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Opponents absolve Tice of blame

Offensive coordinator gets pass on Bears woes from foes who cite extenuating circumstances

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

9:23 PM CST, December 20, 2012

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Based on the heat Mike Tice has been feeling, you would think he has been the one who has been giving up the sacks, committing false starts, throwing the interceptions, running the wrong routes and plowing into the backs of blockers.

The Bears offense has a lot wrong with it.

But seeing Tice carries a clipboard rather than a wizard's wand, there hasn't been much the offensive coordinator could do to make it better.

The Tribune asked three opposing coaches who have gone against Tice's offense this year and two front office men about Tice's game planning, play calling and use of personnel. None of them thought he has done poorly.

One defensive coordinator said he would "bet his life" Tice is not the problem with the Bears offense.

"I know Mike Tice is one fine football coach," he said. "Hell, they changed from Mike Martz and said it was his fault, so now they have Mike Tice and now it's his fault. It's easy to tag Mike Tice."

Said one head coach, "I really like the way they try to do things on offense. It just hasn't worked the way they wanted it to."

The offensive coordinator admittedly had two bad games — the road losses to the Packers and 49ers. In both, he didn't help his offensive linemen enough, and against the Packers he was too dependent on the pass. Tice, however, was guilty of having too much confidence in some of his offensive linemen.

Other than that, Tice has been pretty consistent and pretty solid.

The most commonly heard criticism of the Bears offense is it lacks rhythm. And it's true.

But it's difficult to have good rhythm when you are the second worst team in the NFL on first downs. The Bears have gained four or more yards on those just 40 percent of the time. Only the Cardinals, at 39.5, have been worse.

The Bears have run a play that has gone backward 11 percent of the time. Only two teams have had more plays for negative yardage. And that's not including penalties. The Bears offense has been penalized 52 times, fifth most in the NFL.

That's why the offense frequently is in second-and-long and third-and-long, and that's why the offense has no rhythm.

"When you don't do well enough on first downs, it's hard to find a rhythm on second and long," Tice said. "Do you go to get it to third-and-medium, or try to get the first down, or take a shot?"

Negative plays have led to being too reliant on deep balls. According to STATS, 13.1 percent of their pass attempts have been for 21 yards or more. That ranks sixth highest in the NFL.

And Jay Cutler and Jason Campbell have managed to complete only 28.6 percent of those throws.

One defensive assistant said the Bears could benefit from higher-percentage passes. But that's on Cutler as much as Tice because the quarterback often is reluctant to check down.

"Tice must create game plans that allow more passes to be completed with less stress so that Cutler doesn't feel that he has to force the ball into tight coverage," he said. "Great QBs have the confidence to throw into tight windows for the high risk/high reward play but they also need to have enough success to allow them to feel good about taking those shots downfield."

The Bears have neither the offensive linemen nor the receivers to have a dynamic deep passing game.

"Early in the year they had good plans," an NFC front office man said. "They used a rhythm, passing attack and got rid of the ball quickly. But they changed that lately because of their line. It's hard to be flexible when you don't have an offensive line."

The issues with containing edge rushers have led to the Bears keeping Matt Forte in to chip more than Tice prefers, and also have prevented tight ends from running pass routes. All of which has made the passing game more dysfunctional still.

The opponents who were polled noted Brandon Marshall has been the only consistent offensive threat. The head coach said his team knew the ball would be going to Marshall a lot, so he adjusted.

But none of them found the play calling predictable.

"There have not been glaring tendencies that tip you off," the NFC front office man said. "I wouldn't bash their game plans."

The defensive assistant said he would not call the Bears offense predictable, but he said teams can try to take away Marshall and make them play "left-handed," or not to their strengths.

It is true Tice has not been able to get this offense humming.

But nobody could — without pixie dust.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei