Commentary

Who will pay for this mess?

Cutler has been bad but there is plenty of blame to spread around Bears

Updated: November 13, 2009, 10:15 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

The look on Lance Briggs' face said it all: We traded what for this dude?

It was seconds after Jay Cutler's fifth and final interception sealed a lousy 10-6 win for the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night, and the camera cut to Briggs, the leader of the defense. Briggs didn't look angry. He looked resigned. He had an unmistakable "That was ugly, but what do you expect?" look, one that had been perfected over seven seasons of watching lousy offenses, while sucking air on the sidelines.

Briggs is a good teammate and will undoubtedly say all the right things about the defense picking up for the offense and vice versa. But the face doesn't lie.

Lance Briggs has seen his share of bad quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireLovie Smith has taken control of the defense with decent results, but the Bears' offense is a wreck.

"It was tough," Cutler said afterward to the media in San Francisco. "I have to apologize to the defense, me and the offense. They played a great game and kept us in there, even with all the turnovers."

He's no Peter Tom Willis, but whenever Jay Cutler cocks back his arm, I'm thinking one thing: interception.

I'm either a defeatist or a realist, but Cutler forces more passes than a 55-year-old divorcé at Tavern on Rush, throwing more picks than a rec league goon.

He's no Kyle Orton, that's for sure. He might be Rex Grossman, though. Has anyone seen Grossman lately? Maybe he got some lifts and a face transplant like in that totally believable Nic Cage/John Travolta flick "Face/Off."

Cutler always had the potential to be this bad. Mix a quarterback with a big arm and a tendency to take chances into an offensive with no chemistry, uneven play-calling and below-average talent, and you run that risk. Cutler isn't the perfect quarterback some of us dreamed he could be, but he's not Moses Moreno-terrible.

Still, from what he has done on the field, Cutler looks as reliable as Matthew Stafford, the over-his-head rookie quarterback of the Detroit Lions. Cutler has now thrown 17 interceptions (five more than Stafford, who still has to play this week), which easily leads the NFL. He threw two in the red zone Thursday, including the one in the end zone to end it, and one just outside the goal line to set the tone of this offensively challenged game early in the second quarter.

"To me, Jay was trying to make a play on every one," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Cutler's five-pack. "You have to use better judgment on some of them. He's trying to make plays, but you can't do that on those ones in the red zone."

Jay-walking

Since Matt Forte and Chicago's rushing attack never got going, Jay Cutler was forced into many third-and-longs and was unable to use the play-action pass effectively.

On Play-Action, 2009
1st 8 Gms Thursday
Comp pct 58.5 42.9
TD-Int 2-0 0-2
Passer rtg 92.6 23.2

On Thursday night, in a game in which the officials were determined to flag themselves for inordinate whistle usage, the only thing I expected more than a Cutler interception when the Bears were on offense was a flag. There were 10 flags on the Bears plus those five turnovers, not to mention a whopping 43 yards rushing. It was a complete meltdown of discipline and execution, and now that the team is 4-5 with almost no chance of making the playoffs, it's finally time to start thinking about next season.

"Of course we can make the playoffs," Smith said. "We have five losses. You can make the playoffs with five losses."

That is true, if you're into semantics. The Bears don't look like a team capable of outrunning a dinner tray, let alone running the table.

But Smith's a positive guy, and his players dig that laid-back vibe. Leaders should be positive. Smith isn't stupid, though. He knows this team is basically cooked. Let's just say they can make those New Year's Eve plans and not worry about being back before February.

"It's hard to win a football game with five turnovers of the football," Smith said. "You can't have those, especially those two in the red zone."

For what's it worth, only two of Cutler's picks, the really important red-zone ones, were 100 percent his fault. The other three were anywhere from 20 to 80 percent on Cutler, with the rest just bad luck. Devin Hester slipped making a cut on interception No. 2; a ref bumped Hester on No. 3 as Dashon Goldson made the pick; and Mark Roman slightly bumped Kellen Davis out of position as Roman intercepted a fourth-quarter pass that led to a Joe Nedney field goal and a 10-6 lead for the 49ers.

The Bears' defense has taken the brunt of criticism over their past two losses, allowing 86 total points to Cincinnati and Arizona. The Bears limited the 49ers to just 216 yards, and Frank Gore had 126 combined yards (104 on the ground). The Bears' defense played like it was capable of, for the most part, but it wasn't enough. Not when the offense is as bad as ever.

"At least we played hard tonight," said defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who was booted from last Sunday's 41-21 loss to Arizona on the fourth play for slugging a lineman. "We lost. We didn't get beat."

A loss is a loss, no matter which side of the ball takes the blame. There will be more to come this season, so there's no use wallowing in this one. The question is: What are the Bears going to do about it? I think the answer is obvious: It's time to start scouting a new offensive coordinator, and possibly a new head coach.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWith a strong arm and cocky demeanor, Jay Cutler has always had the potential to be this bad.

Smith had his defense ready to play, and he deserves some credit for that, but the offense has yet to click in all facets. If it's not Matt Forte, it's Cutler. If it's not the offensive line's run-blocking, it's a penchant for penalties.

How bad is the Bears' offense? Before the game, Football Outsiders ranked it 25th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). If you, like most fans, have no idea what that means: According to FO, the Bears' offense is slightly worse than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and just a little better than the Washington Redskins. More standard NFL stats are a little more complimentary. The Bears came into the game 18th in yards per game (332.4) and 16th in third-down percentage (40 percent). There are few outliers when it comes to the Bears' offense. It is an all-around awful outfit.

Something -- OK, everything -- isn't working, and as the saying goes, you can't fire the players. So you fire the coaches.

Ron Turner, one of the most unsuccessful and unpopular coaches in local history thanks to his work as head coach at the University of Illinois and as a two-term Bears offensive coordinator, should be replaced after the season. The lackluster offense isn't all his fault, and it's only nine games into the Jay Cutler experience, but why waste another season trying to figure out if he's the right guy to maximize Cutler's ability? It's not as if Turner is a rare offensive mind who can't be replaced. There are plenty of coaches who would love the chance to work with a talent like Cutler, and after everything general manager Jerry Angelo has invested in the quarterback, there is no need to be conservative.

There are seven games left in the season. Maybe the Bears pull themselves together with all the magic of a Harry Potter movie. But it's past time to face the hard truth: This team is mediocre, undisciplined and difficult to watch. I'm convinced now that some people are going to lose their jobs because of it. I'm starting to think maybe it's deserved.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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