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Bears must do better on first down

Published: Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 10:32 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

(MCT) — It was Dean Wormer in “Animal House” who famously said, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”

Along those lines, second-and-long is no way to traverse an NFL season, but the Bears have found themselves in that position far more than they would prefer.

They rank last in the league on first down, averaging 4.19 yards per play, and that has put the offense behind in down-and-distance. It makes it tougher on play-caller Mike Tice, quarterback Jay Cutler and everyone else.

“Awful,” Cutler said. “We see more second-and-10’s probably than anyone in the league, second-and-8 plus at least. It’s tough. We’ve talked about getting off to a better start on first down whether it is run or pass because third-and-6, 7, 8 is hard and second-and-10 is hard to call a game, too.

“If you call a run and you don’t get five-plus, you’re sitting in third-and-long and if you pass it and are incomplete then it’s third-and-10. So, it’s tough to do it like that. We’ve found ways to manage it but facing some better teams down the stretch, we’re going to have to get better at it.”

Maybe a rough patch through seven games and a 6-1 start that has the team sitting atop the NFC and with the second-best record in the conference has made it seem worse than it is.

Or maybe it is the fresh memory of Cutler being sacked for a seven-yard loss on the first snap in Sunday’s 23-22 victory over the Panthers. It was the third time this season Cutler has been sacked on the first offensive snap and the offensive line isn’t always to blame. Tight end Matt Spaeth got his feet tangled in allowing Greg Hardy’s sack on Sunday and running back Matt Forte missed a block for the opening sack in Week 2 in Green Bay that set up a second-and-23.

The Bears have run 66 second-and-10 plays, according to STATS, tied for 12th-most in the league. They have had 48 plays of second-and-6-to-9-yards and that is tied for 22nd. So, it’s not a crisis and, as always, statistics never tell the full story. The Panthers (1-6) are No. 1 in the league on first down, averaging 6.69 yards.

Third down has been more fruitful as the Bears are converting 40 percent of the time, ranking 16th. The Titans, their opponent Sunday in Nashville, Tenn., rank 31st in the league on third down and are allowing 32.1 points, second-most in the league.

Big plays on first down open up possibilities for Tice. A 9-yard Forte run on the team’s opening possession against the Panthers set up a second-and-1 at the 50-yard line, a play-caller’s dream position. Tice called for max protection and a bomb to Brandon Marshall. The play was there if Cutler’s deep pass didn’t get caught up in the wind, underthrown for Josh Norman to intercept.

Tice said he had four play-action, seven-step drop plays drawn up for the Panthers. When the first one failed on the opening play, it frustrated him.

“You’re running a two-man route and you give up a sack and you say OK, I had four of those in so now you don’t call the other three,” Tice said. “Say what you want, but I’m just a human. ... I’m like OK, these are off the list, so there go three plays. I was too nervous to call those other ones because of protection and they were good chunks that we were going to call on first down. We worked on them all week. We have to do better on first down.

“It’s really hard, we’re running the ball good and all of a sudden we run into a second-and-10, -11 -12, and so where do you find the rhythm? So we go ‘OK, let’s try the three-step game,’ and we go three-step game and you don’t complete the ball so now you’re second-and-10 again. Fortunately we had enough time left and we didn’t have to Yogi Berra it.”

You don’t have to say that again.

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