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Bears’ 3-for-12 showing against Packers isn’t going to get job done

Updated: November 11, 2011 2:03PM

Since showing promise in the season opener, the Bears’
offense has regressed in the two weeks since.

‘‘When we first came out the first week, I felt we took a few strides forward,’’ running back Matt Forte said. ‘‘Last week [in New Orleans], I think we took a little step back. This week, we took a major step back.’’

Pick a problem, any problem. But one of the most alarming is an all-too-familiar one.

October 2010 was a month to forget for the Bears’ offense, as it converted only five of its 50 third-down attempts. Now in consecutive losses, the Bears have converted only five of their 25 third downs, and a series midway through the fourth quarter punctuated it all.

Going backward

After an interception by linebacker Brian Urlacher, right tackle Frank Omiyale was flagged for a false start, his second of the game and fourth in the last six quarters, dating to the loss against the Saints. On the next play, the Bears caught a break when an interception was called back because of offsetting penalties — a roughing-the-passer call on Packers defensive end Erik Walden and a holding call on Omiyale.

So the Bears faced first-and-15 again, only this time right guard Chris Spencer was flagged for holding.

A short dump-off pass to Forte yielded five yards, then receiver Devin Hester was penalized for unnecessary roughness when he exchanged blows with Packers cornerback Sam Shields.

So the Bears, trailing 27-17, faced a third-and-33.

Do they even have a play for such a situation?

‘‘No,’’ Forte said. ‘‘If it’s third-and-30-something, you just try to get the yardage back, so when you punt the ball, you can down it inside the 10 or 20.’’

That’s not a strategy to employ when a team is down 10 in the fourth quarter. But the Bears didn’t have any options.

Yet the Bears got plenty of practice on third-and-long Sunday. Seven of their 12 third-down attempts were from 10 or more yards and four were from 16 or more.

‘‘That makes it easy on the defense,’’ receiver Roy Williams said. ‘‘[As a defense], you just sit back, let them throw the checkdowns and run up and tackle.

“That’s what our defense is based on. I mean, what play do you turn to on third-and-15? And, really, what play do you turn to on third-and-[33]? There’s no such play.’’

Especially for the offensively challenged Bears.

According to STATS, teams converted only 22 percent of third-down plays of 10 or more yards in 2010. The Bears were 11-for-62 on such attempts (17.7 percent).

Overall, the Bears were 27th in third-down conversions last season, struggling even to convert third-and-ones, let alone third-and-forevers.

Williams insisted third-and-10 is ‘‘manageable,’’ although that’s being generous — or delusional.

‘Mental mistakes hurting’

Cutler was 6-for-10 for 61 yards on third down, including a four-yard touchdown to rookie Dane Sanzenbacher. But most of his completions were dump-offs.

‘‘You look at the stats,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘It’s not very favorable on the offensive side if you’re going be third-and-six, third-and-seven-plus. It’s tough. You’re almost in a must-throw situation right there.

‘‘They’re going to drop eight guys, nine guys, and there are not a lot of holes.’’

Hester insisted the offensive problems can be corrected.

‘‘There’s really no physical mistakes,’’ he said. ‘‘Mental mistakes are hurting us at the wrong time of the game.’’

Last season, though, the Bears’ turnaround mirrored their turnaround to convert third downs.After the bye week, the Bears converted seven of their 12 third downs against the Buffalo Bills, then 11 of their 19 third downs against the Minnesota Vikings.

They said execution was the difference. Now they’ll have to prove they can fix it again.

‘‘When you get into those long situations, we’re putting the pressure on [offensive coordinator Mike] Martz to try and come up with the perfect play,’’ Omiyale said. ‘‘We have to do a better job of executing on first and second down.’’

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