Improved line play boosts Bears’ Cutler
The Chicago Bears’ often-sacked quarterback dropped back to pass 32 times without being sacked in Monday night’s win at Philadelphia. It was the first time Cutler had gone without being sacked in 30 games, and just the second time since he became a Bear in 2009.
Cutler and the team think this kind of pass protection is just what’s needed to upgrade the offense.
“It’s nice,” Cutler said. “I was thinking about halfway through the game, I was like, ‘Let’s not jinx this yet,’ I didn’t want to say anything but it was looking pretty good.”
Cutler said his offensive line is getting better and is playing more relaxed. He also credited offensive coordinator Mike Martz with calling plays “and helping them out,” praise that hasn’t always been there between quarterback and coach.
The Bears have won three straight games and their offense is now to 10th in scoring (25 points a game) heading into Sunday’s rematch against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. The biggest difference has been the performance of that line, giving Cutler a whole new perspective on life in Chicago.
“It’s so much more fun, just going out there and playing with those guys and being able to execute the offense and have some fun and be creative,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The line came together out of necessity late in the second half of the Bears’ loss to Detroit earlier this season. They benched right tackle Frank Omiyale, who had been starting for injured starter Gabe Carimi. Then right guard Lance Louis went to right tackle and backup center Chris Spencer moved in at right guard.
In the three games since, the line has given up just three sacks and Cutler has dropped back to throw 98 times.
The other big move came before the season when the team decided to put veteran guard Roberto Garza at center to replace Olin Kreutz. No one knew how effective Garza would be, but he’s done well enough that the team gave him a two-year contract extension this week.
“You just have to go with what you feel and what you know,” coach Lovie Smith said. “And what we knew about Roberto is that he’s a steady player, he’s been around here, he’s smart, he had played a little bit of the position before. So you just went with those things.
“Everything that we knew about the situation and about Roberto said that he would be able to handle it and he was our best option, and that’s what we look for each week, you look at the team and see what is your best option.”
Martz’s switch to shorter, five-step pass drops and an emphasis on running back Matt Forte in the running and passing game have helped open up the offense even more. As a result, the Bears have risen to 17th in total yards.
Getting third-down receiving threat Earl Bennett back has helped Cutler, too. His 95 receiving yards Monday included a touchdown pass. He hadn’t played since Week 2 due to a chest injury.
“It comes down to chemistry and just working together at practice,” Bennett said.
Bennett and Cutler had played together at Vanderbilt one season, and Bennett quickly developed as Cutler’s favorite target in a pinch after the two were reunited in 2009. It’s a rapport Cutler admits isn’t there yet with other receivers.
“It takes time,” he said. “I’ve been with Earl for a long time, thrown a lot of balls to him. I’m getting there with a lot of those guys: Johnny (Knox) and Devin (Hester) and even Roy (Williams) and those guys. We’re getting there. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Bennett called the better blocking and better understanding of the offense’s capabilities the biggest factors in the Bears scoring 93 points during their streak, their biggest three-game output since 2008.
“We’ve grown to know what type of offense we are,” he said.