Banged-up Bears need to improve with Pack looming
LAKE FOREST, ILL. The Chicago Bears’ offense needs to regain its balance, for Jay Cutler’s sake if nothing else.
Cutler was sacked six times Sunday in a 30-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints and the Bears had no running game to bail him out.
The Bears (1-1) now find themselves in two familiar positions after two weeks: leading the NFL in sacks allowed (11) and trying to find a way to blend the running game with the passing game as they head into Sunday’s showdown at Soldier Field against the Green Bay Packers (2-0).
“We can’t win football games with that kind of balance,” coach Lovie Smith said Monday. “I’m talking about running/pass. Protection-wise, we gave up too many sacks in the fourth quarter but if you look at the game, we didn’t give up any sacks until the second half, so there are some positive things we did early on.”
There were very few positives, though, and Cutler even got kicked in the throat, making it hard to talk after the game or call signals. The offensive line was revamped because Cutler absorbed 52 sacks last season, all but four of the team’s league-high 56.
The lack of any running game to help slow the pass rush had something to do with the offensive line’s struggles.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for 52 pass plays and only 11 running plays against the blitz-happy Saints. The Bears wound up with 12 runs because Cutler had to scramble once, matching the third-fewest runs all-time in a single game for the Bears.
“When you play a team like that, that’s what you want to do: run and pass,” Smith said. “When they’re blitzing like that a lot of times you want to hit a crease and be able to get a big play in. Going into the game we thought we would be able to get a few more.”
However, Martz abandoned the run quickly, much like he did last year in the first half of the season before the Bears won eight of their last 10 games with a balanced attack. Running back Matt Forte, who had a personal-best 10 receptions to lead the team Sunday, made the same number of rushes.
“Surprised? Yeah,” Forte said when the stat was brought to his attention. “Ten rushes is not really a whole lot. But when you get behind pretty quick in the second half, I think the mindset was to pass the ball and try to get big chunks of yardage back or get a quick score in the passing game.”
Still, the Bears ran seven times in the first half and only five more after halftime. They didn’t fall more than three points behind until the middle of the third quarter when Cutler fumbled after a blind-side sack.
Smith became a bit testy when questioned over the balancing act and was asked if he talks with Martz about the subject.
“Yeah, we speak a little bit from time to time,” Smith said. “Yes, I have. I’m not going to sit here and tell you the reason why, I’m just going to tell you we have to get the balance a lot better and we will. We didn’t do that yesterday for a lot of different reasons.”
Martz is unavailable to the media after games and only speaks after Wednesday practices.
Part of the reason for Cutler being sacked so much could have to do with injuries.
Rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi went out of Sunday’s game with a right knee sprain, while guard Lance Louis suffered a sprained ankle the previous game and sat out. Playing with reserve tackle Frank Omiyale and backup guard/center Chris Spencer proved too much for the line to handle in a noisy Superdome, where former center Olin Kreutz was starting for the Saints.
Smith wasn’t sure of the status of his two linemen, but said neither injury is of the season-ending variety.
The Bears had another problem offensively that stemmed from injuries and led to sacks: Wide receiver Earl Bennett suffered a bruised chest and left the game. With wide receiver Roy Williams already out with a groin strain, the Bears were without two players adept at pre-snap reads of blitzes, so Cutler was having trouble finding open receivers.
Starter Devin Hester caught just one pass, and that didn’t happen until there were 12 minutes left in the game.
“It’s tough when we lose some of our key players,” Hester said. “At the receiver spot, we normally have a nice rotation going.”
Hester couldn’t put all the blame on the injuries.
“Really, we’ve just got to get better when those situations come up,” he said. “We’ve got to adjust to it.”