Matt Trowbridge: Bears need to find new identity on offense
They aren’t who we thought they were.
It starts with Chicago’s 5-7 record and dismal playoff hopes after Sunday’s 21-16 loss to the New York Giants.
“It’s bleak, but there’s a glimmer of hope in there,” Bears tight end Desmond Clark said. “What else do we have to hang on to? That’s it. That’s all I’ve got at this point.”
The defending NFC champions’ hopelessness goes beyond their inability to win more than one game in a row. It strikes at their very identity.
Coach Lovie Smith loves to boast the Bears “get off the bus running.” But Rex Grossman threw a career-high 46 passes Sunday. In the first half, Chicago called 31 pass plays and 12 runs. And the only second-guessing revolved around not staying even more wide open after Chicago scored its only touchdown on a game-opening drive in a brief trial with the no-huddle offense.
“It was successful, but we’re a team that doesn’t run no-huddle unless it’s a two-minute situation,” Clark said. “It would have been a drastic change to expect us to run no-huddle for four quarters.”
No, the Bears expect a ball-control offense. They don’t have it. Even when things were good Sunday – and they often were, with Grossman throwing for 296 yards, his second-highest total ever and Chicago winning the turnover battle 4-0 – the Bears didn’t control the ball.
Instead, Chicago gained yards in chunks, with six pass plays of at least 20 yards.
“We’ve got to get some big plays, but that’s not what’s going to win for you,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “What’s going to win for you is consistency and executing throughout.”
Grossman is consistently bad on third down. On third down and 5 yards or more, Grossman is more likely to move the Bears backward than forward. He converted only 2 of 15 such pass plays Sunday, losing yards five times. They were 0-for-9 last week.
“If you are not converting, you are not keeping the ball,” Turner said. “That makes it real tough. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to keep the ball.”
The Bears gained only two first downs the entire second half before a final failed drive in the last 90 seconds.
“Our defense would get a stop, and then we’d come out and stumble around and they’d have to go right back on the field,” running back Adrian Peterson said.
This isn’t new. It’s why Chicago didn’t win the Super Bowl last year. And why it struggled late last season. Going back to last December, the Bears have converted 16 of their last 104 third-and-5 tries when Grossman dropped back to pass.
“It’s gone on,” Turner said, “more than we’d like.”
Maybe that would work if the Bears switched to a high-reward, high-risk offense. Stayed in the no-huddle. Let Rex play gunslinger. But that’s not Chicago’s identity. And when Grossman gains 189 yards on six pass plays and 52 yards on the other 46 (counting his 52 lost yards on six sacks), well, you can’t play ball control when you average 1.2 yards per play on 90 percent of your pass plays.
That’s how Grossman and the Bears can badly outplay mistake-prone Eli Manning and the Giants for three quarters, only to see Manning steal the game with 95 yards passing in the final quarter.
“Eli and their receivers made plays in clutch situations and came through for them,” Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said.
Chicago passed well on first down. “On first down, they were playing the run more, so that was the time to do some play-action and take some shots,” Turner said.
But that’s not enough, if the Bears can’t also pass on third down. They couldn’t Sunday. Once again.
“We had opportunities to make plays we just didn’t make,” Grossman said. “We just didn’t make them in the second half, especially. It’s frustrating. We’ll think about this one for a long time.”
They should think about a new identity. This one isn’t working.
Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or email@example.com