When the Bears hit the field Saturday night in San Diego for their first preseason action of the 2010 season, they should do so with the intent to beat the Chargers. I don’t mean win the game, although that would be the effect of the cause of which I speak.
What I mean is the Bears need to beat the Chargers, as in impose their will and outperform them in all facets of the game. They need to have the mindset that the outcome of tonight’s game has an effect on whether they make the playoffs this year. It does, to some degree. The preseason record won’t determine that, but their performance very well could.
Over the past decade we’ve seen a transformation of the preseason from competition that is supposed to prepare the players for regular season action to nothing but a meager live practice schedule. The result is poor football played when the regular season begins in early September. And if you get off to a slow start in the regular season, it could doom you, because a majority of teams that have a poor “first quarter” of the season never recover from it.
The Bears can’t afford to play poorly when the season opens. They have too much at stake with the coaching staff on the hot seat and a new offensive system in place, a complicated one at that. Many people don’t realize that players have almost as much at stake as Lovie Smith does. A lot of players on this roster are molded to fit Smith’s scheme and may not survive roster cuts under a new coaching regime. They have just as much to play for and ought to be worried about saving their own jobs and not just that of their head coach.
I propose the Bears come out tonight and treat this game as if it counted in the regular season standings. With certain caveats, though. I’m not suggesting the starters should play the whole game; that would be silly. I do think the offensive starters, mainly the restructured offensive line, should play the first half because gaining live repetitions in Mike Martz’s offense will serve them well next month. Trust and cohesiveness play a big factor along the offensive line as does confidence.
Coaches often have vanilla game plans so they don’t tip their hand to the opposition and allow other teams to have extra game tape to study. They keep important plays close to their vest. That shouldn’t be a problem for Martz, though, whose play book is as thick as the Bible. He should want to attack from the first offensive series and score every time the offense has the ball, even if it’s just a field goal. Think about it, if the Bears don’t get into the right mindset and have the desire to score when they reach the red zone in preseason games, how are they going to flip the switch and turn it on for the regular season? The Bears had a terrible red zone offense last year, one of the worst in the league. It’s something they’ve been working on in Bourbonnais and should continue to remedy in the preseason.
A lot of people feel the main objective in a preaseason game is to get out of it healthy. Many coaching staffs feel that, which is why these games have morphed into glorified practices recently. But with a “there is no tomorrow” attitude that the Bears should be adopting this season, they can’t be overly concerned with injuries. To me, I don’t care if Jay Cutler got hurt in the regular season, the preseason, or tripping down a flight of stairs at Olivet Nazarene University. If he gets hurt, he gets hurt and the season is over. Same thing goes with the rest of the offensive starters. But if they don’t learn to play this offense at full speed, the season will be over anyway.
I’m not a naive person, so I’m not expecting to see flawless action from the Bears tonight. We’re going to see penalties, we’re going to see sloppy play, we’re probably going to see turnovers, too. Hopefully more from San Diego than from our Bears as we’ve seen enough from Cutler and would prefer he starts the season with more ball security. But I don’t think it’s too demanding of myself or the coaching staff to expect the players — both starters and the backups trying to earn roster spots — to play as error-free as possible.
Smith said this week that the Bears’ starters could play up to a half and he’d be wise to go with that feeling. Why try to preserve something that in five months from now might not be yours to use anymore?