The Bears rank 23rd in in yards per game, though they are not as good as their totals suggest. They have allowed 18 sacks, the league's third highest total. Their drives are sputtering progressions of penalties and sacks, tied together by the occasional long run by Matt Forte or hot-read pass by Jay Cutler.
This offense needs serious repair. Coordinator Mike Martz isn't up to the task. Nor is offensive line coach Mike Tice. But we can do the job. First, we must establish two important ground rules:
1. No blaming Jay Cutler
His role so far this season has been to deliver the ball before getting buried alive by pass rushers, and he has done a fine job.
2. No complaining about the run-pass ratio
It was horrible in the Packers game, when Matt Forte got just nine carries, but Forte had 25 carries against the Panthers and 22 carries on Monday night. No Martz team is going to start running like Vince Lombardi's Packers, and 20-25 carries should be enough to feature Forte and keep the defense honest. Our goal is to make Forte and Cutler work smarter, not harder.
Here is the gameplan:
Offensive linemen are not playing cards
Tice shuffles linemen the way a Vegas croupier shuffles at the blackjack table, preventing the Bears from establishing any continuity up front.
Let's straighten things out for the Bears. Spencer is a career center, Roberto Garza a career guard, so naturally Garza is playing center and Spencer guard for reasons that probably make perfect sense to Tice. Let's flip them as soon as Spencer is healthy enough to return to action. Get Carimi back into the lineup as soon as he is available. In the meantime, we will make do with Omiyale, who started 28 games in the last two seasons, giving him as much additional help from the tight end as we can.
Louis will make a great crossing guard near a neighborhood elementary school.
Once we get every lineman in place, we must make sure they stay there, at least until the ball is snapped.
The snap count and other advanced math
The Bears have been called for a whopping 17 false starts. Omiyale and left tackle J'Marcus Webb have committed five each. The rest are scattered around the offense, with skill position players doing their part to get a head start before the ball is snapped: tight end Kellen Davis has committed two false starts, Forte and Devin Hester one each. Not surprisingly, most of the false starts came in two dome road games against opponents with dangerous pass rushes; the Saints game in Week Two and Monday night's flag festival against the Lions.
I watched replays of all of the Bears' false starts. (This job is wall-to-wall glamour). Some of them, particularly Webb's, are the result of a lineman trying to get back into pass protection quickly by anticipating the quarterback's cadence. That will happen from time to time, though the Bears can minimize the problem by focusing on their silent count in practice.
Eliminating those false starts must be top priority. The Bears lead the NFL with 10 plays of 1st-and-more-than-10. They also lead the league in plays of 2nd-and more-than-10: 21 runs, four passes, and a doomed scramble in which Cutler lost 13 yards. For a team with pass protection problems anyway, false starts create a vicious cycle - the Bears are forced to the air on early downs, which causes more pass pressure, which digs a deeper hole.
Call for the clutts
The Bears have an actual fullback now: Tyler Clutts, a 26-year old newcomer from the Canadian Football League. Martz rarely used fullbacks in the past, though he often motioned tight end Greg Olsen into the backfield last year to take advantage of Olsen's versatility as a blocker and receiver. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears ran 300 plays from a two-back formation last season. They ran 615 plays from a one-back or empty backfield formation.
And now for some non-surprising news: the Bears averaged 3.48 yards per running play from single-back formations, scrambles not included. They averaged 4.2 yards per running play with two backs in the backfield. When your offensive line is suspect, having an extra blocker at the point of attack helps.
Clutts saw a lot of action against the Panthers, throwing a block to help spring Forte on a 46-yard gain. Clutts is no Olsen, but keeping him on the field not only turns Forte from a great running back into an outstanding one, but provides additional up-the-middle pass protection. In our repair plan, Clutts will be on the field for more than half the Bears snaps, and may even see some action on 3rd-and-long.
Let Hester be Hester
The Bears' most dynamic playmaker has run exactly zero end-arounds, reverses, or other trick running plays this year. The Hester screen made a brief return on Monday night (it was not effective), but it was conspicuously absent from the game plans against the Saints, Packers, and Panthers.
Martz is using a lot of creativity to get rookie receiver Dane Sanzenbacher involved. Sanzenbacher motions into the backfield, slips into unoccupied zones, and does all sorts of things that keep him hidden from the defense. Sanzenbacher is a fine prospect, and the Bears should continuing getting him the ball, but some of these "Hide the Weapon" schemes should be designed for Hester.
So let's make a commitment to getting Hester the ball on some kind of misdirection play two or three times per game. Sanzenbacher can also keep his role as a motion receiver. To get them both enough touches, and to keep Clutts on the field, we just need to say farewell to Sam Hurd and Roy Williams. Hurd can still contribute on special teams. Williams can broadcast Texas high school football games, or something.
There you have it.
A rebuilt and repaired Bears offense, with no money spent, no Cutler recrimination, and no carping about the run-pass ratio. With some continuity on the offensive line, fewer penalties, more help from the fullback, better use of Hester, and a 100 percent reduction in the amount of players named "Louis," the Bears will be able to score about 24 points per game against good defenses and hold their own against the great ones.
More importantly, they will keep Cutler upright and not make Forte so frustrated that his contract issue becomes an even bigger issue.
Let's hope Mike and Mike figure it out before someone gets hurt.
Mike Tanier writes for NBCSports.com and Rotoworld.com and is a senior writer for Football Outsiders.