Chicago fans are so panicky: Smith, Bears suffering an identity crisis; No excuses … Bears offense simply pathetic; Bears have no clue how to start fixing offense. I can see why, after yesterday's 12-attempt, 13-yard performance on the ground and a 1-2 start.
But let's go back to the same point last year, when the Bears were 3-0, and had just defeated the eventual Super Bowl champions.
In the first game, the Bears ran for a respectable 101 yards against Lions team that finished 6-10. Only 50 of that came from Matt Forte, on 17 carries—Cutler had 22 and Chester Taylor 29—though he did have 151 yards receiving.
In the second game, the Bears ran for 38 yards on 19 carries against a Cowboys team that finished 6-10. By the numbers they should have lost that game, having nine fewer first downs and 100 fewer yards, but the Cowboys turned the ball over three times to the Bears' zero.
In the third game, against Green Bay, the Bears ran for 77 yards on 18 carries—but Jay Cutler picked up a fluky 37 yards on three carries. Which is great, but you don't build your team around the quarterback running for 12 yards per carry. The Bears just squeezed that one out, even though they were outgained by 100 yards, thanks in part to a punt return touchdown by Devin Hester. The Pack was also without Ryan Grant, and it showed in a mediocre ground game. The Bears also turned the ball over once; the Packers, twice.
So after three games this year, the Bears seem, in the eternal words of Dennis Green, to be what we thought they were: a pass-first team with no number-one receiver, the poor man's Marshall Faulk, and a patchy offensive line and a reserve manning the blind side. Compare that to Martz's glory years in St. Louis, when the Rams had two great receivers, the best receiving running back in football, and the best left tackle in football.
The 2011 Bears actually look a lot like the 2010 Bears, only they've played arguably the three best teams in the NFC: in Sports Illustrated's season preview, one of the Bears' first three opponents was picked by someone to make the Super Bowl. Their strength of schedule for the year is below average, but their first three opponents went 13-3, 11-5, and 10-6 last year.
And their schedule gets easier: a rebuilding Panthers team; a Lions team that's 3-0 against lesser opponents; a fading Vikings team; and the Bucs, on whom the verdict is still out (they're 2-1, but haven't outscored their opponents). So I'm still expecting what's become a regular Bears season: a good but not great team that will be in the playoff hunt (especially with a nice three-game stretch against Kansas City, Denver, and Seattle near the end of the season), but unlikely to advance very far.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune