The game-changing mistakes of the Bears offense in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts – Jordan Howard’s first-quarter facemask penalty at the Indianapolis goal line, Cameron Meredith’s lost fourth-quarter fumble, Brian Hoyer’s failure to spot Alshon Jeffery open in the Indianapolis end zone – deserved their prominent focus in a six-point Bears loss.
But something else – actually something elses, plural – is simply not making sense.
The offensive movement – 522 yards – was the fifth-highest total in franchise history. It was also a completely hollow stat, coming in the one game of those top five that was a loss. The offensive yardage has increased every game — 258, 284, 390, 408 and last Sunday’s 522. Also hollow, since the record is 1-4.
The Bears’ franchise receiver (Jeffery) is in a cluster of pass-catchers ranked 49th in targets (31), tied with Eddie Royal and one ahead of Zach Miller.
Beyond individual specifics, however… .
Philosophically, coordinator Dowell Loggains has stated the intention of adhering to a run-based offense, expected to produce a balance more run-oriented even than the 47-percent ratio under Adam Gase. John Fox has a preference for ball control, and the talk of the offseason was of a running-back-by-committee approach.
Yet through the first five games of 2016, with a quarterback transition, an offensive line still forming and health issues at receiver, the Bears have fallen to 1-4 with offensive play calling in the line with some of the most disastrous breakdowns in recent seasons.
Hitting the low points
The offense’s relegation of franchise wideout to a peripheral player even in the passing game is one thing. The relegation of the supposed foundation of the offense – running the football – to its current state borders on the bewildering.
Despite multiple situations of trailing in games by a touchdown or less, Loggains and the offense for the year are running the football just 33.6 percent of its plays. For perspective: That falls below some of the lows in recent Bears history.
In 2010, Mike Martz ran the football 33.7 percent of the time through the first six games with Jay Cutler before a bloodletting at the off week in which coach Lovie Smith, whose defense was holding the season together, ordered an expanded role in game-planning for the offensive-line coach and restructured around the offensive line and Matt Forte.
In 2013, Marc Trestman tilted away from the winning Smith formula of 2012 (47 percent) and dialed back to 39.9 percent run. The following year the offense completely lost its compass and ran on just 35.3 percent of its plays.
Defenses can obviously dictate what offenses will do. But the reverse is also true and the Bears have operated seemingly without a commitment to much of anything, or anyone.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Against the Colts, the Bears trailed 16-13 at halftime with Hoyer throwing 16 times and the Bears running 11. While barely over 40 percent run, it was balanced compared to Loggains’ second half: 35 plays, eight runs (30.6 percent).
Matters spiraled precipitously down in the fourth quarter. The Bears took a 23-19 lead on a drive that had three Howard runs vs. five passes, before a check-down flip to Howard went for a 21-yard touchdown.
After the Colts scored to go back up by three points, the first Bears snap was a throw to Meredith, who fumbled to set up a Colts field goal.
At that point, with 2:28 remaining and a situation where a balanced drive could consume time on the way to a winning TD, Loggains called eight straight pass plays (one nullified by a Bobby Massie holding infraction to set up a third-and-15) – zero runs.
Even without his 57-yard run in the first half, Howard averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Howard had carries of four, 12 and six yards on the Bears’ go-ahead drive of 96 yards, yet never saw the football again after his catch-and-run score.
Second-guessing is always easy, with or without hotdogs, and Fox looked at the offensive progress after the Indianapolis loss and has no alluded to the minimalist run game.
“Anytime you put up 525 yards, there's some good things,” he said. “I think our demise has been the collection of points. We made two drives down there early in the game and come away with 6 points instead of 14 and those are big swings, especially on the road against an explosive team like an Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts team, so I think that was really our bugaboo and over the last few weeks.
“I think we've gotten better at moving the ball offensively, distributing it. I think our timing's been better, all in all though we still need to capitalize on more points.”