12:19 AM CDT, September 22, 2012
I asked Jay Cutler and Mike Tice a question regarding offensive strategy last week before the Green Bay game, and their answers surprised me.
I wanted to know if they would be mindful of controlling time of possession with their play-calling to keep the ball away from Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's high-powered offense.
"Time of possession … if we can grind it out, we can grind it out. But we've got to score, and we've got to be explosive, and that takes big plays and big chunks," Cutler said then. "So time of possession isn't really something that is on our mind."
Sure enough, the Packers won time of possession: 32 minutes, 11 seconds to the Bears' 27:49, as well as the game 23-10. Cutler was 11-for-27 for 126 yards and a 28.2 passer rating.
Recent studies show that teams that win time of possession are likely to win those games about 67 percent of the time. (Such numbers can be skewed because a team that is already ahead is more likely to run the ball to run the clock down.)
Sure, the Bears-Packers game had several mitigating factors, such as Matt Forte's ankle injury before Michael Bush took over. But by all indications, it was the intent and priority of the Bears' offensive coordinator and strong-armed quarterback to light up the sky with big-play scoring attempts without genuine regard for playing keepaway from the NFL's highest-scoring offense last season.
When the Packers' secondary confounded Cutler with two-deep coverage to cage Brandon Marshall, the Bears had no answer and their line collapsed. Cutler threw four interceptions and was sacked seven times.
Controlling time of possession certainly does not mean a team has to abandon the pass. More high-percentage quick-timing, short passes and screens can move the chains.
And, yes, the winning team is determined by points on the scoreboard, not yards racked up. But I still like a team's chances better when it controls the ball longer than its opponent.
In the opener against the Colts, the Bears rolled 41-21 while controlling time of possession 35:28 to 24:32. Not surprisingly, the Colts finished last in the NFL in average TOP last season while having the worst record at 2-14. The Bears were in the middle of the pack in time of possession at 14th in 2011, right in line with their 8-8 record.
Here was Tice's response to my question about ball control before the Packers game:
"Well, we'll get the running game going, but the main thing at the end of the day is we just want to score points. If it (takes) two plays to score points, or 12 or 16, we want to score points. So we're not going to count the minutes of each drive and say we have to slow down the clock. We're not going to play that style of game."
Which brings us to Sunday's game against the Rams. Will the Bears simply go with the Arena Football League philosophy of trying to score quickly and often, or will a more prudent approach be deployed to limit the chances of Sam Bradford and St. Louis?
"We'd like to get all of our guys involved, and (Marshall) is one of those guys," Cutler said Wednesday. "You get him involved early, and he kind of just sets the tempo for us. If we can, we can. If we can't, we can't fall into a trap like we did last game and keep reaching for it. We just have to take what they give us and move on."
If Cutler and the Bears can rack up, say, 35 points, win the game and ignore time of possession, OK. But that seems like a dangerous approach.
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