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It’s hard to say what Bears are doing well on offense

Jay Cutler Matt Forte

Jay Cutler, Matt Forte

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Updated: November 15, 2011 12:26PM

The game Sunday featured a mobile, strong-armed and poised quarterback operating an offense tailor-made to exploit his strengths. He had time to throw behind a veteran offensive line. He had two solid running backs, an obvious
No. 1 receiver and two Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends that give him big targets in the middle of the field.

But enough about Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers’ offense.

Thirty-six games into Jay Cutler’s extended stay, the Bears’ brain trust — Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and Mike Martz — still is trying to do what first-year Panthers coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski have accomplished in two months.

The Bears might have rediscovered their running game in a 34-29 victory, but their offensive identity remains as elusive as ever.

The unit looked promising in the season opener and pathetic in the next two weeks. The running game produced 13 yards against the Green Bay Packers and 224 against the Panthers. Cutler throws for 302 yards one week, 102 the next.

A quarter of the way through the season, what the offense does well and how it must improve should be obvious. The 2011 Bears? No clue. Nothing and everything.

‘‘It’s hard to get in a rhythm four games into it, to have an identity,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We’re still figuring it out.’’

The Panthers have figured it out. That was evident as they piled up 543 total yards, which is the most the Bears’ defense has allowed since 1982.

So have the Packers and Detroit Lions, who sit atop the NFC North with 4-0 records. Virtually every team in the league has a better sense of what its offense is than the Bears.

Most difficult to understand is why the offense remains at square one in Smith’s eighth season,
Martz’s second and Cutler’s third.

The Bears had to junk the seven-step drops because Cutler was taking a beating last season. During the bye week, Martz correctly put an emphasis on plays that enabled his quarterback to get rid of the ball quicker. The running game became more than pregame rhetoric. The result was five consecutive victories and a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

Given that recent history and how few personnel changes were made during the offseason, that philosophy should have served as the foundation for this season. If things went well and the offensive line continued to develop, Martz then could have added more of the deeper drops that allow Cutler to be more effective down the field.

Instead, the offense has been all over the place heading into a game Monday night against the Lions.

‘‘We have an idea,’’ receiver Roy Williams said when asked about the offense’s identity. ‘‘We’re just working to try to get there. Everybody wants to talk about balance and
everything. That’s fine. Are we a running team? Are we a passing team? I don’t know. When we’re good enough, we can do both and keep teams off their feet. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.’’

Bears fans grew up watching bad offenses through the rails of their cribs. They can spot a floundering unit from space. That’s what made watching the Panthers race up and down Soldier Field as dumbfounding as watching a flamingo cross State Street in a snowstorm. Remember how pathetic the Panthers’ offense was when the Bears beat them last season?

Rivera and Chudzinski drafted Newton and built an offense around him. Even without a normal offseason, Newton is off to a roaring start. Cutler has been with the Bears for two-plus seasons, and Angelo, Smith and Martz still are searching for the right formula.

‘‘We’re not playing perfect football,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We know that. We should get better. We got the ‘W,’ which is always good, but there is going to be room for improvement. We want to go back and look at stuff and realize there were some plays [we left on the field].’’

Cutler has been hit so often that he likely is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and what does Martz do? He runs a draw play near the goal line, exposing him to a shot from Panthers safety Charles Godfrey. This came after seven runs in a row made the Panthers’ defense ripe for a play-action pass.

What Cutler needs is to have his confidence restored. He needs to be in a system and surrounded by
personnel that gives him a chance to be consistent. He needs to be part of an offense that knows what it does well.

The Bears’ defense will know
exactly what to expect when it faces Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on Monday night. The Lions might see an offense that threw the ball 45 times against the Saints or the unit that ran 31 times against the Panthers.

The Bears still are trying to figure it out.

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