How good is the Bears' offense, really?

How good is the Bears' offense, really?
June 2, 2014, 3:00 pm
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Marc Trestman has not made “balance” a specific head-coaching objective for his offense. But he got it last year, in some ways better than any Bears team in history and better than nearly every other NFL team in 2013.

One measure: No other team put individual players in every main offensive area in the top 10 for their positions.

It was the culmination of a two-year effort by general manager Phil Emery to surround quarterback Jay Cutler with skill sets comparable to Cutler’s own — trading for Brandon Marshall, trading up to draft Alshon Jeffery, free-agency-signing Martellus Bennett, satisfying Matt Forte with a market contract, and protecting Cutler with a made-over offensive line.

Added to that was a specific search for an offensive head coach — which narrowed down to Trestman and Bruce Arians, who took Arizona from 32nd to 16th in offense his first year — who would know what to do with a full toolbox.

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The early focus of the offseason necessarily was on the overhaul of the defense, with the occasional signing on offense (Cutler, Marshall, Roberto Garza, Brian de la Puente, Matt Slauson) sprinkled around so that side of the ball didn’t feel neglected, at least financially.

The underlying assumption has been that the offense of Trestman/Aaron Kromer/Matt Cavanaugh, ranking second in scoring (including defensive scores) and eighth in yardage, is generally set schematically, personnel-wise and such.

“There certainly is a sense of confidence, a sense that we’ve got a chance to be a very good offense, particularly because those are the guys that have been together,” Trestman said. “But they’re not taking anything for granted. The guys have their feet on the ground.”

First, some perspective

Indeed, were it not for the over-chronicled injury woes on defense, the Bears would have played more than 16 games in the extended 2013 season.

But an offense better than just about any in franchise history isn’t necessarily “elite” by NFL standards, past or current. The Bears compiled a franchise-record 6.109 yards in 2013, but their average per game still ranked behind four years of Bears offenses in the “dead-ball era” (1940’s). The 2011 New Orleans Saints rang up 7,474 yards.

What makes the Bears’ offense particularly noteworthy, however, is not yardage, or even team points, since those include defensive scores and the Bears had six of those in 2013.

One reason the Bears did not invest a single draft choice on a projected 2014 starter, besides the obvious needs on defense, and other than a fourth-rounder on a backup running back (Ka’Deem Carey), is because all of the high-end pieces are in fact in place.

The facts

The Bears were the only team to have quarterbacking, a running back, wide receivers, a tight end and offensive line play ranking in the top 10. This despite injuries at quarterback and an offensive line with four new starters, including two rookies. This with a new coaching staff on offense.

“You know, it was a long journey last year, from this first day when we started, just to get the cadence,” Kromer said. “It was like rookie camp, with veterans.”

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It doesn’t make the Bears the best. The Denver Broncos scored more. The Philadelphia Eagles piled up more yardage. The Broncos protected better.

But consider:

Quarterback: (Cutler, McCown) 6th

The combination of Cutler and Josh McCown posted a combined passer rating of 96.9. That ranked 6th. McCown is now in Tampa but Cutler registered passer ratings of 90 or higher in seven of the nine games he played injury free.

Running back: Matt Forte 2nd

Only Philadelphia’s Shady McCoy rushed for more than Forte’s 1.339. Only Pierre Thomas (77 for New Orleans) and Danny Woodhead (76 for San Diego) caught more passes than Forte’s 74, and those two combined for 42 fewer carries than Forte alone.

Tight end: Martellus Bennett 8th (tied)

He may have felt neglected at stretches of ’13, but Bennett’s 65 receptions tied Denver’s Julius Thomas among tight ends in a league that has seen increased emphasis on the position.

Offensive line: Bushrod/Slauson/Garza/Long/Mills

With all of the settling in that was required, the Bears still finished top 10 in sack percentage (4th) and rushing average (7th). Only Dallas (eighth in both) and New England (ninth in both) ranked in the top 10 for these measures of O-line play.

Wide receiver: Alshon Jeffery/Brandon Marshall

No other team placed two wideouts in the top 10 for receptions, with Marshall’s 100 and Jeffery’s 89. Jeffery finished sixth in the NFL with 1,421 yards and Marshall 11th with 1,295, making the Bears the only team with two in the top 11 (Denver’s Eric Decker finished 12th to give the Broncos two in the top dozen).