The NFL preseason is almost as meaningless as spring training baseball, but not for the 2013 Chicago Bears.
Friday night, the Bears will play their third preseason game in Oakland against the Raiders. Although the preseason has little insight to offer on the course the regular season will take, it can be a valuable time for teams- especially those with new coaches and staffs- to work-out kinks and enter the regular season in stride.
As of now, the Bears haven't even taken a first step.
This isn't to claim that some individuals are not ready to go. Matt Forte appears to be prepared for a productive season, and the play of the offensive line has been promising. Likewise, following the high off-season turnover, the defense has found a player or two that might offer long-term long term solutions, and has still shown the ability to force turnovers.
Surely no one knows what the regular season has in store for the Bears' fortunes, but the offense needs to get things going, starting Friday in Oakland.
Under a new head coach, and a revamped staff around him, having a roster of players under-committing due to doubt in a coach or system can be disastrous for a team. Granted, this usually takes some time to develop, but a new coach must earn that thrust, to a degree. Aside from the Cutler-Marshall connection, the offense has looked about as productive and inconsistent as any year in recent memory.
If Marc Trestman enters the regular season with only a portion of his players "buying-in," then a bad start could be lethal. If players are not committed by the time the regular season begins, that doubt will grow exponentially with something disappointing like a 0-3, or even 1-3, start. A record of 2-2 in the first quarter of the season (Lovie shout-out), should buy Trestman some time, but wouldn't do anything to help his cause.
The effect of a bad start could be greatly minimized by a productive showing from the offense during the third preseason game. The starters will see very little time in the fourth and final game before the regular season, but will play the entire first half three nights from now.
With a little success, the Bears' offense can have a foundation for confidence, so if or when things do get rough in the regular season, it will not be just doom and gloom; there would be a reason for the players to believe because they would have seen the scheme work.
Martellus Bennett has not touched a ball, save for his lone fumble recovery. Seeing the free agent tight end get involved Friday night is a huge. Alshon Jeffery has one catch for thirteen yards. The second-year receiver will need to perform for the Bears this season, but he will have to be targeted in order to do so.
The team is 31st in the NFL preseason, averaging 238 yards and only 131.5 of those through the air. Cutler has not been terrible, but once again seems to be drawn to his Brandon Marshall crutch, and has thrown two interceptions with only one tuchdown thus far. On top of that, some of Cutler's comments during this offseason have been thus far.
Cutler said in late July that not everyone had bought-in, and claimed during training camp that learning the new offense would be a "three-year process." While neither one of those statements are void of truth, seeing Cutler throw preseason interceptions because he is forcing the ball to Marshall makes one wonder how much Cutler has bought-in to Trestman.
From all accounts, the new offense is designed to be quick and exact, while "always" providing a check-down option. The main rule Cutler needs to follow is finding the open receiver or, at the least, not forcing the ball into double or triple coverage.
For the Chicago Bears to succeed in 2013, the offense will need to a frequent contributor on the field. Establishing some positives against the Raiders on Friday- by spreading the ball around, applying the scheme, throwing to the open receiver, and establishing consistency over consecutive drives- should provide a jump-start for the regular season.
Friday night could be a great night for the Chicago Bears' new offense, or it could be a horrible one. Either way, it may not be a sign of what is to come, but some success could not hurt.
Seeing the offense take some strides is key during this third preseason game, offering with it some extra confidence for both players and fans alike heading into the regular season.