LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler expressed belief in the system of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, but he said he wouldn't mind seeing tweaks made to alleviate the beating he's taken.
Cutler revealed the team's protection issues are taking a toll, psychologically, adding he's jokingly asked Martz to make changes to the offense, with more plays designed to get rid of the ball faster.
"I said I'm hoping ... I'd like to see that happen," Cutler said. "At a certain point you're gonna have to evaluate what you can do in the passing game and what you can't do. That's not up to me, though. I don't really want to be under pressure a lot. Physically, [the pressure is] not that big of a deal. Mentally, it just speeds up my clock. It just makes me uneasy in the pocket. Psychologically and mentally [it's more an issue] than anything [else]. I just don't want to take a sack, just [want to] try to get rid of the ball as fast as possible."
Cutler absorbed three sacks in Monday night's loss to the Detroit Lions, but the quarterback made several throws on the move while trying to elude near-constant pressure. He still threw for 249 yards and a touchdown without an interception.
Including 18 sacks, which ties for the league high, Cutler has been hit 31 times through the first give games. Yet despite widespread criticism levied at Chicago's offensive line, it actually isn't the worst in the NFL in sacks allowed and quarterback hits. The Seattle Seahawks O-line has surrendered 20 sacks and 45 quarterback hits while the St. Louis Rams have allowed 19 sacks and 41 hits.
What makes Chicago's situation so alarming, however, is the fact Cutler has absorbed so much punishment despite the team throwing the ball fewer times (169) than more than half the NFL. Teams sack Cutler every 10.4 times he drops back to throw.
"Obviously, we haven't proved [the critics] wrong yet," said center Roberto Garza. "We put ourselves in those situations, and now we have to get ourselves out."
It won't be easy.
Bears coach Lovie Smith said the team is "evaluating" remedies for the passing game, acknowledging that "you do look for other options" in protection because "we're not satisfied with the performance." The team benched right tackle Frank Omiyale late in Monday's game, inserted Lance Louis at his spot, and brought in Edwin Williams at Louis' right guard position.
Cutler mentioned that options are few up front with starting right tackle Gabe Carimi recovering from right knee subluxation, and backup center Chris Spencer fighting through a broken right hand. So tweaks to Martz's playbook might actually be the most viable option at this point.
In characterizing Cutler's performance against the Lions as "outstanding," Smith said "we want Jay to get rid of the ball as quick[ly] as he can and things like that."
"We have to do some things to help him [that] we're continuing to do," the coach added. "Hopefully we'll see more of those changes and improvements this week."
Over the last two years, Cutler has taken 70 sacks despite the quarterback putting up relatively low numbers in terms of attempts. For instance, the offensive line gave up a league high in sacks in 2010, yet the team passed the ball 466 times; an NFL low. So far this season, Chicago is third in sacks allowed (18), and tied for 17th in pass attempts (169).
Such a dynamic leads to happy feet because of phantom pressure, which robs a quarterback of his natural thirst to go deep.
"You take your eyes from downfield, and you kind of check to see what's going on in front of you," Cutler explained. "I was moving around a lot [against Detroit]. There were only a handful of plays [where it was] 1-2-3-4, ball out on time where it's supposed to be. When it's not going well, that's the time people start giving you a hard time and people start lacking in belief. Through the hard times, we have to believe more, and we've got to really work on it and make it happen."
Perhaps that starts with the playbook.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.