Bears' offense coming up short in key area

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • No matter when injured Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returns, the offense's inability to convert on third-and-short must be corrected.

    No matter when injured Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returns, the offense's inability to convert on third-and-short must be corrected. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/3/2013 8:12 PM

The notion that rushing Jay Cutler back onto the field Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys will help pull the Bears out of their 3-losses-in-four-games tailspin is preposterous.

There's no doubt the starting quarterback has to be back under center the instant he's fully functional on his sprained ankle because the Bears' brain trust still must determine if he figures in the team's future. But, considering Cutler has yet to practice and cannot run anywhere close to full speed, now is not the time.

 

Look what happened Nov. 10 against the Detroit Lions when Cutler came back from the 3-week-old groin injury and then sprained his ankle in the second quarter. With his mobility clearly compromised, Cutler could generate just 6 points in nearly three quarters of play.

Like an arm-weary starting pitcher, Cutler was left in too long. From the time he was injured until he was yanked, Cutler completed 13 of 29 passes for 137 yards, no touchdowns and 1 interception, for a passer rating of 44.8.

When coach Marc Trestman finally went to his bullpen for Josh McCown, the backup quickly led a TD drive. But it wound up being too little, too late when Matt Forte was stuffed from a yard out on the attempted 2-point conversion.

That brings up a much bigger problem for the offense than who takes the snap. The Bears' repeated failures to pick up one yard on the ground are the biggest flaws in an offense that is much improved in almost every other area.

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After the Minnesota Vikings scored their final touchdown to slice the Bears' lead to 20-17 midway through the fourth quarter Sunday, the offense had a golden opportunity to retake control of the game with a second-and-1 from the Minnesota 41. Twice Forte was stuffed for no gain, forcing a punt that led to the Vikings' game-tying field goal.

"We had a second-and-1 and a third-and-1 that we didn't convert, (which is) critical to maintaining possession," Trestman said. "Very disappointed. We talked through all of those, and we'll continue to work on trying to get better."

The opponent's 41-yard line is four-down territory for an offense confident in its offensive line, but that's not the Bears. Their line has been unable to get even a tiny push in short-yardage situations, so it's difficult to disagree with Trestman's decision to go passive and kick the ball away.

A week earlier in the 42-21 loss at St. Louis, it took the Bears four plays to reach the end zone from a yard out, and that's not counting two other fails that were wiped out by defensive penalties.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They have converted just 24 of 42 opportunities (57.1 percent) when needing one yard for a touchdown or a first down, including a pathetic 6-for-16 (37.5 percent) in the past five games. Forte has converted 12 of 17 times (70.6 percent) when needing to get one yard. Michael Bush is just 3-for-11 (27.3 percent).

At the goal line it's even worse. As a team, the Bears have scored touchdowns on just 5 of 14 plays from their opponent's 1-yard line (35.7 percent). On nine attempts, Bush has scored only 2 touchdowns.

By comparison, there are 20 ball carriers in the NFL who have converted 80 percent or more of their opportunities on third-and-1, and 36 who have been successful at least 60 percent of the time.

It's not just Forte and Bush who are at fault. The O-line has shown dramatic improvement in protecting the quarterback this season, and Forte is on pace for the most productive rushing season of his career. But, when there's just one yard to be gained, the whole operation seems to break down.

"All five guys haven't connected in putting together the proper step and footwork and angles," Trestman said of the O-line. "I'm not going to pin it down to one guy, because nobody in that room would want me to do that.

"But everybody's got to be working in the same direction on these short-yardage plays, and we've taken turns in not getting that done. That's something we have to get better at. That's got to be a point of emphasis, because we've got to be able to run the ball on third-and-1 and make first downs."

At this point, throwing the ball in those situations might be a better idea.

•Defensive tackle Tracy Robertson was signed to the practice squad.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder played against the Rams after four weeks on the Bears' practice squad but was waived last week to make room for safety Sean Cattouse, who was promoted from the practice squad because of injuries to safeties Major Wright and Anthony Walters.

•Follow Bob's NFL and Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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