(MCT) — There have been long hours for the Bears’ offensive coaching staff since Mike Tice took over at the end of January, more than the staff put in during the previous two seasons.
So for the first time since before training camp, Tice will be stepping away briefly to recharge for the remainder of the season. He and his wife Diane on Thursday will make the eight-hour drive to the University of Pittsburgh to visit their son Nate, who is a graduate assistant on Paul Chryst’s staff.
“We are going to catch up, just kind of take our time,” Tice said of the journey with his wife. “Tonight, I am going to go home and enjoy a cigar. And that’s kind of really it for the break. I am going to take a few walks, get some fresh air. I am going to enjoy watching the games on Saturday and Sunday too. That is going to be really fun.”
The first five weeks of the season have been fun for Tice too, save for the trip to Green Bay in Week 2 where he has fully admitted the game plan should have been tailored differently. The Bears (4-1) allowed seven sacks in that game and have had seven in the other four games combined, proof that the line has been playing well. But in his role as coordinator for the first time in three decades in the NFL, Tice still is learning on the job and talks repeatedly about getting better “at my trade.”
The Bears scored two defensive touchdowns to break open a 41-3 rout at Jacksonville last Sunday but the offense rolled up 501 yards — topping 500 for the first time since 1989. The Bears are ranked eighth in the NFL converting third downs, doing so 42.9 percent of the time (30 of 70) despite ranking 30th on first down, averaging only 4.3 yards, something that has been a recent emphasis. The offense was successful less than 33 percent on third down the last two seasons. Red-zone efficiency needs to improve as 13 trips have resulted in six touchdowns and seven field goals, but the product looks vastly different than it did when Mike Martz was running the show.
The off week serves as a clearinghouse period for the playbook. Plays that have not worked well are evaluated. Do they need to be perfected? Should they be tweaked? Should they be thrown out? The Bears are getting a jump on their next opponent, the Lions, but they are trying to tighten what they do more than anything else.
“I’m still in the process of trying to decide what our players do best,” Tice said. “Last week was the first time that I felt good about getting (everybody) into things they do well. We just missed a couple of things in the first half, didn’t finish some things out. But in the second half we operated consistently. That’s what it is all about.”
When the weather turns in the second half of the season, it’s a fair guess Tice will put an increased emphasis on running. He was driven to get the passing game down — all elements from quarterback Jay Cutler’s timing with his receivers to pass blocking — during training camp. That put the offense behind on the ground before the Bears rolled up 214 yards rushing against the Jaguars with Matt Forte getting 107.
Other wrinkles could be emphasized as well. The Bears barely have dabbled with their no-huddle offense, although they used it most often in Jacksonville.
“We gave Jay some really, really good chances to do either or,” Tice said. “And I thought he did a great job with the no-huddle. We had gone to it earlier in the season but it was the most extensive that we had.
“Again, it was another drive that stalled when we had something going but we are going to do more of that. We like him managing the no-huddle. That and the 2-minute (drill) probably more than anything gives the quarterback a little free rein out there or a little bit of focused free rein on the line of scrimmage, if you will.”
Cutler said he’s looking forward to four days off but admitted he won’t get too far away from the task at hand.
“We’re getting there,” Cutler said. “We’re not where we want to be. But I don’t think many offenses are at this point. It’s a long season, so we have to take this off week, take a look at what we’re doing and just get better.”