MORRISSEY: Bears’ dominant first half fueled by impressive offensive diversity
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist August 24, 2013 1:46AM
OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 23: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears throws a pass during the first quarter against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on August 23, 2013 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Updated: September 26, 2013 6:30AM
OAKLAND, Calif. — I’d like to point out that my finger didn’t hit the panic button last week about the subject of the Bears’ offense. It might have been hovering while considering an emergency landing, but did it touch down? No, it didn’t.
I was worried, however, and it’s why I had asked Jay Cutler whether he consciously would try to pass the ball to someone other than Brandon Marshall in the preseason game Friday against the Raiders. That’s because he had thrown five passes to Marshall the previous game — four caught by Marshall and one caught by the Chargers. ‘‘Spreading the wealth’’ seemed to mean throwing the ball to Marshall’s right shoulder, left shoulder and midsection.
Cutler stubbornly said he wouldn’t make a point of looking for other receivers against the Raiders and went on to paint the media with alarmist, hysterical, sky-is-falling strokes.
‘‘You guys are hitting the panic button after two preseason games and 30 plays,’’ he said.
Let’s be like a lawyer or Ryan Braun: To the extent that Cutler might have been under the impression there was panic, we apologize.
The Bears’ offense looked very good and very diverse in their 34-26 victory against the Raiders. Cutler threw passes to seven players while leading the Bears to a 27-3 halftime lead. He threw eight times to Alshon Jeffery, and although it would be fun to wonder whether Cutler has dumped Marshall for Jeffery, I don’t want to create more problems. The bigger point is that the first-string offense proved it can move very well when Cutler spreads the ball around — unlike last season, when Marshall caught 118 passes and the Bears finished a dismal 28th in total offense.
‘‘We’re going to throw it to the open guy, whoever it is,’’ Cutler said after completing 12 of 21 passes for 142 yards.
This was the all-important third preseason game — if you’re an NFL insider, that’s your cue to genuflect — and the Bears came out looking regular season-ready. It was like this: A pass play broke down in the second quarter, and Cutler scrambled for 13 yards. I’m not saying that would have been
an eight-yard sack last season — wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying. The two rookies on the offensive line, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills, held up fairly well, so the coaches can stop the charade that the offensive line isn’t set.
Matt Forte is the key to this offense. That’s not breaking news, but that doesn’t make it any less true. He rushed six times for 76 yards and caught two passes for 33 yards in the first half. When he’s doing both things well, it opens up everything for the Bears’ offense.
‘‘He’s scary out there,’’ Cutler said.
It’s early. Ridiculously so. We know that. But anyone with even a passing interest in the Bears wanted to see whether there would be some progress in the new system coach Marc Trestman is installing. The offense needed to hurry up already and get better. That wasn’t asking too much. And there was progress. If my eyes didn’t deceive me, the Bears used two- and three-tight-end formations. Martellus Bennett caught his first pass of the preseason, and he and Jeffery had nice blocks to free up Forte on a swing pass that went for a 32-yard touchdown.
But let’s not let the windsock blow too far the other way, OK? For example, it might be a bit rash to check into lodging options for the New York Super Bowl in February. But that’s how things seem to roll in Chicago. If Cutler was accusing the media of hitting the panic button last week, there’s a decent chance he’ll be chastising everyone for getting too excited after the game Friday. And he probably will be right this time.
If you were looking for a buzzkill, Trestman was happy to oblige.
‘‘We certainly have things that we can correct, get better at it, but we’ve seen signals of the kind of team we can be,’’ he said. ‘‘But we’re certainly not going to get ahead of ourselves, either.’’
We can quibble and say that the Raiders are awful, and although that certainly might be true, some of that awfulness was brought on by the Bears.
If it turns out the Bears’ offense is for real, I’ll have to find something else to go to pieces about. Cutler and his panic button should be happy about that.