Time for Bears offense to get started
Based on their 7-1 record, the Bears haven't been hindered much by an offense that has stumbled coming out of the blocks in most games.
"I don't care how we start," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. "It's all about how we finish."
Good point, because the offense has finished games with a flourish.
But sluggish starts remain a concern and could prove difficult to overcome Sunday night against the Houston Texans, next week against the San Francisco 49ers and against a higher level of competition in the second half of the season.
The Bears' offense has scored 44 first-quarter points this season, but 14 of those came on 2 TD drives last week that totaled 20 yards, thanks to great field position provided by the defense and special teams.
Most of the time in the first quarter the offense has run like a 1985 Yugo.
"We try to figure that out every day when we come to work," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "We're trying to work toward it being better in the first half and better in the first quarter."
The Bears are last in the NFL in first-down plays, averaging just 4.27 yards per snap, and they're even worse on all plays in the first quarter, averaging only 4.11 yards per snap.
The offense has committed 5 of its 12 turnovers in the first quarter, including 4 Jay Cutler interceptions and a Cutler fumble. There also was a safety caused by J'Marcus Webb's illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty in the end zone.
"We have to execute," Cutler said. "I think we have to recognize what (defenses) are playing and attack them a certain way according to what coverage and fronts we're seeing. It's a mixed bag of things."
Combined with their 37 second-quarter points, the offense has scored 81 first-half points, just 7 more than it has scored in the fourth quarter alone. The third quarter has been similar to the first two, with the Bears generating 46 points.
Cutler leads the NFL with a 135.0 fourth-quarter passer rating. But in the first three quarters his passer rating is 68.6, which would place him 32nd if maintained over the entire game. In the first half, Cutler has a 61.7 passer rating, worst in the NFL. Even worse is Cutler's first-quarter passer rating of 37.9.
But it's not all his fault. The offense has committed 9 penalties in the first quarter that have prevented the development of an early rhythm. Eight of the 28 sacks have come in the first quarter, frequently leaving the offense in difficult down-and-distance situations.
"When the things don't look (good), it's because we're not executing," said Tice, who still is evolving as a playcaller. "We've just got to continue to work our technique because I've found out over the years that in games technique is what wins for you.
"We need to continue to work and drill so we can put together a consistent four quarters. That's really what the goal is. We want to continue to work on first downs; we want to continue to work on starting better."
Part of the reason the Bears' slow starts haven't been more of an issue is the fourth-quarter efficiency of the offense and especially Cutler. He has 8 TD passes and just 2 picks in the final 15 minutes while accumulating 33 percent of his passing yards and averaging a whopping 11.43 yards per attempt, a 55 percent increase over his full-game average of 7.36.
"We're playing with a lead," Cutler said, simplifying things. "It's easy to predict what they're going to be in when you're up 20 points. They've got to stop the run, so we're going to throw it outside if we have to make some plays and we're going to get 1-on-1 matchups.
"Playing with a lead makes things a lot easier."
But Cutler also lit up the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter, even though the Bears trailed 19-7 after three. Cutler's go-to guy Marshall thinks the late-game magic is more than just having a lead.
"He's the closer," Marshall said of Cutler. "That's his title. I've been looking for a nickname for Jay, and I think it's going to be 'The Closer.'
"Fourth quarter, crunchtime, he has that aura about him that just spells greatness. Great players, it's how you finish, whether it's the second half of the season or the second half or the last two minutes, it's how you finish.
"He has that. That's what makes him special."
For the Bears, the second half of the season starts Sunday night.
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