Wednesday, September 21, 2011 Updated: September 22, 3:20 AM ET
Jay Cutler still recovering from hits
By Michael C. Wright ESPNChicago.com
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Still raspy-voiced from a kick to the throat and beatdown by the New Orleans Saints defense, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler rapped twice on a lectern when pondering whether he could make it through the rest of this season with this type of punishment.
"I don't know," Cutler said. "I don't know."
Cutler absorbed six sacks, in addition to 16 hits against the Saints in the club's 30-13 loss on Sunday, resulting in extreme soreness in the quarterback's throat, "hips, we can go down the list," he said, jokingly.
Jay Cutler tries to recover a fumble after being sacked by the Saints on Sunday.
But in all seriousness, the crushing blows to Cutler could continue Sunday when the Bears face the Green Bay Packers, given the blueprint provided to other teams by the team's shaky offensive line, not to mention the fact that sacks in many ways are merely the cost for doing business in the scheme of offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
"We want to protect him more," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He took too many hits the other day. He acknowledged that, and we're working on protecting him more."
Tight end Matt Spaeth said: "He shouldn't have to [continue to take that type of abuse]. There's a lot of stuff we have to fix -- nothing glaring -- just little mistakes here and there."
Martz's history indicates it's actually more than that.
From 1999 to 2010 (Martz didn't coach in 2009), Martz's offense ranked in the NFL's top 10 in sacks allowed in nine of the coach's 11 seasons, and in the top three in each of his last four. Martz's offenses with the Rams, Lions, 49ers and Bears gave up 40 sacks or more in 10 consecutive years after allowing 33 in 1999.
Bears quarterbacks from 2006 to 2009 threw an average of 543.5 passes, while suffering an average of 33 sacks.
Yet in Martz's first year with the Bears (2010), the team's passing attempts dipped dramatically (466 attempts), while the sack numbers skyrocketed (56). Combine that with the current musical-chairs situation along the offensive line due to injuries and subpar production from the receiving corps and it comes as no surprise that once again, sacks have become synonymous with this team's offense.
"Obviously, if you throw the ball that much you are going to lose him," Martz said of Cutler. "We can't do that. We won't. We want to be balanced. Anytime he throws the ball I get nervous for him. When you get close to somebody like this, you worry about him like your own kids. He is one of the most tough, physically tough, mentally tough people I've ever been around. He's incredibly tough. From that part of it, I don't worry about it. He fights through that stuff pretty good."
Cutler has been sacked 11 times through the first two games.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "We're 1-1. There's still a lot of football to be played. If this continues, then obviously we're gonna have a problem. We're gonna have to address it. But I'm looking forward to this game. I know the guys are gonna bounce back, as will I."
The prospects for resurgence appear promising. Green Bay has given up 851 yards passing over the past two games, and while Cutler compares the Packers defense to that of the Saints -- based on their blitz tendencies -- the numbers don't fare well for the Bears' rivals to the North.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers defense leads the league in yards-after-catch allowed (367), with opposing receivers gaining 43.1 percent of their yardage after the catch. When the Packers blitz one or more defensive backs, they've netted just two sacks, while giving up one touchdown. In addition, opposing quarterbacks have completed 12 of 19 passes against the Packers when they bring one or more defensive backs as a rusher, for a passer rating of 111.5 and QBR of 98.3.
When the Packers rush five or more, they've notched five sacks but have given up one touchdown as opposing quarterbacks have logged a combined passer rating of 97.6 and QBR of 24.4.
"They're a high-risk defense, much like New Orleans is, and they cause a lot of turnovers," Cutler said. "A lot of different looks, a lot of the same stuff that New Orleans [did]. They're gonna blitz from some odd angles; nothing we haven't seen before though. But there's some openings out there for some really big plays. The last two games, some teams have been able to take advantage of that."
But can the Bears do it, too? That's debatable considering their performances over the last two games.
Cutler claimed to know exactly what the Saints planned to do going into Sunday's outing, and he said that in order to combat it, the Bears would have to "hold onto the ball a little bit longer to make those plays happen, and we just weren't able to."
A leaky offensive line depleted by injury played a role in the meltdown, with starting right guard Lance Louis out and starting right tackle Gabe Carimi suffering a right kneecap subluxation at the end of the first half. Another contributor to the downfall included Martz's play calling (just 11 run plays, including only one to Matt Forte in the second half), which prompted Smith on Monday to say, "You can't win football games with that type of balance."
The inability of the team's receivers to beat the jam off the line of scrimmage proved crippling in the loss to the Saints as well.
Cutler admitted the Saints "pressed up" the team's receivers "pretty good," adding "that's where we're gonna have to get the running game going, and pop some creases in there and get them off of us."
They'll have to do something because teams won't call off the dogs in terms of the pass rush until the Bears find a way to beat it. For instance, when opponents blitz one or more defensive backs, Cutler has completed just 9 of 22 for 109 yards, and suffered five sacks while putting up a QBR of -- this isn't a typo -- 5.1, and a passer rating of 56.8, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"This happened to us last year. We struggled with some things. We made some changes," Cutler said. "That's what this league is about: Going out there and putting stuff on film. People are gonna react to it. We've got to react back. That's how it goes. It's back and forth. Offensively, it's not like we're out there busting plays or forgetting stuff. We're just missing one little thing. Like I said last year, this thing takes 11 guys, and if we have one miscue the whole thing's gonna go up in smoke."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.