Execution, discipline — and coaching — key to igniting offense
The Bears offense is on a roll, kind of. But they’re putting a hold on the parade.
With an improving offensive line that started the same five players for the fifth consecutive week — tying their longest continuity streak since 2013 — the Bears more than doubled their Week 1 offensive yardage last week. Their 522 yards against the Colts was the most since 1989 and a huge improvement from the 256 they gained against the Texans in the opener — even considering the decreased degree-of-difficulty against a subpar Colts defense that did not have a J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus or Vince Wilfork.
But nobody’s celebrating the achievement, not as long as the Bears fail to parlay those yards and the improved protection (three sacks the past three games vs. eight in the first two) into more points. The 23 points they scored against the Colts was the third fewest for a team with 500 yards and one turnover since the 1970 merger.
“Man!,” tight end Zach Miller said. “All those yards really mean nothing if we don’t put the points up. We had opportunities. You just have to keep moving forward. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing — but instead of three, it’s got to be seven.”
The Bears will have a chance to rectify that Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars — a matchup of the two most inefficient units in the NFL. The Bears offense is ranked ninth in yards, but 30th in points (15.6) — a minus-21 “drop” that leads the league by far (the Bengals and Panther are next at minus-12). The Jaguars’ defense is ranked seventh in yards but 29th in points (27.4), a minus-22 drop that also is the biggest in the NFL (the Panthers and Texans are next at minus-8).
Though wide receiver Cam Meredith’s fourth-quarter fumble didn’t help, third-down conversions and penalties were more problematic culprits. The Bears are second in the NFL in first-down yardage (8.6 avg.), but 29th in third-down conversions (17-of-55, 30.9 percent). They were 2-for-9 (22 percent) against the Colts. And while first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains blamed “execution,” he acknowledged a coaching issue as well.
“We need to improve our third downs. But in the NFL it’s a completely different game,” Loggains said. “When you get into third down, you’re seeing odd floater defenses, double-mug packages, a bunch of different things — where first and second down is more schematic. You prepare for it all week.
“There’s a little bit more guessing going on third downs. It’s more Rolodex defenses. And we need to do a better job as coaches of coaching it. We have to keep putting our guys in good situations. And we need to do a better job of executing it.”
The Bears had seven offensive penalties, all inside the Colts 40-yard-line last week. “You talk about scoring points in the red-area, that’s where that starts,” Loggains said. “To win in this league you’ve got to find ways not to lose first. And that’s been our emphasis this week … trying to clean up some of the discipline things.”
It always seems to come down to focus and concentration. The seven penalties were committed by six different players, including Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long (holding) and Josh Sitton (holding). On the five drives inside the 40 that included a penalty, the Bears netted 13 points (2.6 points per drive). On their two drives that did not include a penalty, they scored 10 (5.0 points per drive).
Instilling that discipline, though, generally is a year-long process. It remains to be seen just where the Loggains is in that process with this group — the Bears’ offensive lineup against the Colts included seven players who are in their first year starting for the Bears.
“It’s educating the guys on what’s a penalty and what’s not,” Loggains said. “It’s educating guys on how disciplined you have to be in practice and repeating plays and consequences, because it hurts the football team.
“You try to build a culture where you don’t want to commit a penalty because you’re letting the next to you down. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing and cleaning up that thing from a discipline standpoint.”