The NFL’s Mad Scientist, Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz, has had to reel in his aggressive nature of late with the absence of quarterback Jay Cutler, who’s out for at least the last three games of the regular season with a broken right thumb on his throwing hand.
Instead, the Bears have leaned on an improved ground game with backup quarterback Caleb Hanie leading the offense. Still, that offense has failed to muster enough yardage to close out games, losing three straight.
Playing behind a makeshift offensive line and without his top offensive weapon – running back Matt Forte, unavailable because of an MCL sprain – Hanie has predictably struggled.
The Colorado State product has thrown for 502 yards in three games, completing 52 percent of his passes. He has two touchdown passes to go with six interceptions. Hanie has been sacked 15 times in three games, and has a dismal 48.6 passer rating.
The Bears are averaging 11 points a game in their three-game skid headed into Sunday’s matchup with Seattle. But Hanie said he believes he still can run the full complement of the Bears’ offense.
“It’s mostly the same stuff,” the 26-year-old said. “I feel like I’m a good fit in this offense – rhythm passing, getting the ball out in time and playing smart. Nothing has really changed.”
Chicago coach Lovie Smith isn’t looking for an excuse for his offense’s lack of productivity with the Bears’ top two playmakers out.
“This is who we are,” Smith said. “It’s next guy up with us. Injuries are a part of it. Each year we have injuries. Every team in the league has injuries, so you can’t change who you are based on a couple of injuries, and we haven’t.”
For the Seahawks, Hanie is the next in a long line of nondescript quarterbacks they’ve faced of late, including Washington’s Rex Grossman, Philadelphia’s Vince Young, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Cleveland’s Colt McCoy and a banged up Sam Bradford for St. Louis.
There’s no doubt that Seattle’s pass defense is much improved from last year. The Seahawks have allowed 16 passing touchdowns through 12 games, seventh-best in the league. And Seattle has 17 interceptions, tied for fifth-best in the league.
In 2010, the Seahawks allowed 31 passing touchdowns, tied for third-worst in the NFL, and corralled 12 interceptions.
But part of the reason for Seattle’s success is they Sea-hawks have played against only one of the top five passers in the league – New York Giants signal-caller Eli Manning, who threw for 420 yards, his high this season, in the Seahawks’ 36-25 victory on Oct. 9.
The Seahawks will continue to face some of the lower-tier quarterbacks in the final three weeks of the season. Following the Bears, Seattle faces San Francisco’s Alex Smith, the 18th-ranked passer in the league, in the team’s final home game.
In the season finale. Seattle takes on the 25th-ranked passer, Arizona’s Kevin Kolb, in the Sonoran Desert.
Still, Carroll’s been pleased with his team’s ability to defend the pass.
“We’ve been more aggressive,” Carroll said. “We’re more consistent, for sure. Also, I think on the back end we’ve played much steadier throughout the year in not giving up the big plays that give those numbers up. Earl (Thomas) has had a lot to do with that. He’s really been consistent back there. Of course, Kam (Chancellor) has played very well, too.
“Those guys are big factors in not allowing plays to get out, but also our corner play has been much more aggressive and has been much more effective. I also think that (linebacker) K.J. Wright has been a really good addition pass-drop-wise. He’s a very good pass coverage guy. You see he’s got his hands on balls, he’s in passing lanes a lot and he’s been a factor.”