“We let the game get away from us. The defense – they have every right to be mad at us. The defense is the reason we have four wins. Offense has got to get up to their level. We blew that game, and most of that falls on my shoulders.”
The words of a humbled quarterback above – just moments after a 17-14 loss to the Washington Redskins. Jay Cutler, who threw 4 interceptions to DeAngelo Hall in the loss, played an awful game. A game that is making Bears fans question, and rightfully so, “Just why do we keep making excuses for this guy?”
But, yet again, I am going to defend Jay – to a point anyways. To watch what happened on Sunday and put all the blame on number 6 is not fair. And, more importantly, it’s not accurate.
Lets go back to what I said a paragraph ago: “Why do we keep making excuses?” Some of it is what we love about Cutler’s raw talent. There are two or three quarterbacks in the NFL that can throw the football like Jay – literally. But mostly, we look back to Jay’s Denver days and we see a 24 year old Pro Bowl quarterback who’s throwing at a 63% completion rate, 4,500 yards, 25 TDs, and only 18 interceptions. I say “only” because that is a fairly average number considering he was asked to throw the football 616 times that season.
“But he had Brandon Marshall and a better offensive line.” That’s right, he did. But, isn’t it also entirely fair to say, as Cutler was dependant on Marshall – Marshall was just as dependant on Cutler? We talk about football being the quintessential “team” sport. So why then do we not want to give Cutler the credit he deserves for his success in Denver? Consider this: Just one year since Kurt Warner retired from Arizona, Pro Bowl MVP Larry Fitzgerald has just 331 receiving yards to Johnny Knox’ 478. Or, 11.4 yards per catch to Knox’ 19.9 yards per catch. And, for those of you who think I’m fudging the numbers, Knox’ stats are based on 5 fewer receptions than Fitzgerald’s. I am in no way trying to tell you that Knox is a better receiver than Larry Fitzgerald because nothing could be further from the truth. I’m simply showing you that the receiver needs the QB as much as the QB needs the receiver.
The interception Jay threw in the redzone against Washington is entirely on him. There was no excuse for him to even try to complete a pass. But, you cannot actually expect Cutler to hit these guys with pinpoint accuracy on every throw, ESPECIALLY when he’s under than kind of pressure. If you are waiting for that, pull up a chair because you’re going to be here a while. The receivers need to attack the football and make plays. On all but 2 INTs, the Bears’ receivers should (not could) have made a play on the ball by turning inside and catching it high. Instead they waited for the ball to come to them and DeAngelo Hall took advantage of their inexperience.
“So why didn’t Cutler adjust where he put the ball?” Wrong question. The question to ask is, “Why were the receivers not in the correct spot?” We talked about this prior to the season. In fact, I told you that in Martz system, Cutler may be poised to actually throw more interceptions than he did in 2009. Why? Because Martz system forces the QB to throw to a spot (not a receiver) on the field. The receiver is expected to be there and make a play. There are no audibles, just the play called and the hot-read.
Consider this: From 2000-2008, Martz-led offenses were tops in the league in interceptions. Putting up the following quantities each year in chronological order: 23, 22, 27, 23, 22, 24, 22, 22, & 19. To put that in perspective, the NFL average is somewhere right around 14 picks per team per year. Is it a coincidence that Mike Martz just happens to coach INT prone QBs or does his system put them in a tough position? To me, that answer is simple given the numbers.
But, it doesn’t all fall on the receivers and offensive line either. Mike Martz has got to be willing to adjust. The idea that you can put a quarterback in that situation, behind the worst o-line in the NFL, and refuse the run the ball is a recipe for disaster. I literally laughed out loud on Sunday when it all of a sudden became so utterly apparent that Martz’ system is a huge part of the problem. For a brief period, we saw Cutler move from the 5 and 7 step drops, to the 3 step drops. And just like flipping on a light switch, the Bears started driving down field. We saw the receivers running quick slant routes and being successful. It was too obvious to ignore. It was many of the things we had been calling for and it worked.
But everything I just told you is too much about placing blame. And that is not going to help the Bears win football games. All we can hope for is that they know where the problems are and have a solution on how to fix them. The Bears are 4-3 at their bye week. They have 9 games left to play and will, at minimum, have to win 5 (likely 6) of them to make the playoffs. That’s going to be a tough task. As it stands, the Bears have somewhere around a 20% chance of doing just that.
