By Laurence W. Holmes-
(CBS) When the Bears traded for Brandon Marshall, it opened up a whole new world of offensive football.
By the end of the season, that will probably be true. There aren’t many quarterback/wideout combos in Bears history that have as much potential as Jay Cutler and Marshall do, but if you don’t see it on Sunday against the Colts, don’t be too alarmed. A new offense has been installed and opening days with new systems can be clunky.
There weren’t a lot of snaps for the first team offense in the preseason. There were instances where Cutler was pressured, but he wasn’t sacked against the Redskins or the Giants. How the offensive line plays will determine how deep into the playbook Mike Tice can go.
“We can only do as much as they can handle,” Tice said. “If they can only block 3-step drops, we can only throw 3-step passes. So, we’re limited to what they can do and as of now they’ve been holding up really well, so we’ve been able to open up our playbook and be a little creative in how we design plays.”
No sacks is good, but the defenses that the Bears went up against weren’t game-planning to exploit weaknesses – something that Cutler pointed out Wednesday.
“We also have to understand that this is real now and (defenses are) gonna be scheming ways to attack our offensive line and attack our offensive scheme.” Cutler said.
Teams will try to make Marshall a non-factor. Expect to see double teams on him, forcing the other wideouts to have to step up. Earl Bennett, Devin Hester & Alshon Jeffrey have to be smart, find soft spots against zone and beat man coverage. For his part, Marshall has to understand that there are games where he might not see the ball.
“Expectations are high, I told Brandon he might get two balls this game.” Cutler said.
Considering his last couple of years in Miami, Marshall is well aware of the attention he’ll get from defenses.
“I’m going into my seventh year and every year I think I see more and more coverage, especially the last two years,” Marshall said. “It’ll be really hard for teams to really stop us with the guys we have in the locker room. There’s no coverage out there that I haven’t seen, so… I’m prepared.”
The Colts present a unique problem in preparation. Indy shifted from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense under new coach Chuck Pagano. That means taking Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney and using them as rush ends instead of “hand on ground” 4-3 defensive ends. The Colts are excited how the transition has gone.
“(Freeney has) done an outstanding job. … He spent the whole offseason here learning the system, learning the terminology.” Pagano said.
The Bears have had to use the preseason games to prep for them. Usually, that’s a no-no in the NFL because it’s not necessarily true to what you’ll see in a real game.
“The preseason games are your best indicator,” Cutler said. “From there you’re gonna look at the other teams that the coach has coach for and try to make some educated guesses of what they’re gonna do.”
The Bears are confident that they know what to expect, but it may lead to a lack of crispness right off the bat. Freeney and Mathis are very good pass rushers. When you add in being unsure which one is dropping into to coverage, it could make things a bit messy.
For now J’Marcus Webb has the job at left tackle. It should be noted, that he improved as camp went on, but until he shows otherwise, he can only truly be judged on the player that he’s been.
According to the folks at Pro Football Focus, Webb allowed 12 sacks and 30 QB hurries last year and graded out as the worst starting left tackle in football . Perhaps the offseason helped, but the battle with Chris Williams would lead you to think otherwise. On the other side, Carimi is still an unknown NFL commodity, with injury concerns. Mike Tice even floated the idea of “spelling” Carimi with Chris Williams if fatigue in his leg becomes a factor.
It’s easy to imagine that the Cutler-to-Marshall connection will put up highlight plays and a ton of points, but if the Bears stumble on Sunday, don’t be shocked. Even they’re couching how far they are in the development of their offensive weapons.
“I feel good about where we’re going,” Tice said. “I don’t feel good about where we’re at yet, but I feel good about where we’re going.”
For more Bears coverage, follow Laurence on Twitter @LaurenceWHolmes.