With Jay Cutler out, these 6 Bears need to step up
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com November 22, 2011 9:10PM
San Diego Chargers v Chicago Bears
Updated: December 24, 2011 8:21AM
The ripple effect started as soon as Jay Cutler’s thumb was broken and surgery scheduled.
We can count six concentric rings of urgency spreading for the Bears even as Cutler goes under the knife Wednesday morning with the hope of returning by the post-season:
1. Jerry Angelo. The general manager has basked in the radiant success of his aging defense, the now-cohesive offensive-line play and the stellar passing of Cutler, whose last game was a doomed beauty.
There has been no drumbeat to fire Angelo recently, despite some of his drafting mistakes and the way nobody likes GMs.
Success covers all. You think the risky swap of then-starting Bears QB Kyle Orton to the Broncos for the talented but immature Cutler three years ago was a good one? Well, it was brilliant, up until Sunday.
Now, in one of those goofy football ironies, Orton has been released by the Broncos, and Angelo wants him back. But not at any price. You don’t blow up your salary structure for a fill-in quarterback. The Bears have untested, onetime undrafted free agent Caleb Hanie set to step in for Cutler, but it’s for certain he can’t do what Cutler did. Hanie’s arm is to Cutler’s as a popgun is to a Glock.
Angelo knows all this about Hanie. He also knows Orton has not played in the Bears’ new offensive system. Orton’s offensive coordinator during his Bears years was Ron Turner.
Also out there as possibilities are retreads and has-beens such as Josh McCown, Jeff Garcia, Trent Edwards, Brodie Croyle and P.T. Barnum — I mean, J.T. O’Sullivan.
What does Angelo do? To save this 7-3 team, he needs to do something.
2. Matt Forte. The talented, all-purpose running back who is living on thin ice — does he get his big contract before he gets injured? — needs to carry the ball more than he ever has, to become the heart of the offense.
Last Sunday, Forte carried the ball 20 times and caught four passes. Now he will need to do more of each, especially the running, and not just when the Bears are killing the clock, as six of his carries were against the Chargers.
Does the 25-year-old want to do that? Will he be allowed to? Forced to?
3. Mike Martz. The offensive coordinator with the playbook that could double as a government document on nuclear fission will need to change his ways.
He will need to dumb down, to edit into reality an offense that is built around security and ball control rather than fireworks and scoring.
He may have to work with a quarterback he has never met. Can he bring out the best in sub-par helmsmen?
Or is his ego too large and his demands too great?
4. Brian Urlacher. The resurgent middle linebacker who’s playing as well as he ever has and has guaranteed his spot as a future Hall of Famer must now become a sort of defensive quarterback.
The Bears’ defense, in a way, is now the Bears’ offense. The defense should have a goal of scoring or creating at least two touchdowns per game. And Urlacher must be the one to create that urgency, to make his teammates see this as an opportunity rather than a burden.
Urlacher and pal Lance Briggs could both be Hall of Famers were the two longtime linebackers to lead this 7-3 team to another Super Bowl.
Possible? Isn’t football all about never giving in?
5. Devin Hester. The Bears’ transcendent kick and punt returner needs to give the appearance of being able to score on every change of possession. He is that threat. He, too, will be a Hall of Famer, something nobody thought a special-teams guy should be.
Can he scare the other teams into punting out of bounds? Can he rack up yards so the offense doesn’t have to? Does the Indy car have an 11th gear?
6. Lovie Smith. The coach has, like Angelo, been given a pass since his team has recovered from its 2-3 start and won five in a row. Nobody was calling for Lovie’s head after things settled down and Martz became controllable and the loss of rookie Gabe Carimi at the critical left-tackle spot was smoothed over. Amazing, but Smith is now in his eighth season as the Bears’ coach, and his excitement knob still only goes to about 2 or 3. Folks don’t care, as long as the W’s flow.
But nothing is the same now. Cutler has simply continued the Bears’ desperate search for a franchise quarterback who can stay in control for many years.
Jim McMahon couldn’t stay healthy back in the day. And nobody else has had the talent and the fire that Mad Mac did. Except Cutler, the most talented ever.
What Lovie has to do now, quite simply, is coach. Hard and well.
Can he do that?