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updated: 9/27/2012 8:06 PM

Bears looking to improve on first down

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  • Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears are the worst team in the NFL on first downs, average 3.32 yards per snap through the first three games.

      Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears are the worst team in the NFL on first downs, average 3.32 yards per snap through the first three games.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

When it comes to getting off on the wrong foot, the Bears' offense has every other team in the league beaten, hands down.

No team in the NFL is worse on first downs than the Bears, who average a skimpy 3.32 yards per snap, the lowest by a wide margin. Every other team averages at least 4.03 yards on first down; the NFL average is 5.35. The Carolina Panthers have gained an NFL-best average of 8.39 yards on first downs.

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Those first-down foibles are putting the Bears' offense in precarious positions and setting it up for failure.

Lack of success on first downs have contributed to a Bears offense that is No. 27 in total yards, 28th in passing yards, 32nd in interception percentage and 29th in sack percentage.

"(When we're) putting ourselves in second-and-15, second-and-12, it's hard to call a game," said Jay Cutler, who has suffered when put in obvious, third-and-long passing situations.

His third-down passer rating is a substandard 52.9, 31st out of 32 quarterbacks.

"You've got to get positive yards on first and second down and give yourself a chance," Cutler said. "When you're fighting a second-and-8-plus, third-and-8-plus, it doesn't really matter what you call, it's just hard. You're fighting uphill.

"Getting positive yards on first down, whether it's a run or pass, and the same on second down, and giving yourself a chance, it's vital."

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice is aware of the situation.

"We have to be better on first downs, first and foremost," Tice said. "We're bad on first down. So we're putting ourselves in second-and-long a lot, and then you're fighting to get back to manageable (situations) on third down.

"So our goal this week is to be more efficient on first down. Get that four yards running the ball and throwing the ball, shoot for six yards and get ourselves in a better, manageable second down."

That will be especially difficult Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys, whose defense is the NFL's best on first down, allowing just 3.78 yards per play. The Bears' defense is No. 7, at 4.38 yards per first-down play.

While the offense has had problems across the board since the season opener, Tice is stressing improvement on first down in practice this week.

"We can't improve everything in one week," he said. "So we're going to focus at being better on first down. I'm going to attempt to do a better job of making sure our quarterback stays clean and allowing our guys to play fast and see if we have come any distance since the Green Bay game."

That 23-10 loss to the Packers best exemplifies the Bears' first-down foul-ups.

Their first play of that game was a sack for minus-13 yards. The next possession started with an incomplete pass and the next with a sack for minus-10. All three possessions went three-and-out.

After the next two first-down plays picked up 7 and 4 yards, there was a loss of 1 yard with an unnecessary roughness penalty for minus-15 tacked on.

The ensuing possession began with a false start and an incompletion before a final incompletion on the last first-down play of the half.

By then, the Bears were looking up from a 13-0 hole.

"We're focusing on overall cleaning up first down," Tice said. "Then you look within your groups and say, 'OK, what can we do in the O-line room to clean up first down? What can we do in the receiving room? The running backroom? Then make sure we're working on those things."

That's a lot of work. Good thing the Bears have an extra day to prepare this week.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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