LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears Jay Cutler gave a frank assessment Wednesday of the team’s chances moving forward with the offensive line performing the way it did in Monday night’s loss at San Francisco.
Cutler admitted the club can’t win with the offensive line giving up six sacks on backup Jason Campbell the way it did Monday, as he watched from Chicago while recovering from a concussion. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice revealed changes could be on the way, and added that “at a certain point a player, a man needs to grit his teeth, buck up and win a fight.”
“The way they played against the 49ers, no,” Cutler said when asked whether the Bears can reach their goals with the offensive line struggling the way it is. “We’re not gonna be successful against anybody playing like that. But I don’t think that’s who they are. I think they’re better than that.”
The group certainly didn’t play like it against the 49ers. Offensive tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi shared responsibility for all six sacks, another quarterback hit and six pressures. Right guard Chilo Rachal played a role in one of the sacks, and another pressure, in addition to being flagged twice for penalties.
In the two games he played in 2011 prior to dislocating a kneecap, Carimi played “winning football” according to Tice. Now Carimi is dealing with the pitfalls of being “a young player,” the offensive coordinator said.
Asked whether Carimi’s knee or technique is the reason for subpar play, Tice said “all of the above.”
“He’s a young player. He gets all worked up. He doesn’t settle down, and it compounds,” Tice added. “He’s a young player that has to work through it.”
The issue with Webb, meanwhile, seems to be that he’s not consistently using his hands to stave off pass rushers.
“When he uses his hands, he’s O.K. He’s not bad,” Tice said. “When he doesn’t use his hands he’s just a big tall guy out there getting edgy and getting knocked around.”
How badly has the offensive line performed? Over the course of an entire 16-game season, Tice doesn’t expect a quarterback to ever suffer a sack on a three-step drop. Yet against the 49ers on Monday, the Bears gave up three sacks on such plays.
The offensive line limited opponents to no sacks in only one game all season, which coincidentally was the same contest in which Cutler suffered a concussion. The group has allowed multiple sacks in all but one outing this season.
“Where do we go from here?” Tice asked. “We’re evaluating our guys to see what’s gonna give us the best chance to succeed and do some of the things we’re trying to accomplish offensively.”
Does that entail changes?
“We’re looking at everything. We have to find a better way,” Tice said. “It’s not like at this point in the season you could take (an undrafted rookie like) James Brown, who I’m very high on, and say ‘O.K. you’re the guy now.’ That’s desperation.”
The reality is the Bears must always provide help for the offensive line, which has given up 34 sacks thus far. That help involves max protection, chipping with running backs, sliding into double teams and providing assistance from tight ends. It also limits what the Bears can do on offense because added help in protection means fewer targets out on routes.
That dilemma makes it easier for teams to cover the Bears (who often send just two targets out into routes) because the defenders outnumber the receivers. When the club calls plays involving more targets in the routes, the offensive line can’t consistently provide adequate protection.
Asked what he could do to help the offensive line, Cutler joked “gain maybe a hundred or so, 100 pounds.”
“You’re gonna have to help them,” Cutler said. “We’re gonna have to do some stuff protection wise, chip, slide some guys, get the backs involved help the tight ends, be smart with our play calling, try to limit second and long, third and long. There’s a lot of things to do, but ultimately there’s gonna be some times when we’re gonna have to let those five block (one on one), and they’re gonna have to do their jobs.”
So far the unit hasn’t consistently done that, which is why on the majority of pass plays the line is given help. It’s not an excuse, but the offensive line basically has handcuffed Tice from calling the full scope of the scheme.
Asked how much the offensive line affects play calling, Tice said, “A lot. Think about it. You can only get so many guys out there, and then that puts the quarterback and the guys that have to win in a bind. You can’t help on both sides all the time. You can’t help on both sides and inside. You’ve got to pick your poison. Who has the better chance to win the most battles? O.K., that’s the guy that gets the least amount of help. That’s how it’s got to work.”
Options inside at guard include Chris Spencer, who started two games at left guard before losing his job to Rachal, and Edwin Williams, who started 10 games for the Bears in 2010 and 2011. Williams is a stronger player than Spencer and Williams, but isn’t as adept at blocking in space.
Options at tackle are fewer with new addition Jonathan Scott as the only viable consideration as a replacement for either Webb or Carimi.
It's unlikely the team would consider moving Roberto Garza back to his natural guard spot and inserting Spencer at center, where he played the majority of his career before joining the Bears.
“We need to play better on the offensive line,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “After that performance I can see why there would be a lot of concern. But we're gonna do everything we can to improve. We’re gonna put the best line we can out there. We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way; Jay, Jason or anybody else.”