LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler hopes this week he’s not the next Tom Brady, Alex Smith, Derek Carr or Aaron Rodgers -- quarterbacks harassed and smacked around all day by Miami’s defense -- when the Chicago Bears host the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Soldier Field.
Yet Cutler knows it’s coming.
“We’ve just got to try to slow them down, show them different looks, run the ball well, move the pocket a little bit if we can. Things like that,” he said.
Such bullet points might be achieved a little easier this week considering the Bears, for the first time since preparation for the season opener, practiced Thursday with their entire starting offensive line. They’ll certainly need every one of them to handle a Miami defensive front that is legitimately seven or eight deep.
Defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon generate the headlines as they lead the Dolphins with 3.5 sacks and six hurries apiece. But other defensive linemen such as Jared Odrick, Randy Starks and Earl Mitchell are also playing at a high level, which is part of the reason Miami dropped Brady, Smith, Carr and Rodgers for a combined 14 sacks over the team’s first five games.
“As an overall defense, they’re very physical,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “They hit the quarterback in every game a bunch of times, and that’s the No. 1 goal in this game: to limit the hits on our quarterback. You look at Tom Brady. You look at Aaron Rodgers. They were hit multiple times. Our No. 1 goal coming [into] this game is to keep Jay safe and to keep him in a pocket where he can complete a pass.”
Cutler might find that a difficult task because Miami’s high-pressure front is backed by experienced corners in Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan, who not only understand route concepts to excel in zone coverage but also play physically as man-to-man defenders.
The Dolphins rank No. 9 in the NFL against the pass.
“They understand what they have in their front. They know they’re going to get pressure. They know the quarterback can’t sit back there forever,” Cutler explained. “They break on routes, they sit on stuff. They read concepts really well.”
They’re versatile, too, according to Bears coach Marc Trestman, who broke down the difficulty of attacking Miami’s defense as a whole.
“First of all they play very tight coverage, even in zone,” Trestman said. “Then on third down, because it's man-to-man, you're going to need an extra click. That's what they really try to do on third down is they try to hold you up long enough to be able to have the extra click to be able to get to the quarterback. They're hitting the quarterback in every game. The challenge is getting open quick enough to beat the pass rush, and that's why they play so much man [coverage] on third down.”
Miami’s penchant for man-to-man coverage in passing situations is fine by the Bears. Trestman and Kromer have asked Cutler to start utilizing his underrated mobility to make teams pay when situations warrant.
Through the first six games, Cutler has broken off seven runs for gains of 10 yards or more.
"We’ve been asking him to run in situational plays when everybody is covering and nobody is looking at him,” Kromer said.
Added Cutler: “I just think we’re doing a really good job of recognizing coverage and two-man (two-deep zone coverage with man-to-man coverage underneath). Third downs have been a big one where we’ve caught a little bit of two-man here and there and [it] gave me some opportunities to run.”
It also opens up opportunity for defenses to administer punishment to the quarterback. Remember, Cutler missed time last season on two different occasions due to injuries, and he hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009.
That’s not to say Cutler lacks toughness, because he certainly doesn’t. The quarterback took monstrous shots earlier this season in San Francisco and Atlanta and popped right back up on both occasions -- and actually seemed to play more inspired.
In explaining his toughness, the quarterback pointed to a need to lead the team through adverse situations.
“I know how important it is to the rest of the guys in the huddle,” Cutler said. “I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want to let the coaches down [and] I think a lot of it is driven by that fact. I don’t want to miss plays because I know those guys in front of me and the guys on the outside, they’d do the same thing for me.”