Martz is still taking a pass
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Martz has an opportunity to run this week against a weak Bills' rush defense. But, will he?
Mike Martz said several Bears turned in exceptional performances in Sunday's maddening loss to the Redskins. He's convinced the offensive line is on the verge of radical improvement, that Jay Cutler's confidence continues to soar despite the four interceptions he threw Sunday and the relentless beating he has absorbed.
He doesn't blame the receivers for any of those interceptions and remains as committed to the running game as ever.
It might be reassuring to hear the offensive coordinator speak so glowingly about the Bears' crushingly disappointing offense if not for his growing credibility gap. Since joining the Bears, Martz has gone out of his way to raise the stakes by continually gushing about his quarterback, receivers, running backs and even his offensive line.
The problem is, the offense has performed far below expectations through the first seven games, and when asked for reasons why, it's almost impossible to get a straight answer.
When asked Wednesday if he's surprised his offense hasn't performed better, Martz delivered a filibuster.
''Anything about any offense is about the discipline of what you do,'' he said. ''When you're inconsistent, there's a discipline breakdown technically similar somehow. It just takes one. Offensively, if there's a breakdown, if there's just one guy, it's going to show up somewhere. We're getting way better at that.''
Cutler still trying to adjust
During his introductory news conference, Martz said, ''We will be hitting on all cylinders on opening day, I can promise you that.'' But here it is Week 8, and we're still waiting -- in part because Cutler still is struggling to make the most fundamental adjustment that every quarterback in Martz's system must make.
He's still struggling to throw to a spot on the field rather than an open man. The lack of protection he has received and the fact that his receivers haven't always been where they are supposed to be have complicated the problem.
Martz came close to admitting as much Wednesday, which is significant because he admits so little.
''Initially, before the injuries came in, [Cutler] had clean feet in the pocket and you could see him getting the ball out in good time,'' Martz said. ''Then he had to move around a little more than we would want, but that's what I like about this last game. He had a lot of clean pockets in there. There were some really good things that happened with him in there."
Cutler said before the season that throwing to a spot was by far the most difficult adjustment he will have to make. On Wednesday, he said it's a skill he's still trying to develop.
''It's always going to be a process, not only for me, but also for the receivers,'' he said. ''They've got to be at the right spot at the right depth at the right time against the right coverage. There's a lot of variables involved, and it's a process. We're still going through it.''
No one said it would be easy
It's impossible to minimize the difficulty in the transition Cutler is trying to make. He's not like Kurt Warner, Trent Green and Jon Kitna, who all excelled under Martz. Those quarterbacks needed Martz and his system more than Martz needed them. None of them had Cutler's arm strength, which allows him to wait until the last moment to deliver the ball.
And none of them had been voted to a Pro Bowl before being asked to change their entire approach to the game.
''It's a different philosophy,'' backup quarterback Todd Collins said. ''I remember in 2001 when I started learning the offense. It was hard. The coaches are always on you to get rid of it sooner, sooner, sooner. I remember asking myself, 'How can I throw it sooner- The guy's not even looking.'
''I played under other coaches who don't agree with the philosophy of throwing it before the guy is out of his break. They think you should pick up his angle and see where he's going. It takes a tremendous amount of trust between you and the receiver. If he's not in the right spot in the right time, it's on him. But at times it can make the quarterback look bad, too.''
Since he arrived, Martz has showered praise on Cutler about everything from his arm strength to his competitiveness to his soaring football IQ. If Cutler mastered his offense quicker than expected, as Martz claimed again and again, how can his four-interception performance against the Redskins be explained- If the receivers weren't to blame, as Martz claimed Wednesday, why did Johnny Knox not maintain inside position on DeAngelo Hall to prevent one interception, and why did Devin Hester not come back to the ball to prevent another-
Bears fans deserve straight answers -- and the truth is, Cutler and his receivers still are struggling with the basic fundamentals of this offense.
If they don't figure it out soon, the second half of the season will be just as perplexing as the first. And at this time next year, they'll likely be trying to master a new offense for the third straight year.
ON THE BEARS