LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The idea that the Chicago Bears' offense will match its jaw-dropping defense this season just might be a little far-fetched.
That's the word from quarterback Jay Cutler.
"We're not going to catch the defense this year," Cutler said. "It's not going to happen. We're eight, nine years behind those guys. They've been in the same system a long time. We've just go to focus on ourselves. Every guy has just got to get a little bit better each week, every day at practice. If we get a little bit better by the end of the season, we'll be better."
For all the hype coming into the season, the offense remains a work in progress. That hasn't stopped the Bears (7-1, No. 3 In AP Pro32) from grabbing the NFC North lead heading into Sunday's showdown with AFC South leader Houston.
It just hasn't happened quite the way they envisioned. Now, they're going against a dominant defense in a matchup between two of the league's best teams.
It's a big test for an offense that many thought had the potential to be explosive isn't quite living up to the billing.
"I think you guys have to understand we're not going to look like the New England Patriots," star receiver Brandon Marshall said. "We're not going to look like the New Orleans Saints' offense. We're the Chicago Bears' offense."
And it might not be as shiny and flashy, at least not this season.
That didn't stop Marshall from pointing out that the offense scored 37 points in last week's 51-20 win at Tennessee, even though three of that group's touchdowns came on drives of 16 yards or less. The offense really didn't do much in that game until the second half.
He mentioned that the Bears have an elite quarterback in Cutler and running back in Matt Forte. Yet, he also said those expecting the Bears' offense to resemble New England's, New Orleans', Green Bay's or even Denver's when he and Cutler were there should probably forget about that, at least for now.
"We're going to do it our own way," Marshall said.
So when will it really click?
"I'm thinking 2015," he said in jest, before turning serious. "We have goals. We want to win now. We want to win now. We're doing a good job of it and will we be a No. 1 offense this year? I don't know. It doesn't look like it but what we're doing is effective. We just have to be a little bit more productive and start a little bit faster."
The Bears rank 25th overall on offense and 29th in the passing game, a surprise considering how dominant Marshall has been.
Now, they're about to meet a defense that might be overshadowed a bit this week even though it ranks among the league's best. For all the publicity the Bears' defenders are getting, consider what the Texans are doing.
They're third overall on defense, second against the run and fourth against the pass.
They're tied with Chicago for third with 25 sacks along with the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks, including a league-leading 101/2 by J.J. Watt, and they're going up against a team with well-documented issues when it comes to protection. Cutler has been sacked 28 times and is second only to Aaron Rodgers in that category.
"He has been sacked a lot," Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus said. "They're having a lot of difficulty in pass protection. Any defensive players likes that, so the thing is, we're going to work our best moves and try to get to him as best we can."
And yet, the Texans also realize they could be in for a tough time.
No one needs to remind them about Cutler's mobility and arm strength, Forte's versatility in the backfield or Marshall's sheer dominance so far. The Bears' prized offseason acquisition, he's second in the league with 797 yards receiving on 59 receptions.
"Everybody knows the type of player he is," said Houston safety Danieal Manning, who played in Chicago from 2006-10. "He's been targeted much now that he's back with his guy (Cutler). Those guys are hooking up a lot. Brandon has been catching it well, he's a big-body guy who can run routes and stretch the field. Wherever he is, you'd be crazy not to pay attention to where that guy is. Not only him, they do have other playmakers on that team."
Yet, the Bears are still a bit clunky on offense at times, particularly early in games.
"I think we've got to recognize what they're playing and attack them a certain way according to what coverage and fronts we're seeing," Cutler said. "It's a mixed bag of things, but at the end of the day, with our defense, as long as we make another team's offense go 80, 90 yards, I think we're going to be OK."
Notes: Bears WR Alshon Jeffery (hand) remained sidelined, while DE Israel Idonije (ankle), DT Henry Melton (back) and DT Matt Toeaina (calf) were limited in practice on Wednesday.
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