Make no mistake, right now, the Chicago Bears offense is in very bad shape. They are dead last in 3rd down efficiency; they are 0 for 10 on the opponent’s goal line; they have not scored in the 3rd quarter all season; and they are number 1 in sacks allowed. To add to the Bears 3rd down woes is the fact that the Redskins were ranked dead last in overall defense heading into Sunday’s game and the Bears went 0 for 6 (0 for 28 including priors) on 3rd down conversions in the first half of the game, before finally converting their first in the third quarter. And lets go back to that goal line stat: 0 for 10 from the opponent’s 1 yard line?! I don’t have the time to go through every team, every season, for the last 90 years but that has to be a record. It’s unbelievable! Jay Cutler is a 6’4” QB, maybe a QB sneak every now and then? Heck, it worked yesterday. Only Lovie didn’t challenge it. Don’t worry – I’ll get to that.
The Bears’ defense continues to put the team in a position to win. Julius Peppers has been dominant at times and, even though he hasn’t been as much of a factor these last few games, Idonije has stepped up in critical spots. Against the Redskins he recorded 1 sack and batted down 2 passes. This after recording 3 sacks just 2 weeks ago against the Panthers. The problem we are seeing now is the offense not being able to sustain drives long enough to keep the defense off the field. 7 games into the season and the Bears defense is very banged up: Briggs with an ankle sprain; Urlacher has been playing with a very worrisome groin injury;Danieal Manning is playing through a painful rib injury; Julius Peppers is said to have some nagging injuries; Zachary Bowman with a sprained foot; and Chris Harris has been dealing with a sore knee.
You can’t expect these guys to stay healthy for the remainder of the season if they continue to play so many minutes on Sunday. They can’t carry the offense for long and it’s only a matter of time before they get tired of doing it. This brings me to my next important point as the Bears head into their much needed bye week.
The bye week
Smith said today that the Bears will use the bye to evaluate everything from “personnel” to “scheme” to figure out what’s wrong. Don’t take that to mean whole-sale changes by any stretch. But, I do think we’ll see some movement. With Roberto Garza expected back after the bye, it’s entirely possible that Chris Williams finally finds himself in the position he belongs: the bench. I’m not sure if Williams was truly a misevaluation of talent or a ruining of talent but, I tell you this with all sincerity, he CANNOT play in the NFL, period. At any position. Major Wright will be worked in after the bye, which is good news. While Chris Harris has played well, he’s banged up and could use the rest. Same goes for Manning depending on where the Bears use Wright.
I have to believe the leash finally runs out for Brandon Manumaleuna (or as Twitter has seemed to name him: Manumalecantblock) and Desmond Clark finally gets the start. Clark is the best blocking tight end the Bears have. To not use him under such conditions is an absolute travesty. Matt Forte needs to be incorporated into the game plan more, a lot more. This last one is wishful thinking but I said it in the beginning of the season:Earl Bennett should be the number 2 wide receiver on this team. He runs the best routes and has the best hands of any receiver on the roster. Lets put Hester (and all these guys for that matter) in the best position to succeed.
But, it’s not just the players that need to be considered. Lovie Smith needs to take a good look at what Mike Martz is calling and force him to simplify things. In addition to that, I heard someone bring up an excellent point on Monday that just as players work on individual drills, coaches should practice their personal game-plan. We all saw the Cutler QB sneak that Lovie didn’t challenge. It looked as if Jay broke the plane of the goal line before fumbling the football. I’m not entirely sure the call would have been overturned but to not challenge that play is unacceptable and Lovie knows it. He admitted just that today. The only direct move a head coach can make – to decide the outcome or course of a game – rests on that little red flag and Smith is not good at red flags…
Yesterday, as I was watching the game I noticed a tweet from Chris Harris’ wife which read: “I think this NFL season is just made up of average teams! Not impressed by the Redskins either.” So I asked her, “Are the Bears just average?” Without hesitation, she replied: “Yep… all NFL teams are, and the Bears are not exempt!” For all the defending that this Bears organization does, they know, just like we do, that things are bad. The players know it, their wives know it, we ALL know it. Lets just hope they do what is necessary to fix it. I just fear that it is already too late.