A proven path to Cutler
Expect more of the secondary pressure Seattle dialed up against Bears QB in Week 6
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- They will continuously say the teams have changed from the last time they met.
But what hasn't, from the perspective of the Chicago Bears, is the team's ability to handle blitz packages featuring defensive backs or the opponent's penchant to utilize them.
"If somebody hurts you with one thing, the next team is gonna do it, the next team and the next team," Bears left guard Chris Williams said. "So you've got to show teams you can stop it consistently. When you do that, they'll do something else."
As it stands, though, "something else" likely won't be the chosen option defensively for the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Sunday at Soldier Field. The first time the teams met, Seattle dialed up pressure from defensive backs to generate 4½ of the six sacks the team tallied against Jay Cutler that day, including a 10-yard sack for a safety by Jordan Babineaux that increased the Seahawks' lead to 16-13 and created momentum on defense.
Obviously, the Seahawks aren't the only team to take such a route to Cutler. Of the 41 quarterbacks to throw 20 or more passes in the regular season, Cutler ranked as the 11th worst in terms of sacks taken (14) and passer rating (72.4), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Green Bay Packers brought a defensive back off the edge 16 times in the second half of the Bears' 10-3 loss in the regular-season finale, resulting in two sacks of Cutler, who posted a 50.3 passer rating in those situations over the final two quarters.
"Green Bay, that's what they do. They'd rather [No.] 21 [Charles Woodson] rush the passer at this stage of his career than be in coverage. So they brought him against us," Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice said. "Seattle did it early in the year on third down out of a 30 look [three-man front], and that's when we were still trying to find ourselves offensively, and figure out how we were gonna handle things, who was gonna play, who's hot, who's not hot. That was back when we had many growing pains going on."
Only Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen suffered as many sacks as Cutler this season against pressure from defensive backs. Cutler completes 58.9 percent of his passes against blitz packages featuring defensive backs, and has thrown for two touchdowns and three interceptions, while losing 108 yards on sacks.
By comparison, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has absorbed four sacks against blitzers from the secondary while producing a 96.7 passer rating and throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Typically in pass protection blitzing defensive backs are handed off to the running back and sometimes "the tight end with a hot read or a sight adjustment," Tice said. A hot read is a route already built into a specific play to combat the blitz. Sight adjustments are handled between the quarterback and receiver.
"That's the only way I know how to handle it," Tice said. "If the defensive back is in a dime [a formation featuring six defensive backs] and he's [lined up as] one of the linebackers in the box, then he'll belong to the offensive linemen [in terms of responsibility in protection]."
It's the job of center Olin Kreutz to recognize those looks and make the appropriate calls to deploy protection in the correct spots. Williams said "there's a number of things defenses do to disguise it," which makes Kreutz's job even more difficult.
Kreutz works with Cutler at the line of scrimmage to recognize potential threats and make the appropriate adjustments in protection.
"What a lot of teams do is someone like Charles Woodson will play almost a linebacker position in a nickel package, and they'll bring him off the edge," Kreutz said. "[To] neutralize it, you have to recognize it, figure out who their blitz guy is, and get somebody to pick him up. Of course it is [my job to do that], recognizing who the blitz guys are, putting everybody on who to block. That's my job."
Through the five games leading into the first contest against Seattle -- including the Oct. 3 massacre at the New Meadowlands in which the Giants sacked Bears quarterbacks 10 times -- Cutler had been sacked just four times against defensive back pressure.
The Seahawks nearly doubled that in one outing.
"Now, everybody has a better understanding of what we're trying to do," Williams said.
Perhaps that's true.
When the Bears faced the Seahawks in Week 6, they were already on their fourth combination of starters along the offensive line. Coming out of the Oct. 31 bye, the team moved to its fifth combination, and has stuck with it for the duration.
That doesn't mean the Seahawks won't at least try to duplicate the success they experienced in the first meeting with pressure from defensive backs. Interestingly, the Seahawks brought extra rushers on just five of Drew Brees' 62 passes in the wild-card round, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No team in the regular season had brought five or more rushers against the Saints in the regular season less frequently.
So Tice and the rest of the offensive line have their eyes peeled for anything.
"Everything's a concern," Tice said. "Everything's a challenge."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.