Bears offense a different animal now

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Jay Cutler will make his first start since Week 9 as the Bears are set to take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

    Jay Cutler will make his first start since Week 9 as the Bears are set to take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Jay Cutler looks for an open man during the first half of the Bears 21-19 loss to the Lions at Soldier Field.

    Jay Cutler looks for an open man during the first half of the Bears 21-19 loss to the Lions at Soldier Field. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Jay Cutler will be running the show today in Cleveland. Cutler has throw 13 TD passes and 8 interceptions on the season.

    Jay Cutler will be running the show today in Cleveland. Cutler has throw 13 TD passes and 8 interceptions on the season. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Jay Cutler passes during the first half of the Bears' loss to Washington on Oct. 20.

    Jay Cutler passes during the first half of the Bears' loss to Washington on Oct. 20. Associated Press

  • Jay Cutler will be the center of attention today in Cleveland as he returns to lead the Bears against the 4-9 Browns.

    Jay Cutler will be the center of attention today in Cleveland as he returns to lead the Bears against the 4-9 Browns. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/14/2013 7:48 PM

The Bears' offense that Jay Cutler will direct today against the Browns has changed quite a bit since the last time he took a snap.

It had been running smoothly and efficiently for much of the season when Cutler suffered a high left ankle sprain in a 21-19 loss to the Lions on Nov. 10. But since then, the offense has shifted into high gear with backup quarterback Josh McCown at the wheel, even though the Bears were only able to split the four games he started.

 

The offense that Cutler will direct today at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium is more powerful than the one he guided more than a month ago. Since that loss to the Lions, the Bears have improved statistically in almost every major offensive category.

In third-down efficiency, the Bears have bounced from 17th to 10th in four weeks, thanks mostly to last week's season-best, 8-for-11 effort against the Cowboys, which led to a season-high 45 points.

The offense has also done an exceptional job of avoiding negative plays in the past month. McCown has been intercepted just once while throwing 220 passes, 150 of them in the last four games. The Bears moved up from 14th to No. 6 in avoiding interceptions. The improving offensive line has permitted 11 sacks in six games.

"The offense is definitely coming together," Cutler said. "You could see it in bits and pieces in the off-season and training camp and leading up to the season.

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"Guys are playing well. 'Trest' has a real good bead on what we're doing well, putting us in different positions to be successful. The line is still playing exceptionally well. (Matt) Forte is doing everything well, blocking, running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield. He's kind of making it all go for us."

Forte has two of his three 100-yard games in the previous two weeks and has averaged 95.5 rushing yards per game since Cutler was injured. He's also caught 21 passes for 186 yards.

Cutler said he learned a lot watching the offense in action from a distance.

"Seeing how good our offensive line is playing and seeing how many weapons we have on the outside and just seeing how easy it has been to manage the game and (how) those guys on the outside made plays," he said. "(It's) just giving them an opportunity, getting the ball to Matt on check downs, letting him run the ball."

Forte has been the meat and potatoes, while wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall have supplied the big-play sizzle.

Jeffery's produced 458 yards and 3 TDs on 28 catches in four games. Marshall has 24 catches for 304 yards.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jeffery's emergence as a big-time threat began with Cutler under center, but he has continued to evolve and now presents a dilemma for opposing defenses that must decide which wide receiver deserves more attention.

"He's a hard cover 1-on-1 because he can go deep, he's got a really good short range, and (gets) in and out of cuts (quickly)," Cutler said of Jeffery. "He's tough to deal with. You've got Brandon on the other side, so you kind of have to pick your poison."

Neither QB would have the luxury of utilizing the advanced weaponry without the work of the offensive line, which has benefited from starting the same five all season. The group didn't jell overnight, but the dividends of continuity and familiarity are paying off each week, giving coaches greater latitude in play-calling.

"Our line has had a chance to be together longer," Trestman said. "We've had a chance to get to know what our players can do well and things we need to focus on. Our players are becoming more familiar with the things that we're asking them to do. Because we've been fortunate enough to be reasonably healthy with our other 10 guys (beside quarterback), we've had a chance to grow and learn more about each other."

That has given Trestman a better idea of what plays will work best with the particular personnel groupings on the field, which have been remarkably consistent at every position except quarterback.

"I think 'Trest' for the last month has really got a bead and got a feel for what he likes to call, what we're running well, what we feel comfortable with, what the offensive line likes in the running game," Cutler said. "Krome (Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer) has done a good job of mixing that stuff up. So we're moving along."

Against the Browns, the Bears will find out if that offensive progress continues with a change back to Cutler at quarterback.

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

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