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After 7 games, Cutler-led offense still out of sync

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Sometimes Jay Cutler doesn't have enough time to throw the ball, but sometimes he holds the ball for too long.

Timing has become the Bears' biggest issue at the most critical time of the season. Jay Cutler doesn't have enough time one play and takes too much the next. Receivers aren't where they should be when they are supposed to be there. The offensive linemen don't know whom they are supposed to block. Holes open and close before running backs can exploit them.

There are a lot of explanations for why the offense has flopped. What former St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner thinks has been lacking most of all, however, is what Mike Martz's offense requires above all else: timing. Through the first seven games, the offense has been marching to one tune while the band plays another.

The problem is glaring enough for Warner to make his strongest statements yet about Cutler and the offense.

''It's all based on timing,'' he said. ''The timing comes with the understanding of what's going on around you. It comes with the pieces around you being in the right place at the right time. The quarterback has to understand how that timing relates through [his] drop and decision-making.

''From what I've seen up to this point, that's where I see them missing it. Jay has always been a guy that could rely on his physical skills. He could let a guy come open and still get the ball there. Not everyone has that ability. This offense, because of the timing orientation of it, is built around taking a seven-step drop. On your first hitch, you throw to receiver A. If receiver A is not there, you go to receiver B, then receiver C. It's set up that way to keep the spacing of the offense and allow that spacing to give you big plays.''

While Martz has been scrutinized for what his unit hasn't accomplished, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli quietly has maximized his talent and is getting production from young, developing players such as Matt Toeaina, Henry Melton, Corey Wootton and D.J. Moore.

Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs should be healthy to start the second half of the season. Julius Peppers is Julius Peppers. The secondary has held up better than anybody expected it would. More important, Marinelli has struck the right note, and his players have responded. He is keeping it simple, stressing the combination of effort and fundamentals required to make the Tampa-2 defense successful.

Dave Toub's special teams outperform the opposition virtually every week, which means the Bears can avoid the second-half slide many anticipate if the offense turns things around. But it needs to start during the game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto because time is running out.

''Where I see Jay struggling right now is with the confidence and understanding, whether it be his part of the system and the whole realm of that or the guys around him not necessarily being there on time,'' Warner said in a conference call for the NFL Network. ''I see hesitation in Jay on the back end of his drops and in the pocket. He wants to get back there, hitch a couple of times, see something come open and make the throw. In this offense, it's not built that way. That's the biggest struggle they're having. The timing orientation of it is off right now.''

Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who will be Warner's broadcast partner during the NFL Network's telecasts on Thursday nights, was more blunt in his assessment.

''The problem with Jay Cutler in a nutshell is he makes bad decisions with the ball in his hands,'' said Theismann, who outspokenly supported the Martz-Cutler union before the season. ''He makes his mind up where he wants to go with the football at times, and he doesn't throw it away.

''The first interception to [Redskins cornerback] DeAngelo Hall last week is just a great come-around-the-receiver [play], an absolutely great interception. The one-handed one is a great interception. The last one he throws ... your receivers have to be on the same page as you are.

''One of his big crutches has been Greg Olsen. His tight end was his go-to guy last year. Now all of a sudden you don't see him as part of the offense.''

Warner said breakdowns on the offensive line and the overall lack of timing have caused the type of negative plays that have resulted in Cutler second-guessing himself, which he can ill-afford to do in an offense that must be executed with precision for it to be as successful as the Bears need it to be.

''[Cutler's] a perfect fit from a confidence and ability standpoint,'' Warner said. ''Where he has to adjust is he has to anticipate within that offense and see things ahead of time and throw the ball before a guy gets open, trust a guy to come open and get to his next read. That's where I see him struggling right now.''

NEIL HAYES

ON THE BEARS

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