Chicago Bears fans will want to scream at Mike Martz the way Jay Cutler did when they hear Martz’s assessment of the team’s current offense.
Locally, there is some hope for what the Bears can become with a team in the early stages of a rebuild under new general manager Ryan Posey and first-year coach Matt Eberfluss. This optimism is not shared at the national level.
Now, Martz — a guy with proven head coaching experience and an offensive mind — says the Bears not only look bad on offense, but they’re as deficient on that end as the 2008 Detroit Lions, the first NFL team goes 0-16.
In an article for The 33rd Team — an online publication with a collection of former major league managers on its roster, including Hall of Famers Bill Poliano and Bill Parcells — Martz didn’t hold back in his review of the Bears with the season less than three weeks away.
Of course, Martz is familiar with the challenges the offensive coordinators faced in Halas Hall. He held the position in 2010 and 2011, directing the offense the last time the Bears won a playoff game. At the time, it was known that he and Cutler sometimes clashed.
Since then, the Bears’ players have seemingly disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, as the team has gone from Martz to Mike Theis, Marc Trestman, Adam Gase, Dowell Loggains, Matt Nagy, Bill Lazarus, back to Nagy and then back to Lazor. Only Nagy, who found a soft spot with his former team as the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive backs coach, is currently busy in the league.
Martz’s scathing assessment of the Bears’ offense came in an article in which he ranked the quarterbacks of the NFC North. In order, he went with Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings), Jared Goff (Detroit Lions) and Justin Fields (Bears). The concern for Marza is that the Bears are so bad around Fields that he won’t have a chance.
“Fields is a guy who makes a lot of mistakes and isn’t very accurate at times,” Martz wrote. “He’s not someone who reads and reacts quickly, and he’s on a terrible team. But I don’t know if I’ve seen a talent-heavy offense since the 0-16 Detroit Lions. They just don’t have anyone there. … This is a bad football team now.”
March has an idea of what the Lions were working with in 2008. He was their offensive coordinator for two seasons before that fiasco.
He’s not the only one skeptical of the players around Fields. Ross Tucker put the Bears’ offensive line last in the league by a wide margin before the team signed veterans Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield. Tucker knows a thing or two about playing in the trenches as a former NFL offensive lineman.
Interestingly, neither Reif nor Schofield have been in the first team for the past few weeks. The Bears appear to be banking on the benefits of several young players: rookie Braxton Jones at left tackle, second-year pros Taven Jenkins at right guard and Larry Boram at right tackle. The outlook for this group could be brighter midway through the season.
The Bears have question marks at wide receiver after Darnell Mooney. Byron Pringle remains sidelined with a quadriceps injury. This allowed Equanimeous St. Brown to play throughout training camp. His career high of 21 receptions was set in 2018. Then there’s rookie Velus Jones and other unknowns at the position.
“It’s going to take them a long time to get the talent there,” Martz wrote. “(Fields) needs a couple of years to be on a good football team behind really good players to learn how to play that position. And if you put a guy behind a bad offensive line and you have no talent at wide receiver and you tell him to just go play, he’s going to learn bad habits. You start doing stupid things just to survive.’
The new regime didn’t inherit a ton of pieces from an offense that ranked 27th in yards and points, 30th in passing and 32nd in interceptions and third-down conversions a year ago. Poles is clearly taking the long view on the rebuilding process with the Bears, who are on the salary cap for the future. They are far from solid, so extravagant purchases were not made in the off-season. The Poles also lacked a first-round pick, as the Bears ended up paying for the trade and drafted Fields with the No. 11 pick in 2021.
Offensive coordinator Luke Gatsey arrived from Green Bay with impressive credentials and glowing praise from Rodgers for his role in the Packers’ offense. He’s building from the ground up, knowing that much more patience is required than the coaching staff had to sustain in Green Bay.
“There’s a balance between demand and patience and setting expectations and letting them know that some things aren’t right,” Gatsey said last week, the last time he met with reporters. “Then at some point, you always have to remember to give them a pat on the back and let them know you care about them, because I do.
“There must also be demand. There should be a wait. We set very high standards, and I don’t care if it took three months or three years to do it. So we have to meet those standards.”
Internal standards are very high. Expectations are very low when you leave Halas Hall. The Bears can’t offer much defense for their offense until the season starts.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the announcement of Eberflus the starters will play most, if not all, of the first half in Saturday night’s preseason finale in Cleveland. The offensive line needs more cohesion. Fields requires more experience in the system. The wide receivers still need work.
It is a process, and most participants will probably admit that it will be a long one. Martz predicts a painful process, so shout at him for now. Maybe one day Fields and company can yell at him too and let him know he was wrong.