What's wrong with the Bears' offense?
A better question might be: What's not wrong with the Bears' offense?
Mike Martz's crew is No. 31 in rushing yards per game, No. 28 in first downs per game, No. 30 in sacks allowed per passing attempt and No. 29 in third-down efficiency.
But, after back-to-back losses have dropped their record to 1-2, they hope to get back on the winning track at noon Sunday against the 1-2 Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.
"Across the NFL, whenever you're losing games, there's a little bit of a sense of panic and a sense of doom," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "We've just got to get over that, we've just got to keep working. You take a look at the film, and it wasn't just one thing; it was across the board, every single person made a mistake at some point in that game."
Until their passing game is equal to that of the New England Patriots, it's obvious that the Bears must at least present the threat of a running attack. But that directive would have to come from Martz, who has called 95 pass plays and 20 runs in the past two games, both of which were losses.
"That's not my job," Cutler says of the play-calling. "It never has been. I never want to be an offensive coordinator either. This is Mike's system. This is what he does. We're in it 100 percent. I've bought into it since the first day of install. I'm going to keep believing in it and keep trying to run the plays to the best of my ability."
RB Matt Forte
Surprisingly, Martz remains confident that the Bears can be successful running the ball.
"That's one thing we can do is, we can run the football," he said. "We'll get that done. I have great confidence in our ability to run the ball."
Doing so can only prolong Cutler's good health. No one in the NFL has been sacked more than the Bears' quarterback, and establishing the run will keep some pass-rush pressure off him and help an offensive line by keeping the pass rush at bay. Running back Matt Forte is fifth in the NFL with 406 yards from scrimmage, but only 119 of those yards have come on running plays, where he is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.
"It's a big part of our offense, and we need to get that going," center Roberto Garza said of the run game. "We have a great running back, and we have to get him going. It's only going to make us a better team. (If) we hold on to the football, we're able to extend some of those drives and get some big plays over the top."
Sans a running game, the Bears can expect to be blitzed as frequently as they were in the first two games, when Cutler was sacked 11 times. That's especially true this week against a defense overseen by head coach Ron Rivera, the Bears' defensive coordinator from 2004-06. Last year as the Chargers' defensive coordinator, Rivera's group led the NFL in sacks.
"Until we go out there and start running the football and take advantage of some of those blitzes, they're going to keep coming," Garza said. "It's part of the game. Whatever you're having trouble with, you're going to see it continuing until you stop it, until you do something to prevent them from doing it. So it's up to us to go out there and block that and attack it with the run."
But don't expect a drastic change in Martz's play calling or his offensive philosophy.
"We're more than a year into this offense," Cutler said, "and this is what we do, and you know we're not going to change it. You can't, halfway, just decide to overhaul the offense. It's not possible. It's not realistic. We're just going to have to get better at the offense we're running right now and execute it on a consistent basis."
The Bears might have better luck with that Sunday, considering the Panthers' defense is 25th against the run and has just five sacks.
SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 3-2, including last year's 23-6 victory at Carolina, in which Matt Forte rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns - in the first quarter. He finished with 166 yards on 22 carries. The Panthers upset the Bears 29-21 in a divisional playoff round game in 2005 at Soldier Field.
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