With Bears’ ‘D’ beset by injuries, Trestman’s offense has bigger burden
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter October 13, 2013 10:11PM
- DOWNLOAD: "The 50 Greatest Bears" eBook
- DOWNLOAD: "Brian Urlacher: Bear For Life" eBook
- DOWNLOAD: "Marc Trestman: 'Smartest Guy in the Room'" eBook
Updated: October 16, 2013 9:34PM
Before the Bears beat the Giants last week, tight end Martellus Bennett didn’t think the offense had to carry any more weight than its own.
‘‘I think it’s the 33.3 rule — we all make up 33 percent of the team,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘We’ve got to make sure our 33 percent is not 27 percent every week. We just have to go out and do our job.
‘‘The defense is great. They’ll do what they need to do every single week. We just have to hold up our part. We can’t worry about the defense.’’
That sounds like a plan. But after the 27-21 victory Thursday night over the Giants at Soldier Field, it’s time for the offense to worry about the defense and take on a little more than its 33.3 percent share of the load.
Under coach Marc Trestman, the Bears are an offense-first football team, and unless Mel Tucker is a magician, it’s only going to get more lopsided this season. The short week and yet another season-ending injury on defense might have made things look worse than they are. With one game in a 24-day stretch after the Giants game, the Bears’ defense has a chance to heal up and get back on its feet.
But even if cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Stephen Paea get healthy, the Bears still have issues on defense — Julius Peppers isn’t getting any younger and defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins and middle linebacker D.J. Williams aren’t coming back this season. The hope that rookie Jon Bostic can blossom into an upgrade with experience as the starting middle linebacker — a possibility — is tempered by a very real and reasonable fear: Who will go down next?
A very manageable schedule in the last 10 regular-season games makes it even clearer that the onus will be on the offense to start taking larger steps. Of their last 10 opponents, six came into Week 6 ranked in the top 10 in total offense. Eight came in ranked 20th or lower in total defense.
‘‘[We’re] a little banged up defensively,’’ quarterback Jay Cutler said. ‘‘We’re getting to a point where we’re at 21 points, and sometimes it isn’t going to cut it in this league. You have to put up 30, sometimes more.’’
The offense is getting there. Cutler’s 65.9 completion percentage, 12 touchdown passes and 95.2 passer rating are career-best marks after six games. His 1,630 passing yards are his best as a Bear after six games and second-best in his career. Against the Giants, a wide receiver had the longest run of the day (Alshon Jeffery’s 15-yard end-around), and a fullback had the longest reception (Tony Fiammetta’s 30-yard pass play). In previous years, that would be cause for suspicion. In this offense, it’s a sign of growth and versatility.
‘‘You can see it — when we do our jobs, we’re a potent offense,’’ said center Roberto Garza, who’s in his ninth season with the Bears. ‘‘When we execute the plays, we move the ball up and down the field and score points. Obviously, we have to finish the game.’’
How quickly the Bears can reach that point could be critical in a season still being defined by injuries and age as much as Cutler’s growth and Trestman’s guidance.
‘‘We just have to clean up the technique stuff; it’s only technique,’’ Garza said. ‘‘We do it to ourselves.’’
The next step can’t be too far away. And it needs to be a big one.
‘‘It’ll be nice [when the offense finishes as well as it started against the Giants],’’ rookie guard Kyle Long said. ‘‘We’re going to get it eventually. We’re all coming together as an offense — I think you guys can see that. There’s progress made weekly. We’re going to try to string together 60 minutes of football.’’
The way things are going on the other side of the ball — the sooner the better.
A bidder-sweet shoe auction
Every football fan should spend a day in Brandon Marshall’s shoes. For the right price, someone will get the chance to spend every day in Marshall’s shoes — literally.
The Bears’ Pro Bowl wide receiver is putting the lime-green shoes he wore in the victory Thursday night over the Giants up for auction to raise money for the Brandon Marshall Foundation. You can access the auction at buybrandonsshoes.com.
Marshall wore the shoes to promote Mental Health Awareness Week. But they violate the NFL’s uniform code, so Marshall expects to be fined for wearing them in the game. He said he will match the fine — the standard is $5,250 — with a donation to a mental health organization.
The auction ends at the conclusion of the game Monday night between the Colts and Chargers. The high bid was $2,150 as of late Sunday afternoon.
