Realistically, though, neither he nor the team can successfully continue without a permanent fix to a constantly crumbling line that gave up 10 sacks in a massacre Sunday that ended with two quarterbacks taken off the field by the medical staff.
“There were a lot of things that were unacceptable from that game and of course we’re going to put the offensive line in there,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
How could he not?
A hard look at the nuts and bolts of the outing by ESPN Stats & Information shed some light into the depth of the ineptitude contributing to the offensive line’s woeful performance. New York pressured Chicago with four or fewer rushers for eight of its 10 sacks on the night, which means the Giants’ front four routinely beat a Bears' protection scheme that included five offensive linemen, and more often than not, a tight end and a running back.
That’s right: six- and seven-man protection schemes proved insufficient against a defense deploying just four rushers most of the time. Three Giants defensive ends (Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, and Osi Umenyiora) and a defensive tackle (Barry Coefield) combined for 8.5 sacks, while a defensive back (Aaron Ross) and a linebacker (Jonathan Goff) came together for the remainder.
The club now ranks last in the NFL in sack-differential at minus-14, which is six sacks worse than 31st-ranked Carolina.
“We didn’t block people. Football’s not hard to figure out,” Bears center Olin Kreutz said. “They beat us time after time, and we’ve got to get in front of guys and get them blocked. It was man on man. There was a little bit of everything [in terms of being physically beaten and making mental mistakes]. But most of them were those guys just beating us. That’s not acceptable really. We’ve got to go back to work and hopefully we can rectify this week in Carolina.”
The question now becomes how?
Kreutz, Smith, and left guard Roberto Garza, understandably, are reluctant to make excuses for what transpired against the Giants. But it’s worth mentioning that Garza missed practice time leading into the game due to a knee injury, which actually crept up again during the contest and forced him to miss snaps. Right guard Lance Louis couldn’t finish Sunday night’s contest after suffering a bruised knee, and starting left tackle Chris Williams has missed two games in a row because of a strained hamstring.
So in addition to competing with linemen playing at half strength due to minor injuries, the team also continues to deal with a lack of familiarity among the reserves playing significant roles. Starting right tackle Frank Omiyale has played on the left side the last three games and Kevin Shaffer, normally a backup, is shuffling in and out with rookie J’Marcus Webb at right tackle. Edwin Williams, meanwhile, filled in for Louis at right guard after being activated from the practice squad just seven days earlier.
“Nowhere [to go but] up from here,” Omiyale said. “Nine sacks in the first half [were] pretty rough. I think that was a record, but we’re going to get better. That’s our plan.”
Reluctantly, Smith admitted the current situation creates somewhat of a trickle-down effect that wreaks havoc on everything offensively. The discombobulated unit can’t effectively open the holes for the club to consistently utilize the ground game, leading to offensive coordinator Mike Martz -- whether right or wrong -- leaning on a passing attack comprised of long drops that expose Cutler to excessive punishment.
“It complicates it,” Smith said. “But injuries are a part of it. And it’s kind of [a situation where it’s] next guy up with all positions. We’ve had to shuffle the players a little bit more than what we like, especially on the offensive line. But that’s just a part of it. It’s not ideal to have to move to different positions. You want to get guys locked in at one. But sometimes the situations don’t allow you to do that. I’m just glad we have some guys to be able to move around a little bit. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll get guys back. Each day Chris Williams is getting a little bit more healthy to play. So hopefully, before too long, we’ll have a bigger group to choose from.”
Even with that, the Bears still need to choose correctly.
The club entered the season expecting to field a starting line comprised of Kreutz, Louis, Garza, Williams and Omiyale. If the group is healthy enough to play this week, that’s the combination the team needs to adhere to without all the shuffling that eventually disrupts cohesion, leads to anemic rushing numbers, and lands Cutler on the injury list.
If the entire group can’t go, the pickings are slim concerning potential replacements for Louis (his status is uncertain for this week), Chris Williams and possibly Garza. Edwin Williams and Webb are the only reserves on the active roster while practice squad members Johan Asiata, Levi Horn and James Marten are possible candidates for promotion, depending on the significance of the injury current injury situation.
“We see our options, and we’ll continue to evaluate, and Wednesday we’ll have a better idea which way we’re going to go,” Smith said. “You don’t want your quarterback to go through that. We just have to do a better job of protecting him. Everybody is looking at themselves, thinking and talking about what they’re going to do -- what we’re going to do -- to the necessary improvements and get back on track. We’re a week away from feeling a lot better. We’ll get it done this week.”