By ANDREW SELIGMAN,
AP Sports Writer
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Jay Cutler was a little bruised and banged up days after taking some shots during the Chicago Bears’ win over Green Bay on Monday night.
As sore as he felt, Cutler got some relief from the early returns for Chicago’s new-look offense.
The Bears are 3-0 and the lone unbeaten team in the NFC, and the offense is providing its share of highlights under new coordinator Mike Martz.
“We’re growing, we’re still young, we’re still pretty young in this offense,” Cutler said. “I think Mike is still trying to figure out exactly where we’re at, what he can call in certain situations, what we can handle on a week to week basis as far as game-planning wise, what we can handle during the game, what he can go do, what doesn’t really work for us. So like everyone is still kind of growing and gelling together.”
Martz isn’t sure how good the Bears’ offense can be, either.
“I really don’t know, and that’s the fun part of this,” he said. “There’s enough talent here, and it’s exciting because each week we continue to get better.”
The Bears are a statistical mishmash at the moment, among the best in some areas and worst in others even though Cutler is again looking like a top-tier quarterback after a rough first season in Chicago.
They boast fast if still unproven receivers, reliable tight ends and a dangerous pass-catching running back in Matt Forte, and it’s added up to a passing game that ranks fifth. Yet an inconsistent line ranks among the league’s worst at 27th and the run game is even closer to the bottom at 29th.
The Bears seem to have no problem getting the big plays, with 12 completions for 20 or more yards tying them for fifth in that category. But when they needed a yard on fourth down at the goal line, well, see what happened against Green Bay or in the opener against Detroit – they couldn’t get it.
Third downs are a problem, too. The Bears are 10 of 34 and tied for 28th at 29 percent.
“I think we’ve seen glimpses of it,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “I think we have some guys who can make big plays, get some big chunks of yardage at a time. By no means are we a finished product. We still have some work to do and still be a little more consistent in areas. But I think at times we’ve seen that when we play well and execute the way we work toward, we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Whether they get there remains to be seen.
So far, what they have are promising signs, signals it could be an impressive offense if they progress as the season wears on.
Cutler, the league’s fifth-leading passer, has clearly bought into Martz’s system so far. He’s averaging more yards per completion (9.6) than anyone, and his 109.7 rating trails only Peyton Manning and Michael Vick.
Most important, he’s hanging onto the ball and has only two interceptions after throwing a league-leading 26 a year ago.
But the one he threw in the first quarter against Green Bay also served as a reminder that the Bears remain a work in progress. So did the hits he absorbed early on and later in the game.
A helmet-to-helmet hit by the Packers’ Frank Zombo in the fourth quarter left Cutler a little woozy and led to a $7,500 fine from the NFL for Zombo. It also wiped out an interception by Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett.
“Some of those you hope the next play is a run, but it doesn’t always happen like that,” Cutler said. “Those hits are tough when you take them in the head like that under the chin. And then you know you have got to get right back up, the clock is ticking, it could be a third down or it could be a second down and you just never know. That was kind of a crucial part of the game where we had to go down there and score so it’s just another challenge to the game.”
On the interception early in the game, neither Cutler nor Olsen made the correct adjustment. The pass was nowhere near its intended target and got picked off by safety Derrick Martin.
“We had Greg going up the seam and they carried him a little bit,” Cutler said. “The safety was out wide and we had a good look for it, but it was just the linebacker kind of got on top of Greg. That’s something we learned from. In that situation, we kind of want Greg to come underneath. But I didn’t know that. Greg didn’t know that. After watching the film, we made the adjustments. That’s kind of something that happens on the run out there that next time we’ll probably hit that.”
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