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Bears Fri Oct 10 2014

The Bears Are Missing the Deep Ball

Chicago BearsWith all 11 starters returning, a former Pro Bowl quarterback in his second year under someone nicknamed "The Quarterback Whisperer," two Pro Bowl receivers, a Pro Bowl running back and a dynamic tight end, the biggest question for the 2-3 Bears revolves around why the offense is struggling. The second-highest scoring unit in the NFL from 2013 has slipped all the way to 16th this year.

Sure, injuries have played more of a role this season, with Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson missing significant time, but that doesn't totally explain it because their backups have performed just as well as the starters. Brandon Marshall, who said he was supposed to miss four weeks with his leg injury, and Alshon Jeffery have been nicked up, but neither has missed more than a few series of snaps here and there. Jay Cutler missed significant time last year, and the team didn't miss a beat.

The answer may lie 20 or more yards down the field.

After last week's heartbreaking loss to the Panthers, many asked why the Bears didn't continue to attack the Panthers deep secondary after the 31-yard completion to Jeffery on their second possession. It was the Bears only passing attempt thrown 20-plus yards downfield, and was a key portion of the offense in 2013. Marc Trestman's excuse was the Panthers backed off after their early struggles in man-to-man, and started playing a lot of deep zones. But that reasoning shouldn't be enough to abandon something at the core of the Bears success. The most successful teams make opponents play their game.

How important is it? Cutler finished second in the NFL last year amongst starting quarterbacks with 16.1 percent of his dropbacks resulting in deep passes. In total, he was 24-for-57 for 829 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions on throws down field. Josh McCown also found the deep ball useful too. His throws tended to be more of the chuck and pray variety, but he was still 10-for-23 for 330 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Deep passes are important to the Bears offense for myriad reasons. Marshall and Jeffery are two of the best receivers when it comes to high-pointing the football. Each has a highlight reel of insane catches
, and both guys excel when the defenders have their backs to the quarterback. Deep throws force defenses to respect the threat of a longer play, and open up all of those hook and dig routes that are paramount in Trestman's offense. They also tend to draw flags for pass interference at a higher rate than short throws as well. Cutler also happens to possess one of the strongest arms in the NFL.

Of the 28 qualifying quarterbacks so far this season, Cutler ranks 27th with just 8.4 percent of his dropbacks resulting in deep throws. He's 6-of-16 for 190 yards and a touchdown, which is way too few when considering he's been under pressure on just 25 percent of the team's pass plays. The lack of long throws has allowed defensive backs to keep their hips square to the quarterback and read Cutler's eyes. The results are some terrible throws that have turned into easy points for the Bears' opponents.

The only path to the playoffs is for the offense to break out of its funk, and get back to the high-scoring days of the 2013 season. The defense is improved, but not nearly to the point of carrying the team anywhere higher than third place in the division. The Bears succeeded last year when they went deep, and they'd be smart to take their shots down field against one of the lowest ranked pass defenses in the NFL. Sunday's game against the Falcons isn't a must win, but it's far closer to one than it should be six weeks into the season.

 
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