CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler takes his drop, plants a foot, and quickly launches the football into the arms of a streaking receiver.
It’s like clockwork; as natural as a referee blowing a whistle. Too bad it’s only occurring at practice, which is something the Bears desperately need to change before their Sept. 12 opener against the Detroit Lions. The offense is quickly learning that seven-on-seven drills in shorts against the Bears’ struggling secondary is quite a bit different from live action under the lights.
“We’ve got 15 [or] 16 days left [before the opener]. So we’ve got to make the most of that,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We need to clean this up as much as possible, and get everything dialed in because it seems like sometimes things are hitting on all cylinders, and other times, they’re not; which is gonna be the case when you put in a new offense, and guys are being a little bit uptight about making mistakes.
"We’ve just got to relax and go out and play. With the talent we have and [offensive coordinator] Mike [Martz] calling plays, we’re gonna be hard to stop if we’re cooking.”
Cutler and the team’s offense sit in the deep freeze marinating on Saturday night’s woeful performance, in which the quarterback took four sacks, threw two interceptions and finished with a 31 passer rating. Cutler shares in the blame for what transpired against the Cardinals, but the breakdowns manifested themselves on all levels.
Although protection improved somewhat, Cutler still took four sacks. The quarterback and the receivers weren’t on the same page either, as Cutler seemed hesitant with his reads, in addition to showing a lack of comfort in the pocket, which he attributed to being somewhat shell shocked from taking five sacks the week before against the Oakland Raiders.
In practice, Cutler typically lets the ball fly blindly -- trusting in Martz’s system, which calls for the receiver to get to a designated spot -- at the end of his drop. Against the Cardinals, the quarterback seemed to wait until he actually saw receivers break open, which led to late throws resulting in incompletions and interceptions.
“The starters knew we were going to play a lot, and we didn’t play how we wanted to,” receiver Johnny Knox said. “That’s how it goes in football; everything isn’t going to go your way.”
Knox broke toward the sideline on the opening drive, with Cutler throwing the ball late and inside to Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for an interception. Cutler completed just three passes to Knox for 57 yards (including a 41-yard strike), despite targeting him eight times.
Cutler’s second INT came on an under-thrown ball -- also thrown late -- intended for Devin Aromashodu.
“There were a few issues [with miscommunication with the receivers],” Cutler said.
Even the team’s equipment broke down.
Cutler’s helmet communicator malfunctioned in the first half, leading to problems relaying the plays between Martz and the huddle. Teams typically make contingency plans for such emergencies (such as use of hand signals), but it’s clear the Bears didn’t.
The Bears also admitted to a lack of preparation for some of the looks the Cardinals’ secondary gave, which would seem to be an issue considering how close the Bears are to opening the regular season.
“We still have yet to really put in a whole game plan, and really lock down what we’re gonna do offensively against a defense like tonight,” Cutler said. “They did some stuff that I don’t think we were really ready for. They went to a lot of single-high [safety coverages] against us, and we were unprepared for that, which is an excuse. You’ve still got to make corrections and make [adjustments] on the fly.”
Bears coach Lovie Smith seconded that thought, adding that his team hasn’t made enough strides toward shoring up the requisite basics of winning football.
“Everything we do is about getting ready for Detroit, but of course we’re not gonna [show too much of the offense in the preseason],” Smith said. “That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about right now -- blocking, tackling, those kinds of things -- it doesn’t matter what the scheme is or what we game-planned. We should be playing better ball with some of the basic fundamentals of football.”
Smith is correct. In 36 snaps, the first-team offense generated two turnovers, 155 yards and failed to convert in its only trip to the red zone. After making halftime adjustments, the starting offense lost 11 yards in three plays on its final drive of the night before punting.
“We’re not ready for prime time yet. But we will get there,” Smith said. “These problems that we’re having right now -- whether it’s mental or just not being able to make plays -- we see where we are as a football team. We have time still. Right now, that’s about all we can give you.”
Clearly, that’s not enough.