Neither coach Lovie Smith, left, nor offensive coordinator Ron Turner are pleased with the Bears' recent struggles in the red zone.
Lately it seems the red zone is where the Bears' offense goes to die.
Of their last 13 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the Bears have managed just 4 touchdowns, a success rate of 30.8 percent, which has dropped their season mark to 44.4 percent, tied for 25th in the league. In their 27 red-zone trips, the Bears have scored just 12 touchdowns, although they've also gotten 8 field goals, which is, in most cases, considered an unsatisfying consolation prize.
Even counting field goals, the Bears have scored on just 71.4 percent of their red-zone attempts, which is 29th in the league. They've also turned the ball over four times, given it up on downs twice and killed the clock once (vs. the Browns).
"We could do a lot of things better," quarterback Jay Cutler said of the red-zone offense. "We've got to execute. We've got to draw some stuff up and maybe attack them in a different way. We're having opportunities down there, (but) we've busted on a few. That's all on the players. We're getting our chances. We have to take advantage of it. Right now we're just not doing it. Earlier in the season we were a lot better."
In Weeks 2-4, the Bears were almost perfect in the red zone, scoring 8 touchdowns in 10 chances and getting field goals on the other 2 opportunities. Not coincidentally, they won all three games, defeating the Steelers, Seahawks and Lions. Maybe it's time to go back to what worked earlier, although it's not always as simple as that, especially when opponents can study tendencies from previous games.
"We go back and look at what we did and make sure that we're putting our guys in position to make plays, and then when we do, we've just to execute," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "This last game, there were a couple calls I'd like to have back, that we didn't have a chance. They had a better call than we did, plain and simple. They defended some of the things that we had. So, yeah, we've got to look at that and make sure that we're changing up our tendencies and we're giving our guys a chance to make plays. And then, when we do, we have to execute."
If past success is worth considering, the Bears should get the ball to their tight ends. Of the 8 red-zone touchdowns they scored during their three-game win streak, 4 were on short passes to tight ends. Greg Olsen had a pair of 1-yard TD receptions and Kellen Davis had 6- and 2-yard grabs. Wide receiver Johnny Knox had a pair of 7-yard TD catches, Cutler had a 5-yard run and Garrett Wolfe added a 2-yard run.
In the next game, the 21-14 loss to the Falcons, the Bears had 4 red-zone tries, but scored just 1 TD, a 2-yard pass to Olsen. That game, which started the red-zone troubles, included 2 turnovers near the goal line.
"You have less field to work with (so) the defense is going to sit on more things," said Cutler, who has thrown 3 red-zone interceptions. "Everything gets a little faster down there. Your decisions have to be made quicker, everybody has to be more precise, you've got to be exactly where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there. If one little thing goes wrong, there's not a lot of time to make things happen afterward."
A lot of those little things have been adding up to a big problem for the Bears' offense the last three games.