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Jay Cutler happy with complete OL effort

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler tried to resist, but couldn't help but think about what would eventually take place in the Bears' 30-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I was thinking about halfway through the game, [then] I was like, 'Oh, let's not jinx this yet,'" Cutler recalled on Wednesday. "I didn't want to say anything, but it was looking pretty good."

It ended that way, too.

Cutler's offensive line kept him from taking a sack Monday night against the Eagles for the first time in 32 games, counting the postseason, dating back to 2009. The tremendous strides made by the unit play a role in the quarterback having "so much more fun just going out there and playing with those guys." But for the good times to continue through the second half of the season, Cutler knows there's still plenty of work to do in multiple facets.

"We'll see," he said. "I might be horrible next week. That's how the media is. That's how it goes. It's a roller coaster, and we've just got to ride the wave and keep getting better. That's what we have to do."

Cutler grimaced through a season-high six sacks in a loss at New Orleans on Sept. 18, and took 11 sacks over the first two weeks. Since then, he's been sacked 10 times over the past six games, including just three times over the last three contests.

"We know what kind of guys we have," said center Roberto Garza, "guys that go out there and compete and fight. We'll continue to get better every week. We've had the same five guys [starting] for a couple of weeks, and I feel like we're not even where we can be."

Better protection doesn't accurately depict what's transpired recently, though. Yes offensive line coach Mike Tice worked with tight ends coach Mike DeBord and offensive coordinator Mike Martz to give the line more help by keeping tight ends in to block on passes while sending running backs to chip.

But Martz deserves credit for recognizing some of the faults of his own system and how it relates to the team's personnel, while making the necessary adjustments. For instance, Martz eliminated some of the extensive pre-snap shifts and motions to allow the receivers to concentrate more on the play. Martz also limited some of "our big passes," Cutler said, "while being creative with our formations," in addition to calling more plays designed to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly.

That doesn't mean the seven-step drop is gone. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Cutler took three-step drops on just three of his 32 passes (and completed all three with two for touchdowns) against the Eagles. But for the other 29 passes, Martz called for five-step drops (11 times) and seven-step drops (18).

Still, Cutler said, "Mike's done a good job of responding [in making the needed changes]."

Chicago's offensive line hasn't given up more than two sacks in one outing since its Oct. 10 loss at Ford Field to the Detroit Lions, when excessive crowd noise led to the Bears false starting six times in the first half alone.

Tice said he's "sure that we've learned from that experience," but "we can take a lot from that game, learn and get better -- not only as coaches -- but the players, too."

Cutler's growth, meanwhile, continues. One of the most significant aspects of it is fighting the natural instinct to not want to give up on plays, which often leads to interceptions. Over the first eight games of 2010, Cutler threw seven interceptions, and produced a passer rating of better than 90 in three contests while absorbing 28 sacks. So far this season, he's thrown six interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of better than 90 four times, in addition to taking 21 sacks.


"There's times where you know you've got a bad look and you've just got to chuck it [away]," Cutler said. "Other times, you think you might have a window and you give it a shot. I've taken some shots this year. So you just have to be careful of when you do it. But sometimes, you have a feel and you just let it fly."

Undoubtedly, the Bears are a different and improved team from the one that dropped a 24-13 decision at Ford Field on Oct. 10, in part because of the fast and continuous development on offense.

Cutler might be spearheading the movement. But everyone -- coaching staff and players -- shares in the success, which needs to continue with Round 2 of divisional games on the menu, for the Bears to earn their second consecutive postseason berth.

"We are different," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "And each week we're seeing a little bit more of who we are. We feel good about our play lately, [but] we've left some plays on the field. We know we need to make those corrections to make a run in the second half."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.