LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Frank Omiyale gave himself an internal stay-cool speech.
The entire Chicago Bears' offense seemed to need one with the Dallas Cowboys appearing to kick-start the slow, painful process Sunday of slaughtering Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Starting left tackle Chris Williams had just gone down with a hamstring injury and all of a sudden the club was asking Omiyale to move from his customary right tackle spot to the left side in a switch-a-roo with Kevin Shaffer, who had just replaced Williams.
“I just needed to get comfortable in a hurry,” Omiyale said.
Credit the coaching staff -- most notably offensive coordinator Mike Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice -- for making that possible in what could have developed into a chaotic situation on the road in a festive, yet raucous environment at Cowboys Stadium.
“Oh yeah, definitely [it could’ve become chaotic],” Shaffer said.
Omiyale added: “We knew as long as we stuck together that things were going to work out.”
Cowboys’ linebacker Anthony Spencer dropped Cutler for a 7-yard loss on the Bears' first pass of the day. The Bears didn’t fare much better in the second series. Three plays into that possession, officials flagged Shaffer for a false start.
DeMarcus Ware and Keith Brooking slammed Cutler to the turf again on the next play, with Brooking and Shaffer receiving offsetting penalties for unnecessary roughness, and holding, respectively. The Cowboys appeared to seize the momentum after the Bears’ third series, when Williams left the game with the hamstring injury, and rookie Dez Bryant returned Brad Maynard’s punt at the end of the possession 62 yards for a touchdown.
“It was the beginning of the game. Our adrenaline was pumping. Of course we weren’t happy with the way the first couple of plays went,” Omiyale said. “The biggest thing is it was the beginning of the game.”
So rather than allow a Cowboys snowball effect to manifest itself, the Bears settled down and took control of the situation with masterful schematics.
“We knew we were gonna get their best punch early. So we just kind of had to ride the wave a little bit,” Cutler said. “A guy like Coach Tice, he’s been through it all. So he’s able to change on the run and settle those guys down. We just had to get into a little bit of a rhythm, which we did.”
Already gaining a reputation for making on-the-fly adjustments with a dry-erase board on the sidelines, Tice recognized quickly how the Cowboys were attacking. So he tweaked some of the protections, while Martz changed Cutler’s drops so the Bears could get the ball out more quickly.
Martz also tossed in some plays that -- on the surface -- wouldn't seem to mesh with the objective of protecting Cutler. The club used empty formations (formations that don’t feature anyone but the quarterback in the backfield) to spread out the Cowboys defense. Interestingly, though, empty formations provide less protection for quarterbacks because there are fewer blockers.
So when the Bears employ these types of looks, it’s imperative for Cutler to get the ball out quickly. That’s exactly what Cutler did on the play that may have actually turned the game for Chicago when he hit tight end Greg Olsen -- out of an empty formation -- for a 39-yard touchdown with 1:09 remaining in the first quarter. The play gave the Bears a 10-7 lead, and quickly shifted the momentum back their way.
“We had to make a big change early with Chris [Williams] getting hurt,” Olsen said. “Anytime you shift guys in the offensive line, it’s going to take a minute for everyone to get settled in and get comfortable. Once we got everything settled down, and Coach Tice got them running, they played amazing the rest of the game.”
A big part of that stemmed from continuous prep work by Martz and Tice to keep the Bears aware of what the Cowboys might try on the next series. While players making plays wins most games, Chicago’s outing Sunday served as a classic case of one team getting thoroughly out-coached by another.
“You can’t work on every single possible look during the week,” Shaffer said. “So what [Tice] does is he sees something, calls us over, and draws it up; shows us what they’re doing and how we’re gonna block it. Sometimes you change it up because maybe the way we went over it the first time, it didn’t work. So we do it a different way. We make adjustments right there, then the next time out we go out and do it.
"Part of it is the plays we just ran, and what we’re thinking of running -- what we think they’re gonna give us. So we’ll go over it, and [Tice is] like, ‘OK, we’ve got this play, and we’re gonna do this and this and this.’ He gets us prepared before every time we go out there so we’re a little more confident, and we kind of have an idea of what might be coming in the future play-call wise. We did some plays to get the ball out quick so the pressure wouldn’t affect us as much. I think it worked to perfection.”
Bears coach Lovie Smith thought so, too. That’s why he made it a point during opening remarks on Monday to recognize the staff for its performance, saying: “Good job by our coaching staff to make the changes in the course of the game.”
The importance of top-notch coaching often gets dwarfed by the players, and their astronomical contracts. But in this case, the players and the staff seem to revel in a symbiotic relationship of trust. Smith and the staff -- based on many of the calls they’ve made -- have already shown tremendous trust in what the team can do.
The team, meanwhile, appears to be gaining more faith in the staff putting it in a position to succeed.
“We’re all maturing in this offense. We just had to stick in there," Cutler said. "I’ve got all the faith in the world in Mike [Martz] and his play-calling ability, getting us in the right plays and making the proper adjustments. You saw what we can do when we do it right. Whenever some of our stuff is not working, we can rely on some stuff that we’ve practiced down the road.
"[Martz] can dial it up and the guys know exactly what’s going on. We changed some stuff on the run [against the Cowboys], made some adjustments up front, and everyone reacted to it properly.”