Trestman’s gamble a rarity
Coach Marc Trestman bristled a bit when he was questioned about the fourth-and-two try from the Giants’ 4-yard line that went awry with 12:08 left in the first quarter of a scoreless game Thursday night at Soldier Field.
But it wasn’t just the failure of the play that raised eyebrows — it was the gamble. Win or lose, going for it went against football convention. Usually, teams take the points in a scoreless game and take the lead when you have the chance.
How rare was Trestman’s gambit? According to information provided by pro-football-reference.com, the last time an NFL team tried to convert a fourth-and-two from inside the 5 in the first half of a scoreless game was in 2000. Chris Palmer’s Browns tried it against the Bengals, but running back Errict Rhett was stopped for a one-yard gain.
Since then, 26 teams have been in Trestman’s position — fourth-and-two inside the 5 with a chance for a first down in a scoreless game — and every one of them attempted the field goal, until the Bears went for the first down.
In general, NFL teams rarely disdain the chip-shot field goal unless the situation dictates they must. Overall since 1999, in games within three points either way, 96 percent (54 of 56) with a fourth-and-two inside the 5 (but with a chance for a first down) have attempted the field goal.
Trestman isn’t new to gambling. When he was with Bill Callahan in Oakland in 2003, the Raiders were protecting a 21-18 lead against Mike Tice’s Vikings, with a fourth-and-two from the Vikings’ 3 with 3:10 to play. Instead of kicking a field goal that would have forced the Vikings to score a touchdown to win, the Raiders went for the first down.
Tim Brown dropped Rick Mirer’s pass in the end zone. But just as Tim Jennings’ interception bailed out Trestman against the Giants, Rod Woodson intercepted Daunte Culpepper to bail out Callahan. That’s the last time a team has gone for the first down in that situation in a game that close.
Jeffery a weapon in running game
Wide receiver Alshon’s Jeffery’s 15-yard gain on an end around gave him three of the Bears’ seven longest runs from scrimmage this season. Jeffery also had a 38-yard gain against the Vikings and a 27-yard again against the Lions.
Jeffery has 72 yards rushing on four carries this season. The only time he was stopped was when the Bears overdid it and used him a second time against the Vikings and he lost eight yards. Jeffery did not have a rushing attempt in three seasons at South Carolina.
Still, Jeffery is a versatile weapon the Bears have not had recently. Bears wide receivers gained 41 yards on 24 carries in the previous four seasons (1.7 yards per carry). That includes Earl Bennett’s two-yard loss on a third-and-three end around against the Packers in the NFC Championship game after the 2010 season that set the stage for Caleb Hanie’s clinching interception on fourth down.
The Bears are a little better prepared to handle that situation with Jeffery in Marc Trestman’s offense.
Defensive end McClellin still hasn’t made a Dent
It’s possible Shea McClellin still could become a force as a 4-3 defensive end, but it’s a long shot. Twenty games might seem like too few to make a judgment, but history says you usually know by now.
NFL defensive ends have overcome disappointing starts to their careers to make the Pro Bowl and even the Hall of Fame. But almost every one of them was bigger than the 6-3, 260-pound McClellin or was a top-10 pick with more talent.
And most of them at least were trending upward by the middle of their second NFL season. Richard Dent had four sacks in his first 20 games in the NFL — one more than McClellin has. But by this point of his second season in 1984, it was clear — whether he was sacking the quarterback or not — that Dent was an up-and-coming player. He finished his second season with 171⁄2 sacks and was on his way to the Hall of Fame.
McClellin is going the opposite way — he’s playing more and producing less. The first-round pick from Boise State (19th overall) had 21⁄2 sacks in his first six NFL games. He has half a sack in his last 14 games. It’s not just sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, McClellin is the lowest-rated defensive end in the NFL (minus-10.2). He’s averaging 48 snaps a game this season. Last year, he averaged 26.
Coach Marc Trestman indicated Friday that the Bears are going to have to be more inventive to get more production from McClellin. Otherwise, McClellin’s best value to the Bears is as trade bait to one of the 3-4 teams that probably still covets him as much as it did before the 2012 draft. Maybe one of them has a three-technique.
‘‘Shea is a work in progress, but certainly there’s evidence he can be that guy [a 4-3 defensive end],’’ Trestman said. ‘‘We’ll continue to try to do some things to move him around as well.’’