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Bears have to say 'bye' to erratic 'O'

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Consistency from Jay Cutler and better coaching from Mike Martz are critical in the second half.

A week of NFL games has come and gone without the Bears allowing a sack or being stopped short of the goal line. It has been 11 days since Jay Cutler threw a seemingly mindless interception.

The respite has allowed time to ponder what this team must do in the second half to make the playoffs and ensure the employment of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo.

''The whole locker room understands what the [situation] is with the coaches and some of the players and myself, so we're all in the same boat,'' Cutler said. ''We're all in it together. We need to get it done.''

The second-half schedule is treacherous, but everything we thought we knew about the Bears when the season began remains essentially true: They have obvious talent. They have obvious deficiencies.

For the most part, the defense has been consistent, proving it can hold up its end, and the offense wildly erratic, bordering on schizophrenic -- which means the offense must take decisive strides forward if the Bears are going to emerge from the wide-open NFC. If the Oakland Raiders can explode for more than 1,000 yards and 92 points in back-to-back weeks, why not these Bears-

''Everyone just needs to keep believing in the system and get the details right,'' Cutler said. ''We've talked about it in the past, about just being more consistent. There are flashes on film of us doing everything right and things going accordingly. Then there are other [times] when there is one little breakdown.

''With this offense, more than anything, it's going to take all 11 guys on the same page doing what they're supposed to do.''

Here are the three things that must happen for the Bears to make the playoffs for the first time in four years and ensure that Smith and Angelo return next season.

Coach 'em up

If one thing is certain in the NFC, it's that every team is flawed, but the Bears' flaws can be seen from 30,000 feet. Disarray along the offensive line requires more than cosmetic changes. It's like finding a crack in your foundation and water in the basement. Compensating for such a fundamental problem is a constant challenge, which is where offensive line coach Mike Tice and offensive coordinator Mike Martz come in.

If this coaching staff is as good as advertised, it soon will be evident. If having four current or former NFL head coaches on the same staff is the boon Smith claims it to be, the Bears should have a distinct advantage in a conference in which everything is up for grabs.

''What we have to do is not so much simplify, but find the things that our guys do well and make sure those are the things we're focusing on,'' Tice said.

The Bears haven't always looked like a well-coached team on offense. That has to change.

It's the line, stupid

It didn't take a complicated self-evaluation during the bye week to figure out what the top priority is. The Bears can't win consistently unless the offensive line improves, and there's no reason why it shouldn't. Inexperienced players should be learning on the job. Roberto Garza is back at right guard after knee surgery, adding veteran experience.

It's to be expected that the offensive linemen will be physically bested at times, especially the younger guys. But mental mistakes and defenders running untouched to the quarterback -- those are on Tice. If the schemes are too complex, simplify them. If they're too simple, make them more complex. That's what the bye week is for.

''If they're untouched, it has nothing to do with the players. It's preparation,'' two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim Plunkett said. "They are missing assignments. Everybody gets beat physically. When you make those kinds of mental mistakes, you weren't prepared to execute your assignments.''

If we don't see steady improvement in the second half, Angelo deserves what criticism comes his way -- up to and including termination -- for not addressing this unit during the offseason.

No pressure, Jay

For the Bears to reach the playoffs, Cutler must do what he has been unable to do since joining the Bears -- consistently carry the offense.

That means no more brainless interceptions, no more rushing throws, no more holding the ball when he should throw it away. Being in his first year with Martz's offense can't be an excuse any longer. The franchise quarterback has to start playing like one, plain and simple. The future of the franchise hangs in the balance.

''Everyone goes through that phase, especially when expectations are [so high],'' Martz said of Cutler's struggles. ''He'll be fine. We'll get him squared away.''

Smith and Angelo had better hope he's right.

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