Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears
Updated: January 23, 2012 2:55AM
The greatest receiver in NFL history says some of the current receivers amaze him.
Jerry Rice — named by NFL Network earlier this year as the best player ever — excitedly rattles off some of his favorite receivers.
“Calvin Johnson. Andre Johnson. Larry Fitzgerald. Steve Smith. Wes Welker,” Rice said. “I enjoy watching all those guys.”
So how about them Bears?
The phone goes silent.
He’s still there.
“It’s a young group,” Rice said diplomatically. “I know they have Roy Williams, but they need to make things a little easier for Jay Cutler, running routes and getting open.”
Rice watched Cutler scramble for his life on ‘‘Monday Night Football.’’ The Detroit Lions pressured him into making difficult throws all night.
“With Jay Cutler, he’s getting hit constantly,’’ Rice said. ‘‘But he was still making good throws down the field and still somehow making plays. More precise route-running is going to help.”
Rice added that separation is a “big issue.”
“As a quarterback, you want to see that separation,’’ Rice said. ‘‘You don’t want to have to be accurate all the time and put it in a certain spot. It’s good to see that separation, and you can let it go and get that completion.”
Rice didn’t just single out the Bears’ receivers. He said it’s a league-wide problem.
“You don’t see guys work on route-running anymore,” he said. “I look at Wes Welker and what he does. He can still run routes. On the majority of the routes, he’s completely open. I mean, there’s no one around sometimes.”
The Bears’ pass-protection woes have been well-documented.
But the receivers haven’t exactly sparkled.
Running back Matt Forte leads the team in catches (30) and receiving yards (345), and undrafted rookie receiver Dane Sanzenbacher is second with 16 catches. Sanzenbacher also is the only receiver to catch a touchdown pass — two of them, in fact.
“At 2-3, it’s not like we’re patting ourselves on the back with many things,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We have to improve in all areas. Receivers are a part of it. Do we need to do a better job of getting open? Yes.
“We need to get them the ball more. All of those things. Right now, especially coming off a loss, we’re not talking about a lot of positive things we’re doing. We need to improve in all areas, that being one of them.”
Cutler has completed only 58.6 percent of his passes, a pace that would set a career low.
But his receivers have dropped 12 passes, tied for second-most in the NFL.
“It’s just a mental error on our part as receivers,” Devin Hester said. “We can’t be having dropped balls. There’s a reason we’re in the NFL — you can catch. But it’s just a lack of focus. We got to look that ball in.”
Sanzenbacher is tied for fifth in the NFL with four drops. But can he really be faulted, given how he has been thrown into the fire because of a chest injury to usual slot receiver Earl Bennett?
For his part, Cutler isn’t complaining.
“They’re doing a good job with what they’re presented with,” he said. “With the pressure we were under, nothing was really happening on time.
“Everything was kind of . . . delayed. I was moving around a lot. There were only a handful of plays, 1-2-3-4, ball on time where it’s supposed to be.”
ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer isn’t impressed with the Bears’ receivers as a whole, but he isn’t sure a Hall of Fame class would have fared any better Monday night.
“You could have put Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Art Monk in, and it wouldn’t have mattered,” Dilfer said. “The issue wasn’t receivers getting open. It was receivers having enough time for routes to develop.”
Dilfer bolsters what Rice suggests, that the Bears need to consider shorter routes instead of the long-developing ones.
“It magnifies the issues the Bears have in terms of pass protection,” Dilfer said. “I think the overall problem is their system, in general, lends itself to more of a mercurial type of play. Up and down. You can get really hot if you’re protecting and you’re allowing these routes to develop.
“There’s no doubt Mike [Martz] has the best system in all of football to get big plays. But the problem is, you can’t protect the quarterback long enough to get to those plays.”