Commentary

Misguided praise

Cutler's toughness is one attribute that shouldn't be relied upon by the Bears

Originally Published: November 2, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

By the third trip onto the field for Bears medical personnel to check the spinal condition, eyesight and blood loss of quarterback Jay Cutler on Sunday, something should have told us that this was not a good thing.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireJay Cutler's ability to withstand punishment is not a quality the Bears should keep relying on.

Instead, when he was still upright after the Bears' 30-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns, which in all fairness should have added a couple of points to his quarterback rating, Cutler was lauded for his "toughness."

And when asked Monday if keeping his franchise quarterback from getting roughed up to this extent might be atop his list of priorities, Bears coach Lovie Smith continued on that general theme.

"Each game, you have about 22 guys who get roughed up," he said. "That's a part of football as I see it. The quarterback's a part of that. Jay's a tough player. And some games it'll be that way. That's why you need big, strong, tough guys playing quarterback for you to be able to handle those things. That's not an ideal world for us to be in, for our guys to get hit like that, but that's how it goes sometimes."

Glad he at least conceded this wasn't ideal. Otherwise, you might get the idea that Cutler's size, strength and -- there's that word again -- toughness makes it acceptable to put him into the same general category as your 300-pound offensive tackle because, well, that's how it goes sometimes.

How it went Sunday, in case you ran fleeing from the TV, was good only in the sense that the Bears defeated one of the worst teams in this or most other NFL seasons. Beyond that, every person in Halas Hall should be concerned with keeping the one player who gives them a chance to finish above .500 alive and in working condition.

To that end, the focus rightfully turns to those entrusted with that assignment. For the most part, the Bears' offensive linemen are stand-up guys -- sometimes even when they should be crouched low and blocking, but that's not the point here.

Josh Beekman admitted Sunday that one of his mistakes at left guard led to one of the seven hits on Cutler. Beekman also said that center Olin Kreutz offered consolation by telling him, "There are going to be plays like that."

We also heard that there are going to be games like that. Much as it nicely continues the "That's how it goes sometimes" premise, let's hope "There are going to be seasons like that" isn't next.

[+] EnlargeBears
Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIREFor better or worse, the Bears are stuck with their offensive line.

The sad truth is that things are not likely to change much on the offensive line. And calling for offensive coordinator Ron Turner's head for his play calling, when no one is blocking well enough to properly execute his plays, is flailing wildly.

Turner said Sunday, and Smith confirmed Monday, that they will possibly scale back the offensive game plan in order to help the linemen. But that will only do so much.

"You have what you have with this offensive line," said John Jurkovic, a former NFL defensive lineman and host of ESPN Radio 1000's "Afternoon Saloon." "They're not going to get any better, bigger or healthier as the year goes on.

"What the offensive line looks like right now is what they have. They can handle their assignments better, recognize what's in front of them and not make as many mental errors. But they're not going to get faster or stronger."

Or younger, in the case of Orlando Pace.

Still, we are likely to keep hearing about Cutler's toughness, despite the fact that crediting him because he managed to stay in the game is like praising his rushing ability -- five rushes for 32 yards -- when he had to run for his life. Did he have a choice, really?

The scariest part is that the Bears have nine games left against better defenses than Cleveland's, which makes you wonder if Cutler will A) worry each week about how much danger he and his body are in, or B) use all of that toughness to protect himself.

Hey, it's better than taking it out on his teammates. After all, you wouldn't want them to get hurt.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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