There were 41 minutes left when the Green Bay Packers' James Starks scored a touchdown on an end around to put his team up 14-0 over the Bears in last season's NFC Championship game. Forty-one minutes, yet coordinator Mike Martz had already made up his mind: throw the ball.
Up to that point, running back Matt Forte had carried the ball six times for just 14 yards. As he is wont to do, Martz panicked. At one of the most crucial points in the game, when the Bears needed to score to shift momentum, Martz abandoned the run and called 10 straight pass plays. The result of those two series was two punts and an injured quarterback.
Forte hadn't been running well but foregoing the run should not have been the answer. After half a season of pass, pass, pass, Lovie Smith had to step in after the Week 8 bye and basically force Martz to call more running plays. It worked for the second half of the season but in the blink of an eye, at arguably the team's most important moment of the entire year, Martz reverted back to his maddening ways.
This is one of the many reasons it is hard to have faith in Martz's ability to construct and execute offensive schemes going forward. Occam's razor is a scientific theory that, in essence, states the simplest answer is usually the right answer. Another way to put it is, don't over-think yourself. This is a concept with which Martz must come to terms.
For Chicago to win consistently, two things need to be a fundamental part of each game plan: run the ball and when you throw it, throw it to Greg Olsen. Johnny Knox and Devin Hester have blazing speed but Olsen is the team's best receiver. He's the player who can create game-changing mismatches and can be relied upon in crucial third-down situations.
TE Greg Olsen
There are few more-talented tight ends in the league than Olsen, which is why his 41 catches last season was such a disappointment. Most knew when Martz was signed Olsen's production would drop – the reason he immediately asked to be traded, and why Chicago nearly shipped him to New England during the 2009 draft – but it was assumed Martz would quickly realize he needed to design game plans to take advantage of his biggest threat.
Throughout his tenure as an NFL offensive coordinator and head coach Martz has ignored his tight ends. He feels the position is meant for blocking, not pass catching. As a result, Olsen went from 60 catches and eight touchdowns in 2009 under Ron Turner, to 41 catches and five touchdowns last season. On the positive side the former Miami Hurricane developed substantially as a blocker but he must become a bigger part of the offense going forward if the Bears are to succeed.
GM Jerry Angelo said at the recent NFL owner's meetings that Olsen is one of the young players on the team in line for a contract extension. Considering his talent and production, an extension makes sense. Yet he won't come cheap.
Before the start of last season, the San Diego Chargers awarded their star tight end, Antonio Gates, with a contract extension through 2015 worth $36.2 million overall, with $20.4 million guaranteed. Olsen is not Gates, yet. To be safe, let's assume he is half as valuable. That means a five-year extension for Olsen would cost the Bears roughly $18 million with $10 million guaranteed. That's $6 million per season, far more than his $500,000 average base salary the past four years.
To make that type of financial jump and invest substantially more in a player, Olsen must be utilized to the best of his abilities. That does not mean 41 catches, or less than three per game. The contract Olsen deserves will take a good chunk out of the team's salary cap. In accordance, he should produce a good chunk of the team's offense.
With another year in Martz's system, we should see a spike in production. Olsen should feel more comfortable in his role, in his reads and in his timing with Cutler. And if Martz is true to his word, he'll find more ways to utilize Olsen's ability to create mismatches with opposing linebackers and safeties. He'll slide his best pass-catcher all over the field and make him the focal point of the passing game.
But if he doesn't, and Olsen is awarded a big contract, it will be money flushed right down the toilet.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.