In retrospect the question was more rhetorical than anything, a reaction that popped into my head late Monday night as Lovie Smith tried processing the punishment the 49ers had just inflicted on the Bears.
What makes you think the offensive line will improve, I asked Smith at his postgame news conference.
"It has to,'' Smith answered. "Because we won seven games with that offensive line and that's why. You have to look at the big picture.''
Truth is, the Bears offensive line still could get worse with Jared Allen and Clay Matthews dreaming of six-sack outings. As for the Bears winning seven games with the offensive line Smith supported in defeat, more accurately, they won them in spite of it.
The big picture for the Bears offense? It suddenly looks like a bad abstract painting: hard to look at for too long and impossible to interpret. Before the Bears' 32-7 collapse at Candlestick Park, Smith shared his offensive goals with WBBM-AM 780's Jeff Joniak.
"We have to establish the running game,'' Smith said. "That's who we are.''
Sorry, that's precisely who they aren't.
Nobody buys it. After 10 games, the offense really has no ideas or identity. Quarterback Jay Cutler made a valid point Tuesday when he told his WMVP-AM 1000 audience that losses don't necessarily force NFL offenses to reinvent who they are. But before anything can be reinvented, it first must be invented — and the Bears offense under coordinator Mike Tice has yet to be worthy of a patent.
A power running team might be who Smith wants the Bears to be when he sits in his Halas Hall office with the Super Bowl window threatening to slowly close behind him. But nobody really thinks that's who the Bears are any more than they believe in the myth of Bear weather. Matt Forte, the $32 million man, has 641 rushing yards and averages 16 carries per game. That's not an established running game as much as a rumor.
On the opening series, the Bears confirmed their identity crisis. They faced third-and-2 after two straight 4-yard runs by Forte out of a three-offensive tackle alignment. Then the Bears out-thought themselves. Much to the delight of 49ers pass-rusher Aldon Smith, the Bears lined up in the shotgun, Jason Campbell held the ball too long and Smith bulldozed his way to the first of his 5½ sacks.
Sadly, that's who the Bears are: an offense that can't protect the passer when they possibly can run the ball (49ers) and can't run the ball when they can protect the passer (Texans). They are an offense devoid of imagination or sophistication. Balance isn't the biggest problem with Tice's game plans. Being basic is.
When was the last time anybody used the word creative to describe a Bears pass play? How many respected analysts and former NFL quarterbacks have referred to the simplistic scheme as an issue? Have the Bears ever heard the term razzle-dazzle?
The last two games, Tice has matched wits with wily defensive coordinators Wade Phillips of the Texans and Vic Fangio of the 49ers. The Bears have one touchdown and two field goals to show for it. Never has it been so easy to remember that Tice is a first-time play-caller.
No offense with Cutler, Forte and Brandon Marshall should struggle this mightily. Not all of the Bears' problems can be blamed on Cutler missing the last six quarters with a concussion. With and without Cutler, the Bears have encountered inconsistency, especially protecting the quarterback.
To cure it, they always can try increasing accountability. Smith can involve quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates more with play-calling if it helps creatively. Tice can sit one of his struggling tackles, Gabe Carimi or J'Marcus Webb, for veteran Jonathan Scott to change the mix of a group with little chemistry. The Bears have to do something. The defense can't be the only side unafraid to replace players not producing.
They were also 7-3 last year when the onus fell on offensive coordinator Mike Martz to devise game plans that brought out the best in Caleb Hanie. Martz didn't — though Hanie's limitations contributed — and, after a bleak December, changes occurred. If the Bears cannot scheme their way out of offensive hell quickly — it's the NFL — more changes might be necessary.
Terry Shea. Ron Turner. Martz. Tice. All of Smith's offensive coordinators exhibited distinct personalities but had something in common: They worked for a defensive-minded head coach who thought he knew what he wanted offensively but didn't always know how to get it.
The Bears have six games to find out or the questions will be much harder for Smith to answer.