3 Chicago BEARS

An offensive whiz arrives on the Midway to inject some life into the attack
September 05, 2010

IN CHICAGO'S offensive meeting room, every so often an image of the old St. Louis Rams will flash across the video screen—Kurt Warner under center, Marshall Faulk in the backfield, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt at the line of scrimmage. The Bears are getting more than just a history lesson from Mike Martz, the newly arrived offensive coordinator who ran the Rams juggernaut (first as coordinator, then as coach) from 1999 through 2005. They are incorporating Martz's scheme and, they hope, some of that old St. Louis mojo.

"Coach Martz says we have the talent and ability to be like that team," says receiver Devin Aromashodu. "He shows us film of the things we can do if we just buy into what's going on. He's been real optimistic. I believe I have that ability, and I hope everyone else feels the same way. That way we can become a championship team."

Says Martz of his new charges, "These guys will define their future."

It wasn't long ago that the Bears' destiny appeared to be winning a Super Bowl, but since their run to the title game in the 2006 season, they haven't even made the playoffs. Coach Lovie Smith, who worked under Martz as defensive coordinator in St. Louis, hired the impresario to orchestrate an offense that last season saw Jay Cutler throw a league-high 26 interceptions and running back Matt Forte average just 3.6 yards a carry. Further assistance in introducing the Rams way has come from Bruce, who tutored with receiver Devin Hester in the off-season and worked with the team as a minority coaching intern this summer.

With NFC North bullies Minnesota and Green Bay fielding quick-strike offenses, Chicago can't live with the breakdowns that stalled drives in 2009. "I've always respected his offensive mind," Smith says of Martz. "I'm excited about what he's done and what we're going to do this year. It's about scoring points."

Martz has long been a proponent of dictating the tempo of a game, snapping the football early in the 40-second clock, keeping a defense huffing and puffing. His is a playbook heavy on the pass, one that will require contributions out of the backfield from Forte and newly acquired Chester Taylor.

"It'll be different," Forte says of the offense. "We may use the pass to set up the run instead of running to set up the pass. If you have a passing attack, [defenses] can't stack everybody in the box. We're going to use that to our advantage."

The biggest burden will fall on Cutler, whose 76.8 passer rating in 2009 was his worst in four seasons as a pro. Cutler is blessed with a big arm, but too often it found the wrong jersey. Sometimes that was a function of a faulty offensive line (Cutler was sacked 35 times) but at other times those interceptions were the result of Cutler's own carelessness. Smith brought in Mike Tice to help shore up the front five, and they must do a better job keeping the quarterback clean. But Cutler's road back to Pro Bowl form will also depend on his grasp of the offense and his rapport with Hester and Aromashodu, fellow receivers Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox and tight end Greg Olsen.

"There are a lot of details; we just have to make sure we get them all," Cutler says. "[The offense] fits the characteristics of guys that we have—our skill sets with the receivers, tight ends and running backs, and the zone-blocking with our offensive line. Mike is the all-knowing source for this offense. It's his baby, and he does a great job giving me information. He's giving me every possible tool to succeed."

The wide-open philosophy is a departure from the Bears' grind-them-down running teams of the past, but in many ways that offense went the way of the old NFC Central. In Chicago's six division games last season the teams averaged a combined 52.5 points, compared to 39.4 over the previous decade.

If the Bears can play from ahead in 2010, it would pay dividends for a defense counting on instant impact from defensive end Julius Peppers, signed as a free agent from Carolina, and healthy returns by linebacker Brian Urlacher (wrist) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (lingering knee problems).

Asked if Martz ever pokes his chest out while the offense watches his old Rams film, Forte says he doesn't have to. "He knows his system works," Forte says. On Sundays we'll learn if the Bears have the right pieces to run it.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH LOVIE SMITH

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 23

QB JAY CUTLER

G 16

ATT 555

COMP 336

PCT 60.5

YARDS 3,666

TD 27

INT 26

RATING 76.8

RB MATT FORTE

G 16

ATT 258

YARDS 929

AVG 3.6

REC 57

YARDS 471

AVG 8.3

TTD 4

H-B DESMOND CLARK

G 11

ATT 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

REC 19

YARDS 145

AVG 7.6

TTD 2

WR DEVIN HESTER

G 13

REC 57

YARDS 757

TTD 3

WR JOHNNY KNOX

G 15

REC 45

YARDS 527

TTD 5

TE GREG OLSEN

G 16

REC 60

YARDS 612

TTD 8

LT CHRIS WILLIAMS

G 16

HT 6'6"

