Bears hoping for quick fix to offense's slow starts

Tice's unit has scored almost twice as many points after halftime

Every week, it seems, the Bears offense is like a car that has been sitting in the cold too long.

Mike Tice turns the key, but the engine won't turn over.

Again. And again. And again.

Finally, the defense arrives at halftime with jumper cables.

The Bears offense has been responsible for 40 points in the first half and 74 in the second half. It has scored only one touchdown in the first quarter.

This trend needs to stop if the Bears are going to keep winning. Teams with opportunistic defenses such as the Lions can take advantage of slow-starting offenses.

Tice believes it should be a relatively easy fix.

"Sputtering is every drive three-and-out," he said. "We haven't sputtered. We just haven't finished things as well as we should have early in games."

It's not as if the Bears have moved the ball way more efficiently in the second half. They have only 125 more second-half yards. But the first-half yards have not been as fruitful.

These are some of the reasons the second half has been better:

• Jay Cutler has started slowly.

Cutler has been erratic early and has taken a while to settle into a groove. He has been at his worst in the first quarter (16.7 passer rating) and at his best in the fourth (118.4).

In the first half, Cutler has a 56.0 passer rating, a 52.9 completion percentage and 6.05 yards per attempt, according to STATS, with only one touchdown pass. In the second half, his passer rating is 107.3, he has completed 63.8 percent and he is averaging 9.90 yards per attempt with six touchdowns.

The difference isn't defensive pressure. He has been sacked four more times in the second half than the first.

The first-half frustrations have been almost entirely about the passing game. The Bears have run the ball better in the first half (325 yards, 4.6 yards per carry) than the second (293, 3.7).

"We're probably running it in the second half when we're ahead and the defenses are trying to stop the run," Tice said. "Maybe some of our number counts (defensive players versus offensive players in the box) aren't as good."

• The offense, Cutler in particular, has loosened up after the defense has taken the pressure off.

The defense has made it easier for the offense by putting up points of its own in three games. And Cutler has been at his best when playing with a lead.

He has a 130.1 passer rating in 62 attempts when leading, a 62.2 rating in 64 attempts when tied and a 23.8 rating in 30 attempts when trailing.

This has not been a trend for Cutler before this season. Previously in his career, his passer rating had been 81.8 when leading, 81.3 when trailing and 98.2 when tied.

• Tice and his assistants have made shrewd adjustments.

As Bears coaches have figured out how defenses are approaching them, they have found ways to counterattack. They have made moves on the sideline after looking at the Polaroids, and they have reassessed and changed directions at halftime.

"The coaches are doing a good job of communicating and making adjustments as the game progresses," Tice said. "Talking between series, trying to get to the right thing. That's a large part of it."

Early in games, the coaches are "sampling" some formations and plays to see what kind of defensive response they'll get. Some of these plays might not be successful, but they sometimes help set up successful plays later.

The coaching staff also saves plays for the second half, when defenses might not be expecting them based on other play calls.

Tice scripts the first 10 to 12 plays, so the players know what they will run early. This is supposed to be an offensive advantage, but it only works that way if the plays are executed well.

"Maybe we're not scripting them good enough," Tice said.

Much of what the offense has done early in games has left room for improvement. The good news is it has shown it can do better.

"We want to start faster," Tice said. "We'll continue to search for the reasons why we haven't."

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter@ danpompei

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