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updated: 11/3/2012 7:54 PM

Bears must improve on first down

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  • @$ID/[No paragraph style]:Steve Lundy/ Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has had success in the fourth quarter this season, but the Bears have started slow in most games and struggled on first downs this season.

      @$ID/[No paragraph style]:Steve Lundy/ Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has had success in the fourth quarter this season, but the Bears have started slow in most games and struggled on first downs this season.


The Bears average just 4.19 yards on first-down plays. No NFL team is worse. One word can describe their performance.

"Awful," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "We see more second-and-10s probably than anyone in the league, second-and-8-plus at least. It's tough. We've talked about it, getting off to a better start on first down, whether it is run or pass because third-and-6, 7, 8 is hard; and second-and-10 is hard, too."

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Somehow the Bears have managed to convert 40 percent of their third downs, a respectable 16th in the league. Only two players have more third-down catches than Brandon Marshall's 16, and nobody has more yards on third down than his 272.

"We've found ways to manage it," Cutler said, "but facing some better teams down the stretch, we're going to have to get better at it."

Thinking about it:

Quarterback Jay Cutler has praised the mental approach of wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but the Bears' leading pass catcher says it's nothing new.

"That started back in high school when I noticed the guys were faster than me, so I had to be a little crafty in my route running," Marshall said. "As I began to mature and my body began to grow, it just came along with it."

Reuniting with Cutler allows Marshall to work with a quarterback who's on the same wavelength.

"My father used to always teach me the game and how to run routes and be quarterback friendly," Marshall said. "So being with a quarterback that understands leverage and body position made it easy for me, and I think it makes it easy on our offense, so we have some chemistry."

Getting better:

Linebacker Brian Urlacher feels like he continues to make progress after missing all of the preseason and all but a handful of training camp practices. He had a season-high 12 tackles last week.

"I feel like I'm getting better every week," the 13-year veteran said. "The more I'm out there, the better I'm going to get, just seeing plays. I missed a lot of time during training camp, and when you don't get to see the plays, you don't realize how rusty you get."

According to team stats, Urlacher has 51 tackles, 1 behind linebacker Lance Briggs and safety Chris Conte for the team lead.

"I don't think anyone's 100 percent in this league after seven games," Urlacher said, "but I'm as close as I'm going to get."

By the numbers:

Defenders know they have to be disciplined and assignment sound to contain Titans running back Chris Johnson, who's tied for seventh in the NFL with 595 rushing yards. And then they have to tackle him.

"Gap control is going to be essential," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "But then there is still going to be a free hitter that has got to tackle. We are going to have guys that will be free to make those tackles in space, so you funnel the ball to a certain area and guys have got to make a play. That's what's tough -- he can make you miss."

That philosophy worked well the last time the Bears faced Johnson, when they held him to 8 yards on 14 carries four years ago in a 21-14 Titans victory at Soldier Field.

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