Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC North [Print without images]

Monday, October 18, 2010
Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

After the Chicago Bears' 23-20 loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks, here are three issues that merit further examination:
Head Exam
The Chicago Bears take their turn in the examination room after their loss to the Seahawks.
  1. I'm having a hard time summoning outrage at offensive coordinator Mike Martz's unbalanced play calling. Who should be surprised that the architect of the game's most prolific passing attack over the past decade still leans heavily toward throwing the ball? Yes, it was stupefying to watch the Bears totally forget their 218-yard rushing performance at Carolina. There is no doubt Martz got excited by the return of quarterback Jay Cutler and the prospects of adding to a 4-1 start. But hasn't that always been Martz's history? Coach Lovie Smith needs to shoulder the blame on this one. If left to operate on his own, Martz's history shows that he'll throw all day. It's up to the head coach to impose some level of balance on him, and you would think that Smith's longtime affinity for the run would have made that a natural step. It happened earlier this season, but on Sunday, Smith failed to reign in the mad scientist. That's a primary game-day task for any coach that employs him.
  2. The Bears are in a no-win situation with their offensive line. As we've written many times, there are no short-cuts to developing a line. You have to identify five (hopefully) reliable starters and let them play next to each other for a while. But after making four lineup changes in the first six weeks of the season, some for health-related reasons, the Bears remain in complete flux as we enter Week 7. The looming return of left guard Roberto Garza (knee) hints at another change. Not all of Sunday's six sacks can be attributed to the line, but it should take its share of the blame for an offense functioning well below capacity in recent weeks.
  3. The Bears missed Lance Briggs. I don't think their defense played terribly, but there weren't many big plays either. The Seahawks didn't commit a turnover, nor was quarterback Matt Hasselbeck sacked. Briggs provides an edginess and push-the-envelope aggressiveness that tends to infect other players. He's only missed four games in his NFL career, so we don't have a big sample size for the impact of his absence. But it was pretty obvious Sunday.
And here is one issue I don't get:
Is Cutler going to even out his game? Or will his Bears career be defined by stretches of brilliance followed by periods of complete mystery? We celebrated his NFL-high 121.2 passer rating through the first two weeks of the season, noting the nice carryover he had achieved from the end of last season. Since then, however, Cutler has thrown only one touchdown pass, has been sacked 18 times and has a 74.6 passer rating. His arm, and Martz's preference for downfield passing, means there will be some more productive games over time. But if they're followed by such deep dips, it's going to be hard for the Bears to win consistently with Cutler behind center.