Scouting report: Bears offense

Dec. 16, 2012

Three months after their first matchup, in Week 2, the Green Bay Packers (9-4) play the Chicago Bears (8-5) at Soldier Field today in a game with big playoff ramifications. If the Packers win, they clinch the NFC North Division title. If the Bears win, they stay in the division race. Here’s an updated scouting report on the Bears based on interviews with NFL coaches and scouts:

Running offense

The Bears have turned over their offensive line from early in the season but still have major problems. Coordinator Mike Tice’s offense ranks No. 28 in total yards, No. 14 in points, No. 18 in rushing yards and No. 20 in average yards per carry.

Former Wisconsin tackle and 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi started at right tackle in that first matchup but was benched earlier in the season and now is starting at right guard, where his height (6-feet-7) and lack of strength leave him vulnerable to being out-leveraged by defensive linemen.

He’s replacing Lance Louis, who was the team’s best lineman before a knee injury ended his season three weeks ago. Carimi’s replacement at right tackle is Jonathan Scott (6-6, 318), who has 33 starts in his 68-game career with four teams and has been a marginal upgrade.

Chris Spencer (knee) is expected to start at left guard after missing two games because of a knee injury, though he’s not much better than his fill-in, Edwin Williams.

Halfback Matt Forte, 27, is one of the league’s best all-purpose backs, though you wouldn’t know it by his numbers this season. He ranks No. 22 in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,082) and is averaging 4.3 yards a rush and 6.9 yards on 36 receptions.

Passing offense

The Bears looked like they’d juiced their offense early in the season after trading for receiver Brandon Marshall and drafting receiver Alshon Jeffrey in the offseason. But now it’s looking like much of their offensive success in their 7-1 start was because of their defense, which was a turnover machine earlier in the season — the Bears have returned seven interceptions and one fumble for touchdowns, so 18 percent of their points (56 of 308) were scored by their defense.

Poor protection for quarterback Jay Cutler has been the biggest problem — the Bears rank No. 29 in the NFL in sacks percentage, and Cutler has taken a beating. He exacerbates the problems by forcing throws into coverage and focusing too much on Marshall.

Cutler, 32-21 as a starter with the Bears and 49-41 as a starter overall, injured his neck on a head-snapping hit last week at Minnesota and had to leave the game in the final minutes, but he’s one of the league’s physically toughest quarterbacks and will play today.

He’s the same player he’s been, for better and worse. He has great arm talent and excellent mobility, but his 80.9 passer rating ranks No. 25 in the NFL, and he’s thrown 16 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions (eighth-most in the league).

Marshall is a huge (6-4, 230), talented and inviting target, and his league-leading 101 receptions (13.3-yard average, nine touchdowns) is impressive. But the imbalance is staggering — Forte’s 36 receptions ranks second on the team.

Jeffrey (6-3, 216), a second-round pick, is another big receiver and jump-ball threat with good hands, though he’s not nearly as fast and athletic as Marshall. Jeffrey has 19 catches in the seven games he’s played. Both he and Devin Hester dropped likely touchdown passes in last week’s loss to the Vikings.

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