Commentary

Martz system could be Cutler's downfall

Offensive coordinator might be as dangerous to quarterback as any pass rush

Updated: September 21, 2011, 9:45 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Mike Martz is so adept at defense, he might want to consider a career switch.

The problem for the Bears' offensive coordinator, who defended his system again on Wednesday, is that he is his own worst enemy.

[+] EnlargeMike Martz
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireJay Cutler has been sacked 63 times since the start of the 2010 season in Mike Martz's system.

More importantly, he's Jay Cutler's as well, potentially more dangerous to the well-being of the Bears' quarterback than any deficient offensive line play or oncoming blitz.

Still speaking with a raspy voice from having his throat stepped on (both literally and figuratively) on Sunday by a New Orleans Saints defender, Cutler attempted a smile when asked "What else hurts?"

"Hips," he started before realizing there wasn't enough time in the prescribed 15 minutes to keep going. "You can go down the list. … I'll be ready, though, I'm not worried at all."

Except that you know he is on some level, and well he should be as should everyone associated with the Bears.

Asked if he can make it through the season taking the kind of beating he has endured in the first two games and Cutler rapped his fist on the wooden podium.

"I don't know, you know?" he responded wearily. "I don't know."

Counting the NFL-high 11 sacks Cutler has already taken in two games this season, Cutler has been sacked 63 times since Martz came to the Bears for the 2010 season. That's 19 more sacks than any other quarterback during that time. It's also the same number of sacks (11) Cutler took his entire last season in Denver.

Simply put, Martz's philosophy gets his quarterbacks clobbered.

After eight years as a starter in St. Louis (four of which were under Martz), quarterback Marc Bulger was "shellshocked," said former Rams vice president of player personnel Tony Softli.

Softli was referring to Bulger (then a backup with the Baltimore Ravens but now out of football), possibly becoming a starter again, but said he could not have handled it.

"Shell-shocked quarterbacks really struggle with happy feet and give up on a play rather than stand in there and throw under pressure," Softli wrote in a blog for ESPN 101 Sports in St. Louis last May.

That word was also used to describe Kurt Warner after he left St. Louis and there it was again from Mike Ditka about Cutler.

"He's shell-shocked," Ditka said. "He's making mistakes that he normally wouldn't make and I think it's because of the pressure. He's trying to do too much and you can't do anything because of the pass protection and the way the plays are designed. If you're going to sit back there and take a seven-step drop every time, the ball has to come out."

Martz Obviously, you throw the ball that much you're going to lose him. So we can't do that, and we won't. We want to be balanced. Any time he throws the ball, I get nervous for him. When you get close to somebody like this, you worry about him. It's like your own kids.

-- Mike Martz on Jay Cutler

Ditka said that last October, after the Bears lost 17-14 to the Redskins to drop to 3-4. But the same could certainly be said now, early as it is. And if Martz isn't careful, it could he Cutler's epitaph.

With the Bears' run-pass ratio wildly out of whack at 52-11 in their 17-point loss to New Orleans, the Saints had their ears pinned back, their claws sharpened and steam escaping from their nostrils by the fourth quarter, when they had five of their six sacks.

Martz said he went into the game planning to run the ball "quite a bit." But, he said, things happen.

"When you get into that part of the game, obviously we were behind," he said. "But I got into a two-minute mode too soon. That's one of the things I talked to Lovie [Smith] about. Going into that fourth quarter, once the turnover came, there were just a lot of things involved, it's not simple.

"There's reasons for everything. It's not because we want to do that certainly. Nobody wants to throw the ball [that much]."

Why Smith didn't intervene at some point during the game is something the coaches will not share.

"He could have," Martz said. "It's just not the way we do things. He understood too, there are a lot of issues. If you're looking for blame, just blame me. It's just one of those things that happened. I did a poor job of coaching, and we didn't play very good. We have to clean up what was wrong and what we didn't do and move on."

Cutler will once again miss Earl Bennett this week, who looks to be a longshot against 2-0 Green Bay. And the Bears likely will be missing two starters on the offensive line, Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi. But Cutler will have a taller target with receiver Roy Williams back in action.

Unfortunately, the temptation is going to be there as well against the Packers with both of their starting safeties sidelined and an NFL-high 800 passing yards allowed in their first two games.

Mike Tice joked that he has lost 12 pounds and could suit up on the line if need be.

"I don't know if I have anything in me but the national anthem, but I'll give it a whirl," he said.

Like any good offensive line coach, Tice takes responsibility for his quarterback's health.

"We don't want to see him get hurt like that," Tice said. "I always feel like when you're playing football, the guy next to you and the guy with the ball in his hand, you don't ever want anyone to hit him because then it's like letting someone hit your brother and you don't ever want your brother to get touched.

"So that should [tick] you off. And if it doesn't [tick] you off, then we have the wrong guys. My point right now though is that I don't think we have the wrong guys. I think we have the right guys, and I think we'll get it fixed."

They will if they get some help from the press box.

"Obviously, you throw the ball that much you're going to lose him," Martz said of the 52 pass attempts. "So we can't do that, and we won't. We want to be balanced. Any time he throws the ball, I get nervous for him. When you get close to somebody like this, you worry about him. It's like your own kids. But he is probably one of the most physically and mentally tough people I've ever been around. He's incredibly tough. So that part I don't worry about."

Nobody's that tough.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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