Bears new-look offense is impressive, but the team’s future is uncertain

The Chicago Bears looked like the 2012 Bears for the first 37:08 of game time in Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Marc Trestman’s new-look offense had produced just 10 points at the time, with seven of the points coming after Peanut Tillman’s first pick set the Bears up nicely at the Cincinnati 36-yard line. The other three points came off a career-long 58-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. The offense just felt too safe with many passes being thrown quickly and on target, but only five or 10 yards downfield. The Bears’ passing attack, with Cutler’s arm and big but speedy wideouts in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, is suited for downfield targets that Trestman just wasn’t calling. Aside from Tillman’s interceptions, the defense didn’t have much to show for at that point, either.

Cincinnati’s star wide receiver, A.J. Green, made a mockery of the Bears defense and Tillman in particular, receiving for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. His first touchdown capped off a 97-yard Bengals drive, wasting a beautiful 51-yard punt by Adam Podlesh. His second touchdown, a 48-yard bomb from Andy Dalton, followed by a goal-line touchdown by BenJarvus Green-Ellis to begin the second half, put the Bears in 21-10 hole. The 2012 Bears would’ve lost this game.

Instead, the 2013 version stormed back, outscoring the Bengals 14-0 in the final quarter. Trestman’s offense displayed versatility unknown to the Bears a year ago. The oft-depended upon Marshall still got his, with 104 yards and a touchdown, but three other players were targeted in the passing game at least six times. A staple of Trestman’s offense is getting the ball to running backs and tight ends, and Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte combined to receive for 90 yards and a touchdown. The Bears’ offense was methodical, requiring pinpoint precision and timing by Cutler. The longest play of the game was a 38-yard catch by Marshall, demonstrating the patience needed to execute the new scheme. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Bears’ new offense is the line, which didn’t allow a sack against the Bengals, who were one sack shy of the league lead last season. Rookie offensive linemen Jordan Mills and Kyle Long looked anything but first-year players in their first career starts. Seeing Cutler not get sacked was an odd sight for Bears fans, but a welcome one.

The defense, minus Brian Urlacher, was unfazed for the majority of the second half. Green, who was making fantasy owners salivate in the first half, was held to just 33 yards in the second half as Dalton was regularly under duress and rushing his throws. The Bengals only rushed for 63 yards as a team, with Lance Briggs regularly stopping ball carriers behind the line. If only HBO’s Hard Knocks extended to the regular season so we all could’ve seen Marvin Lewis and the coaching staffs’ postgame tirade after Cincinnati let this one get away. I would still argue that the Bears earned this victory more than the Bengals blew it, although Rey Maualuga’s penalty on third down was as boneheaded as it gets.

Which Bears team will we see this season? Will it be the team that couldn’t stop the Bengals passing attack in the first half while its own offense struggled to move the ball? Or will it be the team that operated like a well-oiled machine while constantly being in the right spot at the right time? You just never know with the Bears.

The Jay Cutler era has been more up-and-down than Ben Affleck’s career. The Bears didn’t make the postseason until Cutler’s second season with the team in 2010, when they lost in the NFC Championship to the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers. The Bears started the following season on a tear, with seven wins in its first ten games, but the team would finish 1-5 with Cutler on the sidelines. The Bears would win seven of the first eight games of the 2012 season with Cutler back and healthy. Chicago fans began talking up a possible run at the Bears’ first Super Bowl Championship since 1985. Like always with these Bears, the team finished 3-5 and didn’t even make the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.

The 2013 Bears are a work in progress. The 14-0 second half was something to behold, but the first 37 minutes can’t be forgotten. Cutler still threw one of his patented, overconfident interceptions; Forte still couldn’t make the most of his carries (2.6 yards per carry); and the Bears’ offense still relied on its defense too often.

Maybe that second half was a mirage, just like the Bears’ hot starts in 2011 and 2012. But if that spurt is a sign of things to come for the Bears, maybe a deep postseason run isn’t entirely out of the question. Maybe.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]