Martz’s balanced lesson from Green Bay
By Mike Mulligan firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2011 11:20PM
The Bears leaned heavily on the pass in their loss to the Packers, and offensive coordinator Mike Martz should know better. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: April 26, 2011 4:46AM
If the Bears wind up hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy this year, then it would be only appropriate to thank the Green Bay Packers.
The 10-3 loss to the Packers in the regular-season finale Sunday may have served as the perfect reminder to offensive coordinator Mike Martz that ‘‘balance’’ remains the key word for offensive success. If Martz had been thinking of passing on a balanced attack, the Bears’ three-point afternoon in Green Bay — as well as the lumps on quarterback Jay Cutler’s body — should prompt him to abandon that game plan.
The Bears enjoy a playoff bye this week, and here’s hoping it functions as a reprise of a bye-gone week earlier in the season when all and sundry at Halas Hall reminded Martz of the necessity for even distribution on offense. Heeding that message served as the turning point of the season, with the Bears shaking off back-to-back home losses to the Seahawks and Redskins and going on a five-game winning streak and a 7-1 run. The Bears’ offense had the highest percentage of runs in the NFL (45 percent) over that stretch.
‘‘We made a qualified decision to do that because that was the best way for us to win,’’ Martz said last week. ‘‘We’ve been lights-out on defense. Special teams are off the charts. Our part was to hang on to that ball, get points and protect those areas and get better as we grow, and we’ve been able to do that.
‘‘Plus, you look at the quality that we have in terms of runners. Matt [Forte] right now is just to me — it’s just outrageous the way he’s playing. He’s been pretty special.’’
Forte was averaging 4.7 yards per carry over the eight-game stretch after the bye and had 6.1 yards per carry in 15 attempts Sunday. He just wasn’t used enough against the Packers, as the Bears rushed on only 28 percent of their plays, including 13 consecutive passes during one stretch in the third quarter.
The suspicion is that the Bears were going to start substituting some players after halftime, but the game situation called for them to leave the starters in, and then it was too late to reverse that decision. It’s unlikely Martz’s ego took over, but if it did, you could understand why, given the way the offense showed signs of improving at the end of the year. General manager Jerry Angelo said on WBBM (780-AM) radio before the game that the offense was capable of winning a shootout game like it did against the Jets the week before.
‘‘We can. We have shown that,’’ Angelo said. ‘‘I have confidence that our offense has confidence in themselves and what they’re able to do. Mike will open it up. . . . He knows how to put points on the board.’’
Coach Lovie Smith echoed that with a borderline outrageous statement at his post-mortem media meeting Monday.
‘‘Passing-game-wise, we know that we have weapons and we can pass the football when we want to pass the football in the playoffs,’’ Smith said.
What an odd conclusion after Smith saw Cutler sacked six times and hit eight more. The Bears have little idea what their offense can do in the playoffs because none of the key participants have been there before. Cutler, Forte, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Greg Olsen all will make their playoff debuts. Heck, the last time Devin Hester was in the playoffs, he was technically a cornerback and return man, not even a receiver. There are only a handful of Bears on the entire offense who have playoff experience.
Things get a bit tricky in the postseason. The intensity ratchets up, and generally speaking, the identity of a team becomes magnified. Strengths and weaknesses become more obvious as teams defend and attack various areas.
The Bears have had concerns on their offensive line all year and serious protection concerns against creative blitzes. Balance becomes more important than ever. Any team with offensive-line issues is going to have a seriously difficult time rallying from a deficit. Cutler never has rallied from a 14-point deficit in his career, and certainly this team isn’t built for big comebacks.
The good news is that Cutler has rallied the Bears from fourth-quarter deficits four times this season, pushing his career total to 10. Moreover, he’s balancing risk better this year than ever before. During the regular season, he had a 90.3 passer rating when his team was trailing, 12th in the NFL.
If the Bears want to be champions, they’ll need to remember to have a chip on both shoulders — perfect balance.