Bears QB Jay Cutler in survival mode after brutal games
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org September 21, 2011 9:14PM
Jay Cutler has been sacked 11 times in the first two games, a pace that would shatter an NFL record. | Chris Graythen~Getty Images
Updated: November 30, 2011 12:18AM
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, his voice barely audible after taking a kick to his throat Sunday in New Orleans, uttered — if only in a whisper — the company line on a number of topics during his press conference.
He once again backed his offensive line (“I think those guys will be fine,” he said), and he brushed over the ills of the offense (“We’re doing some stuff well, we’re not doing other things well.”).
But Cutler dropped the clichés when he was asked if he could survive the beating he’s endured after two games.
He knocked on the wooden podium twice then answered in a raspy voice, “I don’t know.
“You know, I don’t know.”
It’s ironic that toughness is among the many criticisms Cutler just can’t shake.
If testimonials from high school, college and pro teammates aren’t enough then simply turn to the numbers. Last season, he was sacked a league-high 52 times, including an NFL record nine in one half against the New York Giants. By contrast, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was sacked 61 times — in 64 games, over four regular seasons.
Remarkably, though, Cutler is on pace for another dubious record. On the receiving end of a league-high 11 sacks, he’s on pace for 88 sacks, which would top David Carr’s record by a cool dozen.
Asked if his quarterback can survive that sort of abuse, tight end Kellen Davis said, “Oh no.
“Jay is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league. But we need to keep people off of Jay. He’s huge. I mean, he is our offense.”
Actually, running back Matt Forte has accounted for 52 percent of the team’s offensive yardage, the highest figure for a non-quarterback. But if the Bears want to make a meaningful playoff run, they’ll need Cutler healthy and lively come January.
“We want to protect him more,” coach Lovie Smith said. “He took too many hits the other day.”
In addition to 11 sacks, Cutler’s been knocked down on another 17 plays.
An easy target is offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who called just 11 run plays against the Saints. On Wednesday, he embraced all the criticism.
“If you’re looking for blame,” Martz said, “blame me.”
Martz said he dialed up the two-minute offense too early and didn’t adjust well enough.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “Let’s move on.”
But laying all the issues at Martz’s feet for the offense’s performance in the final 25 minutes of the Sunday’s loss to the Saints would be misguided.
Undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher dropped a key first down; offensive tackle Frank Omiyale was flagged for two false starts in the fourth quarter; and assorted players missed assignments or blocks, including Davis.
“I was late off the ball,” Davis said, shaking his head. “I couldn’t hear the snap, and I was late off the ball, and the guy beat me.
“That was literally the loudest place I’ve ever played.”
So Turk McBride cruised past Davis, slammed into Cutler and jarred the football loose, which linebacker Jonathan Vilma recovered. Five plays later, the Saints turned a three-point lead into a 10-point lead.
Then, despite a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit, the Bears couldn’t even generate yards in garbage time, with Cutler taking five sacks in the final 15 minutes.
More of the same?
The Saints, a team that was tied for 18th with 33 sacks in 2010, mauled Cutler.
This Sunday, the Bears get the Green Bay Packers, a club that finished second in the NFL with 47 sacks a season ago.
The Packers have a respectable seven sacks so far. But, they’ve been torched in the first two weeks, giving up a league-worst 800 passing yards.
The Packers’ 3-4 defense is an aggressive one that blitzes from all angles, something the Bears clearly struggled with at the Louisiana Superdome.
So veteran tight end Matt Spaeth expects the Packers to utilize a similar strategy on Sunday.
“When stuff like that happens, you have to deal with it for a couple of weeks,” Spaeth said. “You got to prove for probably the next two or three weeks or else you’re going to keep seeing it.”
Except if they can’t dramatically shore up protection, Cutler might not be on the field to pay the price.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice wants everyone on offense to take Cutler’s health personal.
“When you’re playing football, the guy next to you and the guy with the ball in his hand, you don’t ever want anyone to hit him, because that’s like letting somebody hit your brother,” Tice said. “So that should piss you off. And if it doesn’t piss you off, then we have the wrong guys.
“I don’t think we have the wrong guys... And I think we’ll get it fixed.”