Cutler throwing on the run key to Bears' success as Lions loom
So the Bears face the Lions again on Sunday at Soldier Field, five weeks after the ignominious and cacophonous 24-13 loss to Detroit at Ford Field. The place was a sound bomb that night in Detroit, and it helped ruin any momentum the Bears had on offense.
They had 14 penalties; they were called for false-starts nine times. And it made Jay Cutler's performance in defeat all the more remarkable. Cutler's stats looked pedestrian (28-38, 249 yards, one touchdown, no picks), but completing 74 percent in that environment while under attack by a fierce Detroit rush was remarkable -- one of the best performances of his career, I thought.
I noticed something that night: The Bears were moving Cutler around a lot. Pass-rushers and defensive coordinators often speak of getting quarterbacks "off their spot'' so they won't have the same sort of comfort level they like when they stand in the pocket and survey their targets and pick one out. Cutler was sacked three times that night, and it probably should have been much worse. Cutler has such a great arm, and traditionally his strength isn't making plays on the run, though he had to do it a lot at Vanderbilt and isn't immune to making throws downfield on the run. But he's more suited to a game of playing from the pocket.
And since then, in the three games Chicago has played, Cutler has been sacked three times, the Bears are 3-0, and they've scored 93 points. What happened? I watched the Chicago-Philadelphia game Monday night, then again on NFL Game Rewind Thursday, and it confirmed what I thought: The Bears aren't simply waiting until Cutler gets flushed from the pocket. They're moving him voluntarily, mostly to the right, on more than a few pass plays, and he's responding by looking like some sort of Randall Cunningham back there --zinging line throws to his receivers.
"Definitely,'' center Roberto Garza told me Thursday. "That was a big move, allowing Jay to step out of the pocket to make plays. He's so good at throwing on the run. You see how strong his arm is, even when he's rolling out.''
Necessity, in this case, has been the mother of invention. According to Pro Football Focus, the starting offensive line last year surrendered 32 sacks and 129 pressures in 16 games. In half a season this year, the numbers are a little better: 12 sacks allowed and 60 pressures. But they're all the more reason to move Cutler and to keep solid-blocking tight end Kellen Davis (6-7, 262 pounds) and fullback Tyler Clutts in to help.
In addition, it appears that offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who likes his quarterbacks to take seven-step drops and throw to five-receiver sets, has adjusted. Cutler is often taking shorter drops. This is not the Martz way; he prefers quarterbacks to have lots of choices downfield. But you do what you have to do, and Martz knows he doesn't have a great line and he has to adjust.
Cutler told the "Waddle and Silvy'' radio show this week: "Mike's done an unbelievable job of adapting to what we're capable of doing and kind of changing his train of thought. Which isn't easy to do.''
Coincidence that the Bears are 3-0 with the same lineup up front for three straight games? Maybe. But (left to right) J'Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, Garza, Chris Spencer and Lance Louis (in permanently, probably, for the leaky Frank Omiyale at right tackle) have been together and efficient in wins over Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Louis looks to be a significant upgrade.
The Lions, obviously, have built up their defensive front to be one of the better ones in the league. They have good rotations at both end and tackle in their 4-3 scheme. Recently they've gotten terrific play from the not-underrated-for-much-longer Cliff Avril and total unknown Willie Young (five quarterback pressures or hits against Denver two weeks ago) at end. So the Bears know they'll have to give Cutler some alleys to throw, and the Bears know they have to get good blocking days from the helpers, particularly Davis (who has been limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury), to have a good chance to keep Cutler clean.
"Our communication is better, and it had to be,'' said Garza, in his first year subbing for the departed Olin Kreutz at center. "We did a terrible job executing our blocks in the first game against Detroit, and we know what a relentless group they are. We've got to be better.''
Chicago (5-3) needs to win to catch Detroit (6-2) in second place, and in prime Wild Card position, behind Green Bay in the NFC North. Should be a great game, and where Cutler throws from will be the game within the game.
Two takeaways from Oakland 24, San Diego 17:
Good show this week with Cowboys pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, NFL Films maestro Greg Cosell and author and talk-show host Michael Holley, whose
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The most important part of his job: "I think the most important aspect of rushing the quarterback is getting into the tackle's head. If you can get into a tackle's head, usually whatever you do after that is going to work.''
Being versatile: "A lot of guys they always say, 'Hey, you're a speed guy, you're a power guy, you're a spin guy,' but guess what? I want you to think that I'm all those guys in one so you never are going to know what you're going to get. Each and every week it's different. Just like offenses; offenses will attack you differently [and] I'm going to rush the passer differently every single week.''
I thought it was interesting that Ware -- and the good rushers -- don't view sacks as the ultimate measuring stick in whether they're good players. But because the sack is so well-publicized, and because records are what players chase, he wants Michael Strahan's record for 22.5 in a season. He needs 11 in his last eight games to get there, though he missed a good chance to fatten up last week when Seattle constantly double-teamed and chipped him to keep him sack-less.