Had the Chicago Bears played badly in Game 2 of the preseason, the prevailing thought likely would’ve been not to worry because it was just an exhibition outing.
That’s why the team took a similar viewpoint in dealing with Saturday night’s success in a 33-31 win over the Washington Redskins.
“I think we did a better job, but we’re far from where we need to be for opening day,” Bears center Roberto Garza said.
The club knows that’s the truth, which is precisely its reasoning for acknowledging the strides it’s made, while tempering enthusiasm with the offense still evolving and the defense looking to maintain its standard of play in the face of injuries to safeties Chris Conte and Brandon Hardin along with the prospect of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher missing time recovering from his latest knee procedure.
Offensively, the Bears used a day and a half of prep time to reel off 389 yards against the Redskins including a 40 percent conversion rate on third downs. Four of Jay Cutler’s first five passes gained at least 16 yards, including a 41-yard strike to Brandon Marshall on the team’s first play from scrimmage.
That’s the type of explosion the offense covets. What’s more intriguing is the fact the Bears remain committed to shrouding the full breadth of the offense until Week 1.
“We hit some nice shots in there, but we didn’t really get a chance to do what we wanted exactly like we wanted to,” Cutler said. “Until we really get a full week and get those guys out there, practice what we want to practice, and see how it looks, it isn’t gonna be... you can’t expect to get everything out there. That’s the tough part about the preseason games. You want to have the finished product. You want to be quick. You want to be efficient, but the practice time and the preparation (in the preseason doesn’t allow for that).”
It’s also part of the reason the team’s running game -- an expected staple of the 2012 offense -- remains a work in progress. It’s not unusual for teams to struggle early on in the season with the ground attack because of the timing it takes to make it all click and move fluidly.
The team averaged 3.7 yards on 22 attempts, but it’s important to note that position battles up front affected the cohesion. Offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer played a couple of series on the left side, before the team replaced them with Chris Williams and Chilo Rachal.
“I think we did a better job protecting (the quarterback),” Garza said. “We didn’t do as good a job running the football. But I think that will come. We’re not showing a lot of things, but we still have to go out there and execute, protect, run the football and get on our guys. We did a better job of that, and it’s all leading up to that first game against Indy.”
While the offensive line played better than it did in the preseason opener, perhaps the most subtle -- yet important -- area the entire offense has improved over last year is getting plays in quickly, which allows the unit to get in and out of the huddle faster. That gives Cutler more time to survey the defense to make the necessary adjustments. It provides the blockers more time to make line calls, which in turn eliminates confusion so the offensive line can do a better job of protecting Cutler.
It’s all a symbiotic.
“I thought (offensive coordinator) Mike (Tice) did a good job out there,” Cutler said. “He called the game well, got us in and out of the huddle. He gave us a chance to get up to the line of scrimmage and make our changes if stuff needed to be changed.”
Defensively, the Bears ramped up the pass rush and corralled Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, sacking him three times with Israel Idonije, who was considered a question mark before the start of training camp, coming up with 2 1/2 sacks in addition to forcing a turnover that the offense turned into a touchdown. The Bears applied pressure without the services of defensive tackle Stephen Paea, a projected starter, who missed the game because of an ankle injury.
In less than two full quarters of action, the secondary limited the Redskins to a 29 percent conversion rate on third downs.
“When you have an athletic quarterback like Robert Griffin, you have to keep him pinned in,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Israel Idonije, he had good pressure as a defensive end, but also inside (as a defensive tackle) when we played him there in the nickel packages.”
Even on special teams, the Bears made an explosive play with Lorenzo Booker's 105-yard kickoff return to start the second half. But the unit also surrendered a 91-yard punt return score.
So all around, the Bears continue to temper enthusiasm, just like they’d try to assuage concern had they struggled against the Redskins.
The reality is it’s just the preseason.
That’s why the team seems to be taking the correct approach in the buildup to Week 1.
“Two preseason games: that’s how far we are,” Cutler said. “So we’ve got two more weeks to go to clean up stuff until we get to the Colts. Two weeks, then we’ll be ready to go.”