CHICAGO — Jay Cutler’s answer was short and to the point.
As explosive as the Chicago Bears’ offense looked in Saturday’s 33-31 preseason win over Washington, he realizes it’s not quite a finished product.
How far has it come?
“Two preseason games,” he said. “So that’s how far we are.”
The question is: How far can it go?
The Bears (tied for 11th in the AP Pro32) believe they now have the talent and depth to make a big run after injuries wrecked what was shaping up as a playoff season last year. New general manager Phil Emery addressed several areas with a flurry of moves, none bigger than the trade with Miami for Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.
That gave Cutler a legitimate go-to target for the first time since he arrived from Denver and reunited him with his former Broncos teammate. Big things are expected, and the Bears got their first taste on Saturday.
Held out of the preseason opener against Denver following the birth of his son, Cutler wasted no time connecting with his old friend. He dropped back on Chicago’s first play from scrimmage and found Marshall open deep along the right sideline after beating Cedric Griffin for a 41-yarder that drew a roar from the crowd and set the tone while helping set up the game’s first touchdown.
It was exactly what the Bears envision from those two, the sort of big plays that leave the crowd in awe and the opponent on its heels. With a rifle-armed quarterback and a Pro Bowl receiver, the message to the rest of the league seemed simple: Get used to it.
They see a defense sharing the load with an offense that they believe could be explosive, and there certainly were glimpses of that on Saturday, right from the start.
“What it does is it gets the guys on the sideline fired up, those guys like Lance (Briggs) and Brian (Urlacher) fired up, special teams fired up and we just feed off each other,” said Marshall, who also turned a short pass into a 20-yard gain on that drive.
It’s not just about Cutler and Marshall. It’s about depth and balance.
The Bears believe they have a good mix at receiver with Earl Bennett, rookie Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester behind Marshall to go with a balanced running attack between Pro Bowl pick Matt Forte and newcomer Michael Bush, although they didn’t take many handoffs on Saturday.
Forte carried just four times for 16 yards in his preseason debut. Bush finished with 21 yards on five attempts, running it in from the 1 on the Bears’ first possession and faking a defender on his 8-yard TD later in the first quarter.
“We know Michael can run it between the tackles, but I think it was good for him to show everyone that he can make you miss also,” coach Lovie Smith said. “I think his second touchdown run, the guy was one-on-one in the hole, it was a great cut by him to make a guy miss. He is a big back and can do a lot of good things.”
The Bears believe their offense can do a lot of good things, too. But there are some concerns on the left side of the line, particularly at the tackle spot.
J’Marcus Webb started and wound up rotating with Chris Williams until late in the game, and although there weren’t any major missteps, there didn’t seem to be any real answers, either. Webb seemed to hold up against Washington’s Brian Orakpo until the Pro Bowl linebacker left with a shoulder injury late in the first quarter.
Another test looms Friday.
The Bears visit the New York Giants, and if they want to push Webb and Williams, that will be a good opportunity. Not only do the Giants boast one of the best defensive lines, it’ll be the third preseason game. That means there will be some game-planning.
As for Saturday, Smith liked what he saw overall from the line.
“You have to, of course, go back and watch the video, things are normally not as good as you think when you have some success and things are not quite as bad too, but I think for the most part, from what I was able to see, we did a decent job,” he said.