Most of the names are the same from the Week 6 loss to the Seahawks, but it'll be a different Bears offense that takes the field for Sunday's rematch at noon at Soldier Field.
"Our offensive line play was horrible, so we'd like to play better than we did in that game," said 13-year veteran center Olin Kreutz of the 23-20 loss. "They did a great job of confusing us. That starts with me, getting everybody on the right guy, so I'd like to play better with my identifications."
That game was the first at left guard for Chris Williams, who lost his left tackle job to Frank Omiyale when he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2, which sidelined him for three games. And it would be two more weeks before Roberto Garza re-entered the starting lineup following arthroscopic knee surgery and a switch from left guard back to his more familiar right guard spot, where he replaced Edwin Williams.
To say the Bears' offense struggled in that game would be an understatement. At first glance, 20 points doesn't seem like a poor outing, but seven points came on Devin Hester's too-little-too-late, 89-yard punt return with 1:54 that made the final score respectable.
Still, it wasn't as bad as tight end Greg Olsen recalled.
"I think we were 0-for-100 or whatever [converting third downs]," he said. "We didn't convert a third down, and that's bad. That can't happen."
Actually, the Bears were 0-for-12 on third downs, a major reason why they were dominated in time of possession 34:23-25:37. That left the offense mired in the NFL basement in third-down efficiency, with a pathetic 17.6 percent success rate. The next week, in the loss to the Redskins, they were successful on just 2 of 10 third downs. But since then, they've converted at a 44.5-percent clip, well above the league average of 38.2.
A big reason for that is the improved protection that the reshuffled offensive line has provided for quarterback Jay Cutler, who was sacked six times against the Seahawks, including once for a safety. That lack of support also left the Bears at the absolute bottom of the league in sack percentage allowed. They're still No. 32, but, after allowing 31 sacks in the first seven games, they permitted 25 in the final nine.
"You could tell we were young in our offense," Kreutz said. "You could tell by watching it that a lot of guys weren't sure of who they had and what they were supposed to do. Now, we're a little farther along in our offense."
Reviewing the film this week hasn't been pleasant for anyone on offense. "It wasn't one of our better moments," Olsen said. "It was tough to watch."
It wasn't just the offensive line's fault that Cutler was hurried all day. The Bears also failed at blitz pickup, with 4.5 of the sacks coming from defensive backs, including the one that produced the safety.
"It was hard to tell them where we're trying to get to and what we can be [because] there's just so many thing to fix," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "They don't have that vision of where they're trying to get to. Now, when they look back at it, I think some of them are amazed at how far they've really come. And it's a credit to them, particularly on the offensive line, and the job [offensive line coach] Mike Tice has done."
The O-line has remained unchanged for the past nine games, and under the stewardship of Tice, it has become a more cohesive unit. The Bears also became one of the league's most balanced teams between run and pass. And the tight ends and running backs have become more adept at picking up blitzes, although, as a group, they backslid in the regular-season finale, allowing six sacks against the Packers. Cutler was sacked just five times in the three previous games.
"We've come a long way, Jay and everyone included," Olsen said. "That's the way it should be, moving forward as the year has gone on."
Sunday, they'll try to take another step forward.
NOTES AND QUOTES
Getting up close and personal with Cutler won't be an easy job.
He's playing in his first postseason game since high school, having taken an "oh-fer" at Vanderbilt and missed out in his first four seasons in the NFL. So he was asked if leading a team to the playoffs would change the way he was viewed by fans.
"I don't know," Cutler said. "I don't worry about that."
Later, he was asked how many people in the overcrowded room "really" knew him.
"Um, I don't know," he said. "You would have to poll these guys, I guess."
After two media representatives, playing along, raised their hands, Cutler cracked, "Right there. There's one. Two."
Cutler was asked how he knew that.
"Because they raised their hands," he said, drawing laughs, and then explaining, "I don't hang out with anybody in this room on a regular basis, except for Wednesday press conferences. So I'm sure it's kind of hard to get to know somebody within a 10-minute weekly press conference."
Getting really deep, Cutler was asked if his public image was true to who he really is.
"I don't worry about that," he said. "I don't know what my public image is."
Striking out with the quarterback, the search for the real Jay Cutler continued with his teammates.
"I probably know him better than y'all do," running back Matt Forte said. "I would tell you he's probably the opposite of what you guys portray him to be. I think Jay's a good guy. He comes to work every day to work hard. A lot of guys get this perception of Jay as arrogant or whatever, but I think he's the opposite of that."
Olsen is tight with Cutler off the field, so he was a natural target.
Before he grew exasperated by the line of questioning, Olsen said: "I think people will form their opinions on other people based off a lot of misinformation and whatnot. But no one on this team, including Jay, is really too concerned with that. He's our guy, he's our quarterback, we all believe in him, he's our leader, and he's a great teammate. All that [other] stuff is not even a question around here with the players." ...
In the first meeting between the Bears and Seahawks, the Seahawks had the advantage of an extra week's worth of preparation since they were coming off their bye. This time, the Bears get an extra week.
Offensive players are confident that Martz will put the extra time to good use.
"He gets a better feel for what they're going to do in certain situations, which in turn gives him an advantage in calling plays," Cutler said. "In third down and red zone, or second-and-long, he can see things and he can dial some stuff up that he might be hesitant to call if he doesn't see enough film on them."
Martz also has a much better feel for his own personnel than he did three months ago in the first meeting.
"Coach Martz is one of the best in the world at what he does," Kreutz said. "So if you give him an extra week to prepare for somebody, it's going to show." ...
The Seahawks lost seven of nine games before defeating the Rams 16-6 in Week 17 to sneak into the playoffs as the NFC West champions.
Of those final seven losses, three were to playoff teams (Saints, Chiefs and Falcons) and two others were to the Giants and Bucs, both of whom finished 10-6 and narrowly missed the postseason. But the one common denominator that stands out in all seven losses is that every one of them was by at least 15 points. Two of the losses were by 30 points or more.
The Bears went 7-2 in their final nine games, winning three times by 14 or more.
QUOTE TO NOTE
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