Tuesday September 20th, 2011

Jay Cutler was sacked six times by the Saints, but that number could have been even higher. (Cal Sport Media)

Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or group of players whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.

Last season, the Chicago Bears coughed up 56 sacks, the most allowed in a single season since the Raiders gave up 72 and the Lions 63 in the 2000 season. Through two weeks of the 2011 campaign, Chicago is on pace to allow 88 sacks.

That's an average of 5.5 sacks per game, a number that climbed after the Bears allowed Jay Cutler to hit the turf six times in Sunday's loss to the Saints. The sack total actually could have been much higher in that game -- think double digits -- if Cutler hadn't frequently sidestepped New Orleans' blitzing defenders.

Cutler still finished the day just 19-of-45 and coughed up a fumble. The Bears also scored a TD on their second drive, then managed just six points the rest of the way.

You'll recall, of course, that the Bears' 2010 season came to a screeching halt in the NFC conference championship, when Cutler injured his knee, leaving Caleb Hanie and Todd Collins to try to orchestrate a comeback against the Packers. They failed and Green Bay went on to win the Super Bowl.

So, the Bears tried to address their offensive line woes this offseason. They started by drafting tackle Gabe Carimi No. 29 overall in April -- Carimi immediately claimed Chicago's starting right tackle spot.

The Bears then let longtime center Olin Kreutz walk and slid Roberto Garza into his position, replacing Garza at right tackle with Lance Louis.

The results still have not come, and things seem to be getting worse -- Carimi injured his knee against New Orleans and Louis missed Week 2 with an ankle injury, leaving backups at both RT and RG. But both sides of the line had issues.

The biggest play of the game may have come in the third quarter, with the Bears down 16-13. On second-and-11, Cutler dropped back to throw while the Saints brought all three linebackers on a blitz. Somehow, tight end Kellen Davis wound up isolated on defensive end Turk McBride on Cutler's blindside -- McBride blew past Davis, drilled Cutler and forced a fumble that the Saints recovered.

At least two other times, the left side of the line (and specifically LT J'Marcus Webb) let a defender through untouched for a sack -- once on a blitz and once on a simple four-man rush.

It was really the blitzes that undid the Bears' front, with the right side just as guilty. Chicago had no answers for the Saints' rush and the situation only got worse as the game went on, with Carimi on the sideline.

The impact of Chicago's poor line play trickles down to Matt Forte and the run game, too. Forte has topped 1,000 yards in two of his three seasons, but there's always been the sense he was capable of more.

Even with Forte, Chicago finished just 22nd in the league in rushing last season, one spot behind a Miami team that was so thoroughly fed up with its ground attack that it revamped its entire backfield.

Forte has just 117 yards in two games this year and received a criminally low 10 carries in New Orleans.

At this point, though, there's only so much Chicago can do. Once again, the Bears find themselves in a plug-and-pray situation, trying to piece together their best possible line without any real strong combinations presenting themselves. With the help of its defense, Chicago managed to hang 30 on Atlanta in Week 1. New Orleans took much better care of the ball than the Falcons, putting the onus on the Bears' offense to carry the load. Right now, as was the case last season, the offensive line doesn't look capable of handling such a challenge.

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