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Sunday, August 29, 2010
Lack of trust at heart of Bears' woes

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Great, now they have trust issues.

Generally, that's a sign that marriage counseling is necessary. Instead, with 14 days left until the NFL's regular season begins, that's what the Bears are looking at with their fragile new offense.

Cutler
Jay Cutler's preseason performances have gotten progressively worse.

The offensive line and quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler and his receivers. The coaches and everyone. Everyone and the Bears after telling us they'd be able to master perhaps the most complex system in football in six months.

If this is the honeymoon, this could be a rocky union.

That the Bears are 0-3 in the preseason is irrelevant. That Cutler's quarterback rating has steadily plummeted each game to a low of 31.0 in their latest loss to Arizona on Saturday, is at least showing us there are fundamental problems to be fixed and not a lot of time to do it before they must plunge into an unforgiving schedule.

And as these past three games have conjured up more and more memories of last season, trust once again appears to be at the heart of things.

"I believe we can do it but everyone has to believe in themselves and individually just take care of what they have to do," receiver Devin Aromashodu said. "I can't worry about the offensive line or the quarterback. I just have to worry about me as a receiver … the offensive line has to know what they can do, and Jay has to know what he can do and so on."

It begins up front, and the doubt that introduced itself against the San Diego Chargers and took root against the Oakland Raiders reared its head once again on Saturday.

"We had some protection issues last game," Cutler conceded after the Bears' 14-9 loss to Arizona. "There might have still been some little effects from that, just trusting guys up there."

That was evident as Cutler bounced in and out of the pocket against the Cardinals, once tripping himself for one of four sacks in his seven series. Mobility or happy feet? Take your pick, but neither fits the design of Mike Martz's offense or the Bears' quarterback.

With a seven-step drop, Cutler must get rid of the ball quickly but he must also feel confident enough in his line to stand tall in the pocket for a second or two extra if necessary. Getting hit after releasing the ball, and getting smooshed with it still in his hand are two different things. Cutler is tough but he's not stupid.

Aromashodu "I believe we can do it but everyone has to believe in themselves and individually just take care of what they have to do . I can't worry about the offensive line or the quarterback. I just have to worry about me as a receiver."

-- Devin Aromashodu

Left tackle Chris Williams, the man who stands between Cutler and blindside hits that get quarterbacks carried off the field, showed some improvement Saturday, allowing only one sack, which shows just how problematic that situation is.

"Jay is under too much pressure, it's as simple as that," said Bears coach Lovie Smith, usually not given to such blunt appraisals.

The Bears' main concern at this point? Olin Kreutz was just as blunt.

"Points," he said without hesitation. "We're trying to score. And bigger than that, we're trying to win games. That's the No. 1 thing we're trying to do. We don't really care how we win them, we don't care how we score the points, that's just what we're trying to do, so that's our concern."

To that end, Cutler must trust his receivers and just as importantly, his receivers must trust themselves. Any hesitation in this offense, whether it's Cutler's in not knowing if a receiver will be where he is supposed to be, or if it's a receiver being too caught up in the precision of it all and not trusting his instincts, is lethal.

Such was the case on Cutler's two interceptions -- one of which came on an underthrown ball to Aromashodu, and the other on a late throw to Johnny Knox, after which Cutler glared in his direction.

"It's all about timing," said Knox, Cutler's go-to guy with three receptions on eight attempts, including a comebacker for 41 yards in which he saved a bad pass. "Be where you're supposed to be when you are supposed to be there and don't fool the quarterback."

But Cutler, who burned two timeouts in the first half and talked about players being "a little uptight about making mistakes," did take some responsibility.

"Obviously we had some problems early on, sometimes missed reads, sometimes we broke huddle and we spoke to the line wrong," he said.

And sometimes, coaches were uptight as well.

In the first game, Smith took his starting quarterback off the field after four plays, his offensive coordinator later admitting they didn't want to get Cutler hurt when it became evident the offensive line wasn't capable of holding off San Diego's pressure.

On Saturday, Smith had Cutler kneel down on a first-and-10 at the Chicago 7-yard line with 39 seconds remaining.

"That was the plan," said Smith, who clearly did not trust his offense and particularly his offensive line in that situation.

You could hardly blame him based on what had transpired before then.

On the Bears' first possession, Cutler was intercepted. On the second, he was sacked on a third-and-7 for a 4-yard loss at the Chicago 18-yard line. On the third, he was sacked for a 3-yard loss on third-and-14 and Robbie Gould's field goal attempt was blocked. On the fourth, Gould missed a 48-yard attempt and on the fifth, Cutler was intercepted again.

Kneeling looked pretty good at that point.

While the Bears prepared for Arizona as if it were a regular-season game week, obviously they still are trying not to show too much of their hand offensively. But Smith, while once referring to the game as a "glorified practice," did admit that the Bears' approach to the preseason contest had little to do with what they looked like Saturday.

"Everything we do is about getting ready for Detroit, but that has nothing to do with what I'm talking about right now -- blocking, tackling, those kind of things," he said. "It doesn't matter what the scheme is and how we game plan as much as we game plan later on. We should be playing better ball with some of the basic fundamentals of football."

The Bears say 14 days is enough time to straighten things out, but credit them at least with not ducking what we can all see right now.

"We'll take the questions we deserve," Kreutz said. "And right now we deserve to be questioned."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.