Martz understands Jay Cutler criticism

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz held off on rushing to the defense of quarterback Jay Cutler.

In fact, Martz called the widespread criticism about Cutler's mechanical deficiencies "fair," adding that the quarterback continues to improve, but it's impossible to eliminate a career's worth of technical kinks in just one season.

"Some of the footwork [criticism] -- and he knows that -- is fair. You can't go through a lifetime with those kinds of habits and fix them in one season," Martz said. "He's gotten way better every week the way we've asked our players to do. But you have to temper it a little, too."

Cutler has cut back from his league-leading interceptions (26) in 2009 to 16 this season, and enters Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers coming off a strong performance in the team's divisional-round triumph over the Seattle Seahawks.

Even with his widely criticized mechanics, Cutler has been able to make some clutch plays with his natural ability. Given another year in Martz's system, and increased focus on sharpening his fundamentals, Cutler seems to be poised to step in the elite category of quarterbacks.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is often regarded as elite, but he still hasn't taken his team to the level of success the Bears currently enjoy with Cutler at the helm.

"I like his progress. He'll get there; he'll get there," Martz said. "We're making more plays each week than we're making the previous week. The decision making, the timing of the throws, the accuracy, there's a lot involved with that.

"We do the footwork stuff twice a week every week for about 20 minutes with him. As we add new things, he has a tendency to drift a little bit. But I'm pleased with his progress. To say you can just go out there, say your footwork is not good, [and] we're going to do a few drills and fix it, it doesn't work like that."

Coming into the NFL in 2006, Cutler was criticized about his footwork and mechanics while praised for his strong arm. Martz thinks Cutler's technical issues are a product of a college career spent behind a bad offensive line at Vanderbilt.

"He's had a whole career of running around [in a] trying-to-make-it-happen kind of mode," Martz said. "But he's working out diligently with all kinds of hot protections and things he's had to deal with mentally, and it's hard to groove yourself."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.