Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

After the Chicago Bears' 17-14 loss Sunday to the Washington Redskins, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. I didn't get too worked up when quarterback Jay Cutler said he would not shy away from challenging Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall if and when they play again. I wouldn't want a quarterback who was afraid to throw at any particular cornerback. Here's my problem: For the most part, Cutler wasn't challenging Hall. He was just giving him opportunities to intercept the ball. There's a big difference. The most egregious instance came on the last interception, where Cutler trusted receiver Johnny Knox too much in single coverage. Hall, protecting a lead, bailed immediately and was not going to give up a deep pass. So here's where I stand on Cutler: With the Bears almost at the midpoint of the season, Cutler hasn't demonstrated that he has enough self-control to prosper in this offense. He's too aggressive right now for where the rest of the offense is situated. He's either throwing wildly downfield or holding the ball too long to make a play. The Bears' next nine games will be about whether the gunslinger can reign himself in.

  2. I don't know where the offensive line is going to go from here. But the symbolic moment of the first seven games came when Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth drove left guard Chris Williams 10 yards into the backfield. Williams fell into Cutler, who went to the ground for a sack. It was the kind of play you see when the varsity takes on the J.V. at the end of August practice, not when two NFL players -- both first-round draft choices -- meet in a regular-season game. I realize that Haynesworth is an elite player when he wants to be, and that Williams is playing out of position. General manager Jerry Angelo said before Sunday's game that continuity is more important on the offensive line than talent, but if your left guard is so ill-equipped to pass block from his position, continuity doesn't mean a lick. No matter what the circumstances, that was an atrocious NFL display.

  3. Two punt returns for touchdowns this season was all it took for opponents to start kicking it away from Devin Hester. Redskins punter Hunter Smith landed five of his seven punts out of bounds and averaged 28.7 gross yards per punt overall. Hester got his hands on only one kick, a 50-yarder that he returned 12 yards. It didn't happen Sunday, but over time the Bears should realize exceptional field position if opponents continue to follow that strategy.

And here is one issue I don't get:

Actually, I sort of get it. Coach Lovie Smith challenged the spot on Earl Bennett's 48-yard reception in the third quarter because he knew his offense doesn't excel at the goal line. Bennett was obviously down before he reached the end zone, but Smith was hoping somehow the play would be ruled a touchdown. Smith's concerns were justified on the next play, when Cutler fumbled on a quarterback sneak. (By the way, that call should have been obvious to everyone watching based on Cutler's pre-snap positioning.) Replays indicated the ball crossed the plane before the end zone, but Smith didn't challenge. Was he afraid to burn both challenges in a two-play sequence? He might have out-thought himself on that one.