Jay Cutler, Bears ready for road test
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Quarterback Jay Cutler hopes horrid experiences in his team's two true road games -- the Bears' Week 7 contest in London was technically a road game for both teams -- adequately prepared it for what's expected to be a raucous atmosphere Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field when the Bears face the Philadelphia Eagles.
Cutler cites "missed opportunities" and the tendency to leave yards and points on the field as contributors to the offense's inability to reach its potential. But the club can't realistically expect improvement if it doesn't sharpen up basics.
"It's a lot of different things," Cutler said. "We're not executing; missed assignments, missing throws, missing hots, lining up wrong. You know, [there are] a numerous amount of things that could go wrong on a play. At the end of the day, we're not executing like we should."
One major part of the problem takes place before the snap.
Rattled by crowd noise in losses at New Orleans and Detroit, the Bears committed a combined 11 false-start penalties as Cutler suffered nine sacks. The club also needlessly burned time outs in those defeats with offensive coordinator Mike Martz struggling to relay plays to quarterbacks coach Shane Day in time for him to get them to Cutler out on the field.
Some of the problems may resurface at Lincoln Financial Field, but Cutler maintains what's important is how the Bears handle them.
"There's gonna be some problems, some glitches like any other game," Cutler said. "We've been down that road, and hopefully we've learned from it. Hopefully we'll eliminate our turnovers, and our false starts and get the calls in. Hopefully, it's smooth. We won't know until we get into Monday though."
The expectation is that a settled situation along the offensive line might help. Between the losses at New Orleans and Detroit, the Bears lined up with three different starters up front because of injuries to various players.
But over the past two weeks, the club worked with Chris Williams at left guard, Roberto Garza at center, Chris Spencer at right guard and Lance Louis at right tackle. The Bears plan to utilize that group a third consecutive game against the Eagles, despite the return to practice this week of rookie Gabe Carimi.
"All the road games in this league are like that; they're all like that. They're all hard," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "I think the biggest issue is having the same guys line up. When you get changes in the lineup, that's always a little bit different. I feel good about the consistency because we're settling in with our people. I think they'll deal that much better because of that."
In addition to the optimism about consistency with Cutler's protection, the Bears plan to make the most of the expected return of Earl Bennett, and the quarterback's budding chemistry with offseason acquisition Roy Williams.
"The last showing we had on Monday night wasn't very good. So this Monday night hopefully we can turn that around," Williams said. "In those [road losses], we still should have won. As long as we're penalty free or minimize the mistakes, we should have a great shot at winning this game."
Out of action since being knocked out of the Sept. 18 loss to the Saints with a torso injury, Bennett has caught just three passes all season, but is widely considered to be Cutler's favorite target.
Williams called Bennett the best receiver on the roster, while Martz praised his deceptive speed and run-after-catch ability.
Cutler said "[Bennett] adds a little bit of energy to our huddle."
Given the production churned out by running back Matt Forte in recent weeks, the Bears should expect to see more eight-man fronts designed to stop the run. The club anticipates Bennett's return combined with the expected changes it will see from defenses because of Forte could pay dividends.
Garza mentioned the team is now "aware of what we're going into now" when it comes to hostile road environments.
Cutler, meanwhile, pointed to improved consistency up front, and changes to the playbook as reasons for optimism as the team enters the last nine weeks of the season.
"We're getting there," Cutler said. "We're getting guys healthy, and that group we have right now is really consistent and has a good feel about what we're trying to get done. The communication's a lot better. We've simplified some stuff, getting the ball out of my hands, [and] the way Matt's running the football, he presents some problems for defense. It's gonna be interesting to see how [the Eagles] play us."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.