 passer rating against the Titans. But he wasn’t trying to convince anybody those numbers meant the offense has arrived.
‘‘There are a lot of good things we’re doing offensively,’’ Smith said. ‘‘[But] we know there’s a long way to go still.’’