By Adam Hoge-
OAKLAND (CBS) — Better start? Check.
No turnovers? Check.
Spread the ball around? Check.
Score? Check. Check. Check. Check. And check.
Those are the improvements Bears head coach Marc Trestman said he wanted to see from his first team offense this week against the Raiders and that’s exactly what he got Friday night at the O.co Coliseum as the Bears won 34-26.
“It was good to see our first units go out there and play hard,” Trestman said. “We came a long way to get better as a football team to win a game. And I think we did both. We got better.”
The Bears’ offense certainly looked better than it did in the first two preseason games. The unit came out running with a three tight end set on the first play of the game, allowing running back Matt Forte to gain seven yards on first down. Then, after a two-yard gain by Forte on second down, quarterback Jay Cutler made a smart check on a 3rd-&-1 play that had the option of being either a run or a pass. He saw the safety creeping into the box and hit wide receiver Alshon Jeffery on a quick slant for 22 yards.
That sure beats going backwards on the first series.
“That’s a route that’s built into the play and they had safeties in the box so he took the option to throw it and throw it to Alshon,” Trestman said.
Cutler followed up by hitting Martellus Bennett for 16 yards and Forte then ran for six yards before Brandon Marshall couldn’t come up with two consecutive passes — the latter one being a blatant drop.
That’s right, the only reason the first drive stalled was because Brandon Marshall — you know, the guy who set all those Bears receiving records last year? — dropped the ball.
The Bears can live with that in a preseason game.
But leave it to the takeaway-driven defense to give the offense a second chance. After Tim Jennings ended the Raiders’ first drive with an interception of Matt Flynn on the third play, Cutler hit Forte on a swing-pass for a 32-yard touchdown on the very next play. Key blocks by Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett (who was lined up in slot) allowed Forte to break it all the way.
“Matt’s an all-purpose player, he’s a three-down player, he can run, he’s a very good pass receiver and it just helps spread the field even more with the players we have,” Trestman said.
Spreading the field is exactly what the Bears did Friday night and it led to big plays. How do these sound?
– Forte off left tackle for a gain of 35 yards.
– Cutler to Jeffery for 12 yards on 3rd-&-9.
– Cutler to Marquess Wilson for 14 yards.
– Forte off right tackle for 17 yards.
– Cutler to Jeffery for 14 yards.
– Cutler to Jeffery for 11 yards.
You’re excused if you had to read that list twice. You’re not used to it.
So did Trestman feel like the first-team offense accomplished all the things he asked for this week?
“Yeah I think we did,” the head coach said. “We stopped ourselves in many cases. We had at least three drops in the first half, maybe six depending on how you look at them.”
Indeed, the most obvious negative was that Marshall and Bennett both dropped two passes and you could pin a third drop on Marshall if you want to be picky. But it’s probably a nice feeling for the coaching staff that they have to be picky this week.
Now, to be fair, the opponent has to be considered. It’s still debatable whether or not the Raiders knew they were playing tackle football Friday night. Their first-team defense was bad from start to finish and the Bears will see much better competition every single week during the regular season.
And that’s exactly why enthusiasm must be restrained until Sept. 8 when the real games start — just like the panic had to be restrained the last two weeks.
“We’ve seen signals of the kind of team we want to be, but we’re certainly not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Trestman said.
The progress is significant though. It matters that Cutler successfully spread the ball around and did not throw any interceptions. It matters that Matt Forte continues to look weaponized in this system. And it matters that rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills sustained the success they had on the right side of the offensive line last week.
You better believe Trestman’s wish list for Friday’s game mattered to him and he has to be encouraged that his offense built up a 27-0 lead to start the game.
“It’s 30 minutes on a Friday night in August and we got a long way to go,” the head coach said. “I think our guys are mature enough to have that kind of perspective as we move forward.”
Trestman’s right. It was just 30 minutes on a Friday night in August. But in Chicago, those 30 minutes in August usually don’t look as impressive.
The Bears will take it.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.