WT 315

LG ROBERTO GARZA

G 16

HT 6'2"

WT 310

C OLIN KREUTZ

G 16

HT 6'2"

WT 292

RG LANCE LOUIS

G 0

HT 6'2"

WT 305

RT FRANK OMIYALE

G 16

HT 6'4"

WT 315

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 17

DE MARK ANDERSON

G 16

TACKLES 28

SACKS 3½

INT 0

DT TOMMIE HARRIS

G 15

TACKLES 24

SACKS 2½

INT 1

DT ANTHONY ADAMS

G 16

TACKLES 44

SACKS 2

INT 0

DE JULIUS PEPPERS

G 16

TACKLES 42

SACKS 10½

INT 2

LB LANCE BRIGGS

G 15

TACKLES 118

SACKS 2½

INT 1

LB BRIAN URLACHER

G 1

TACKLES 3

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB NICK ROACH

G 16

TACKLES 75

SACKS 2

INT 0

CB CHARLES TILLMAN

G 15

TACKLES 77

SACKS 0

INT 2

FS CHRIS HARRIS

G 13

TACKLES 60

SACKS 0

INT 3

SS DANIEAL MANNING

G 15

TACKLES 92

SACKS 1

INT 1

CB ZACK BOWMAN

G 16

TACKLES 66

SACKS 0

INT 6

SPECIAL TEAMS

P BRAD MAYNARD

PUNTS 77

AVG 41.4

NET 37.4

K ROBBIE GOULD

FG 24--28

XP 33--33

POINTS 105

PR EARL BENNETT

RET 14

AVG 10.2

TD 1

KR JOHNNY KNOX

RET 32

AVG 29.0

TD 1

New acquisition

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 Schedule

2009 Record: 7--9

September

12 Detroit

19 at Dallas

27 Green Bay (M)

October

3 at N.Y. Giants

10 at Carolina

17 Seattle

24 Washington

31 BYE

November

7 at Buffalo*

14 Minnesota

18 at Miami (T)

28 Philadelphia

December

5 at Detroit

12 New England

20 at Minnesota (M)

26 N.Y. Jets

January

2 at Green Bay

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

*in Toronto

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: T14

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .504

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 8

ANALYSIS

Lovie Smith's crew must take advantage of an early home slate that includes three matchups with teams that were a combined 11--37, because the Bears' last four dates are against 2009 playoff teams. Chicago does catch a break by facing the Bills in Toronto, essentially a neutral site—Buffalo lost both of its previous regular-season games in the Rogers Centre.

SPOTLIGHT

Brian Urlacher, Linebacker

Two days before the Bears broke camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., Urlacher stood in front of the team cafeteria and ran a hand over his freshly cut Mohawk. The entire Chicago linebacking corps, including the longtime face of the franchise, had received buzz cuts in a show of unity, but Urlacher's mind was on the 2010 season. "I'm just happy to be healthy again," says the 32-year-old Urlacher, who missed 15 games last season after dislocating his right wrist in the opener against Green Bay. "Hopefully I'll be there for every game and have fun again."

Urlacher says he had no setbacks during a rehabilitation that began last December, when he had his cast removed after 12 weeks. In training camp he hit with his wrist, fell on it several times and felt no pain. "And the rest of my body feels good, too," he says.

The 11-year Chicago veteran is the longest-tenured member of the Bears defense and a six-time Pro Bowl selection, so his ability to stay healthy and be productive is critical to the Bears' success. Few players know the nuances of the league—and of Chicago's NFC North opponents—better than Urlacher, a fact that he embraces.

"We feel like we need to win right now, and the organization has made the moves to do that," he says. "I think this is the toughest division in football. And we're the best team."

PHOTOOTTO GREULE JR./GETTY IMAGESWELCOME MATT Forte looks to boost his numbers in Martz's up-tempo game plan. PHOTOBOB ROSATO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)