It took Adam Gase 11 offensive plays Sunday to hand the ball off to more running backs than Marc Trestman did all last season. Or the season before that.
In that same span, the Bears’ new offensive coordinator targeted five different pass-catchers. Tight end Khari Lee, who had been with the team for 11 days, took the field before star receiver Alshon Jeffery did.
Quarterback Jay Cutler even kept the ball on a read-option play, bringing the number of ball-carriers to four through the first one drive plus one play.
Welcome to a new world of creativity, in terms of formation, personnel groupings and a no-huddle attack that combined the two.
“Adam’s always done a good job with mixing personnel,” coach John Fox said Monday at Halas Hall. “We’re trying to dictate (to) their defense what they have out there, trying to create matchups that we think work in our favor.”
The Bears scripted the unexpected against the Packers on their first drive. They opened with three tight ends. After two running plays, the second a 22-yarder for Matt Forte, the Bears substituted Jacquizz Rodgers for him.
The tight ends stayed on the field, playing receiver in an empty backfield set. On the next play, they went back to being blockers for a Rodgers run. The one after that, Zach Miller and Lee blocked on Martellus Bennett’s screen left. After that, Miller lined up as an H-back on a play-action play.
It wasn’t until the seventh play of the game, on third-and-3, that Jeffery entered the game. He caught a shallow crossing route for a 25-yard gain.
It was the first time the Bears had used more than one wide receiver in a formation.
“The staff did a great job of getting those (tight ends) ready,” Fox said. “I think the same could be said for our wide receivers. I don’t know that we’re a well-oiled machine at this point. Same thing with the offensive line. We’re getting to know our players and our players are getting to know us.”
The team settled for a field goal, then settled into Forte the rest of the game — except when the team threw four times from within the six yard line in the fourth quarter.
Gase showed clever ways to get Forte the ball and creative ways to block for him. Tackle Charles Leno played six downs as a blocking tight end, only five fewer than Lee and Miller.
Forte finished with 141 rushing yards, his fourth-highest total ever.
“Whether you call it creativity or whatever, I think it’s, when you get out there and say ‘We’re going to run the ball. This is what we’re going to do,’” tackle Kyle Long said. “We’re not looking at them and saying, ‘Well, they’re doing this so we’re going to do that.’”
Now it’s on film. Which creates a new challenge, starting Sunday against the Cardinals.
“It’s nice to be able to say, ‘Hey, it’s on you guys — If you want to run the ball, you better make your blocks,’” Long said. “I think that puts a lot of confidence, and it’s reciprocated. Coaches to players, players to coaches.”