Commentary

For Bears, it's not that simple

From protecting their franchise QB to running the ball, offense a struggle for Bears

Updated: October 17, 2010, 10:13 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Give Jay Cutler this much: If he was still dizzy or nauseous or foggy or even just flat after sitting out last week's game and suffering a concussion two weeks ago, he was not going to cop to it.

In fact, Cutler sounded as if he'd sooner face one more blitz from a member of the Seattle Seahawks' secondary than discuss anything to do with his head.

Of course, it's not that easy. Not when he keeps getting bounced off the turf -- six more times Sunday in Seattle's 23-20 victory over Chicago, and in the vast majority of the 27 sacks absorbed by Bears quarterbacks this season.

Cutler's well-being, cranially and emotionally, is at the crux of the Bears' chances at success this season. You simply can't get away from it, any more than Cutler could escape Seattle's rush. Any more than he could find receivers who were not open often enough. Any more than the offensive line can be expected to snap into shape when they have had four different starting combinations and are defined by their lack of credentials, not to mention experience.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireJay Cutler completed 17 of 39 passes for 290 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions against the Seahawks.

Nearly halfway into the season, the 4-2 Bears are beneficiaries of a painfully mediocre NFC while still victims of their own organizational failures.

Cutler had a poor game Sunday, no question. He held on to the ball too long, overthrew his receivers when they were open and admittedly missed several hot reads when he was under pressure.

But he continues to be a prisoner of the seven-step drop; of a game plan that treats the run game like vile-tasting medicine it must endure quickly and in small doses; and the stubborn leadership that has surrounded him with inadequate protection.

The mighty Seahawks, who came into the game ranked 31st in the NFL against the pass, revealed after Sunday's game that they were giddy with anticipation of going on the road to face a team tied for the best record in the NFC.

"We were obviously licking our chops a little bit [after] the way the Giants had success [sacking the Bears 10 times and concussing Cutler two weeks ago]," Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy said. "We knew we had to get up hard and jam the receivers and give the rush some time to get there. Really, sacks come from doing everything right on first and second down. That usually leaves them in third-and-long situations, and we brought the kitchen sink and it paid off for us."

Speaking of third down, the Bears were 0-for-12 on Sunday, continuing a woeful showing in that department that now has them 13-of-74 (17.5 percent) for the season.

Watching the Seahawks' offense purr under Matt Hasselbeck with a rhythmic, quick-hit efficiency, only made you all the more confused as the Bears sputtered along, getting big gains or losses and seemingly little in between while abandoning their run game one week after it won the Carolina game for them.

The Bears finished the game with a 39-14 pass-run ratio.

"I'm a little surprised," said Bears running back Chester Taylor. "I know we got down in the game, but when you run the ball, it's pounding, pounding, and in the end it's just going to break [the defense], so you've got to stick with it. But I understand the situation, we were down and we were trying to come back."

But the Bears were never down more than a touchdown through the first three quarters of the game. At halftime, Taylor and Matt Forte had eight rushes combined for 15 yards.

"There was an emphasis to run the ball," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We tried to run the ball a little bit [but] couldn't do that. It's not as simple as you look at what happened the week before and you just say, 'Let's just do that every time.' It's a little bit more than that …

"Last week, we got something going early with the running game which allows you to do a little bit more. Today, yeah, after you get beat like that, I wish we had run a little bit more. Then maybe we would have gotten a little bit more protection from Matt. But on a day like today, I don't know."

On a day like Sunday, the Bears had to be thankful the Packers lost again to drop to 3-3. They have to be thankful they are now in a five-way tie for the best record in the conference. But in all good conscience, they cannot be counting on the Washington Redskins, next week's opponent -- and the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL going into Sunday -- to do anything but give them another tough battle.

The sacks, said Cutler, are "becoming a problem. … We've got to figure them out. It's on me, it's on the offensive line, it's on the receivers. We've got to go in [Monday], look at the film, make some corrections somewhere along the line and figure it out. I have to get the ball out quicker, we've got to identify who's coming, who's not and the receiver's got to see it."

As for his overthrown passes. "That's the way it goes sometimes," Cutler said.

But Cutler has to be more accountable also. A pass interference was largely responsible for one of the Bears' two touchdowns and Devin Hester scored the other on a punt return. Cutler could take a lesson or two from the cool of Hasselbeck.

"Jay has to know his hots," Taylor offered bluntly.

As for the burned timeouts, Cutler said: "With our motioning and shifting, we have to have everyone on the same page and we weren't."

The concussion? Not an issue, Cutler said, after practicing this past week.

"I felt fine physically," he said. "There was never any concern with that. I felt fine out there playing. We didn't get it done today. It's very simple."

If only it was.

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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