Can Bears get their season under control?
First, the Chicago Bears said you can tell a lot about a team when the calendar turns to November.
Now, they’re saying you can tell a lot about their team from Sunday’s meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field, a prime-time display on NBC a week after the Bears’ offense looked, oh, a little more proficient in a bad loss to the 49ers than the Cleveland Browns on Monday night.
“I talked about November football,” coach Lovie Smith said. “That's still in play. When you go through adversity, you find out a lot.’’
What the Bears have discovered, to this point, is that their erratic defense can’t be counted on from one week to the next, a similar storyline to what the franchise has gone through the past two seasons. Worse yet, apparently no one on the coaching staff can break through to quarterback Jay Cutler, who has thrown five red-zone interceptions in nine games and now has eight picks in the red zone since Week 13 of last season.
Now, this isn’t to pin the shortcomings of the 4-5 Bears all on Cutler. The Bears, who have virtually ignored the offensive line during the tenure of general manager Jerry Angelo, have issues up front. Cutler was supposed to make the wide receivers adequate, and he’s managed that, but he’s not going to make a No. 1 receiver out of anyone on this roster. And the play calling has been mind-boggling at times with Smith and offensive coordinator Ron Turner claiming the Bears are a running team when they rank 30th in the league. Surely they don’t believe what they say, right?
Acquired to be a savior for a franchise that wouldn’t know franchise quarterback play unless it saw it from an opponent, Cutler has dealt with an enormous amount of pressure and he’s failed, particularly on the road, where he’s thrown 15 of his league-high 17 interceptions. The Bears are 0-3 in prime time, and the bright lights have brought out some of the worst in Cutler, including five picks at San Francisco and four at Green Bay in the opener. He’s now 4-9 in his career at night.
The issue plaguing the organization is whether it has anyone who can communicate with Cutler and get him where he needs to be. The red-zone errors have been one of the greatest shortcomings for the team, which has converted touchdowns on just five of its last 16 red-zone opportunities. Cutler had a pick in the red zone at Atlanta last month, a costly error in a road loss, and Smith was asked about the alarming trend.
“Don't do it,” Smith replied when asked what he tells Cutler after such a mistake. “Simple as that.”
Sounds simple, but the Bears have failed. Cutler is still handling the ball recklessly, particularly near the goal line. Sure, he’s pressing without a true go-to target. Defenses are swarming to tight end Greg Olsen, and Devin Hester is miscast as a No. 1 wide receiver through no fault of his own. But Cutler isn’t on pace for 30 interceptions simply because his receivers are failing him.
So Chicago arrives at a crossroads on Sunday, as do the Eagles (5-4), who limp in having lost two straight games. The Bears have beaten Philadelphia each of the last two seasons, and the Eagles cannot afford to fall any further back of Dallas or the NFC East might just fade away from them, especially if the New York Giants come out of their bye week rejuvenated.
It would be difficult, not impossible, for the Bears to mount a playoff run from here. The Minnesota Vikings can wrap up the NFC North in two weeks if the right scenario plays out, and the Bears are not going to catch them. But to keep this season from spinning right out of control, they have to get a win over a quality opponent in Philadelphia. Cutler has to find a way to make plays in crunch time and not break down. He carries a tremendous burden, though, with few playmakers around him and a leaky defense. Whatever happens, all eyes will be on him.
Red Zone Interceptions
(Since Week 13 of 2008)
1. Jay Cutler, DEN-CHI, 14 games, 8 INT
2. Marc Bulger, STL, 11 games, 4 INT
3. Jake Delhomme, CAR, 14 games, 3 INT
4. Drew Brees, NO, 14 games, 2 INT
4. David Garrard, JAC, 13 games, 2 INT
4. Josh Johnson, TB, 3 games, 2 INT
4. Matt Ryan, ATL, 14 games, 2 INT
4. Kurt Warner, ARI, 14 games, 2 INT
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