Bernstein: Bears Still Playing With Fire
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Last year, they hedged their bet. This year, they’re doubling down.
The Mike Martz offense – the real bells-and-whistles, 7-step-drop, full route-tree one – proved unsustainable when they couldn’t keep opponents from ripping Jay Cutler’s limbs off and taking bites out of his head.
So with nine weeks remaining in the season, you’ll remember, a conservative, sensible bloc intervened.
Using some combination of hypnotherapy, water-torture and duct tape, they convinced Martz to scale things back, balance the play-calling and ask less of a leaky offensive line. The nearly-even run/pass ratio that followed worked well enough to propel them to seven wins in their last nine games and a run to the NFC title game.
Yet, as they ready for their first preseason game of 2011, they have gone back to what didn’t work.
Prototypes have been rounded up to once again attempt to replicate the dreamy diagrams that dance through Martz’s head. The linemen are enormous, the new wideout familiar, and the jumbo tight ends will be asked to block pass-rushers by themselves.
What the Bears appear to be thinking is this: our problems last year were only a matter of personnel, and we have better parts in better places. We can run this system the way it was meant to run, last year’s struggles be damned.
The steep risk/reward gamble is back, with Martz using the term “quantum leap” to describe his expectations for the ramped-up plan being installed at an accelerated pace.
We’re told Cutler’s footwork is perfect – drops exact, knees bent, shoulders flat. We’re told Roy Williams will return to his Pro-Bowl form. We’re told that a line of blockers made up of five guys in unfamiliar spots will be ready to go.
I’m sure it all looks swell in walk-throughs. Let’s see how it looks at real speed, and whether or not this is just another hopeful miscalculation.
Cutler’s mechanics – like those of any QB – tend to break down under duress, reverting to old comforts. A receiver has it free and easy when sprinting around in shorts, but he finds the going tougher when the cornerback drives an elbow into his neck after the snap.
(The latter point must be considered as we experience the familiar groundswell of love for Dane Sanzenbacher, the latest Bear wonderboy to play the role of Great White Hope/Grinder/Undrafted Everyman.)
We did this last year, raving about everything and everybody on offense until they actually started playing. Then the sacks came in bunches, the line had to be reconstructed and the restrictor plate was finally arc-welded onto Martz’s cerebrum.
He’s thrown it off now, ready for the whiz-bang Rams re-creation project to pick back up.
That team played a decade ago, which feels even longer in the world of the ever-evolving NFL. Martz was a hire of last resort, with teams too aware of both his complex, rigid system and his previous clashes with head coaches.
The Bears were forced to try to make it work, and this is how the process goes. Install it, uninstall half of it, then add some new hardware and reboot it, with fingers crossed that it won’t crash.
This offense is undoubtedly explosive. When blocked and executed, it can rack up points by stretching and stressing defenses and exploiting favorable matchups.
But that also means it can blow up in your face.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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