Let the record show that Jay Cutler made no promises about the Bears offense getting off to a fast start this season.
“Don’t know. It could go either way,” Cutler said after his final preseason game when asked if he saw evidence the offense would hit the ground running in Week 1. “You never really know how it’s going to go until you’re really out there. That first game will give us all an indication of where we’re at.”
Indeed it did. In fact, the first two regular-season games have exposed a frustrating reality — the Bears’ offense under first-year coordinator Dowell Loggains is undergoing some significant growing pains, has a long way to go and has yet to show any signs that it will be anything but what it’s been for virtually Cutler’s entire time in Chicago — a hot-and-cold mixture of potential, disappointment and frustration.
“There’s definitely positive things [fans can] see. But for us, we see it on a daily basis,” tight end Zach Miller said. “I see guys work, make plays. But it’s got to carry over to Sunday and Monday.
“You’ve seen glimpses of it [clicking]. I felt like against Houston, we showed early and we’ve got to be able to sustain it for four quarters. That’s just something you’ve got to learn to do. You can’t play two quarter or three quarters or one. When teams come in and play good football for four quarters and they out-execute you, you get beat.”
While continuity was an expected benefit of promoting Loggains from quarterbacks coach to coordinator when Adam Gase was hired as the Dolphins’ head coach, the transition has been impacted by personnel changes and injuries — the latest injury to Cutler, who is not expected to play against the Cowboys on Sunday because of a sprained thumb.
But even with Cutler, Loggains was off to a rocky start. Cutler, who fumbled just eight times in 15 games last year, has fumbled three times (losing one) in two games. He was sacked 29 times last year but already eight times in two games in 2016. The offense has struggled in the second half of both games — 3.7 yards per play with no points, compared to 7.0 yards per play and 21 points in the first half.
Against the Eagles last week, the Bears’ offense looked unprepared at the outset when Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins blitzed on the second play and came in free for a sack. Tight end Logan Paulsen — who didn’t join the team until Sept. 5, six days before the regular-season opener — seemed to miss the block.
“We were prepared for it. It was a mental error,” Loggains said.
That’s just part of the chronic problem that has plagued the Bears’ offense — a new player still learning the offense on the fly misses an assignment, and Cutler pays for it. How do you avoid “mental errors” like that in the future? Just keep working at it, Loggains said, echoing sentiments of each of the five coordinators who preceded him in the Cutler era.
“We had a good week of preparation. Obviously it didn’t show the way that we wanted to,” Loggains said. “Our attitude was to go back and start working again this week and that’s what we’ve done.”
With all the new pieces and now the mounting injuries, it’s a tough spot for Loggains — and a small sample size for sure. But in Cutler’s eighth season, there isn’t a lot of patience for any Bears’ offensive struggles. After eight unfulfilling years under Cutler, this isn’t an offense with a lot of equity — telling Bears fans to be patient isn’t exactly like Aaron Rodgers telling Packers fans to relax.
Other teams seem to do more with just as much adversity as the Bears annually face. Why should fans be patient now? Because they’re so close. They always are.
“We’ve had breakdowns at times where it may not be the entire team, but certain instances where something breaks down and you can’t get the ball out,” tight end Zach Miller said. “Or you’ve got to keep guys in to help other things in protection. We have to grow and find out what we do well and how to do it. It’s going to take a little bit of time. And as we progress, we’re going to get better.
“I feel like we’ve played well at times. The key for us is being able to sustain playing well, as opposed to play well for a half or a quarter and completely shoot yourself in the foot and go in the opposite direction. Production’s going to come. It’s early. I’m not worried about anything like that.”
What has Loggains learned about his offense after two regular-season games? “That we’re not there yet and that we need to keep getting better each week,” he said. “Getting to know the personnel and getting the personnel to know each other is still an ongoing process.”
“It’s just details,” wide receiver Eddie Royal said. “It’s always the little things that go wrong. We’ve just got to iron out those little details. That’s the name of the game in football. That’s why certain teams are so good — they’re so good on those little details. They’re efficient on third down. They don’t make that one mistake on that key play in the red zone. I think once we iron those things out, it’ll turn into wins for us.”
If only it were that simple.
“Sometimes it only takes one play to get things going,” Royal said. “But it’s going to take work. Nothing comes easy in this league. And we know that. We see that. We know the work we’ve got to put in and we’re doing it. We’re bustin’ our butts — trust me. Hopefully on Sunday we get better results.”