Mullin: Is Cutler making Martz look bad?

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Mullin: Is Cutler making Martz look bad?

Monday, Sept. 26, 2011
Posted: 11:19 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
It has been a convenient theme that the problems with the Bears offense, besides Mike Martzs game-planning, has been that the organization has not put sufficient talent around Jay Cutler for him to be successful.

That is also a convenient lie.

First, it is a poor craftsman who blames his tools, so anything along those lines from either Cutler or Martz is poor buck-passing.

Second, part of what great quarterbacks (or players in any sport, for that matter see: Johnson, Magic; or Bird, Larry) make the players around them better. Cutler is not doing that, unless it is somehow the case that Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, Dane Sanzenbacher, etc. are really, really garbage and are being saved by Cutler. Dont think so.

At some point, the spotlight comes to rest squarely on Cutler. That as much as anything was the case Sunday. At this point, Cutler can only be viewed as a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, which in fact is about where hes generally rated. Nothing special.

This is more than just opinion. Taking a quick look at the tape from Sundays first half alone:

Behind overall good pass protection, Cutler threw 7 incompletions and an interception among his 17 pass attempts.

His first completion in fact was on a fine catch of a low, underthrown pass to Sanzenbacher. His first incompletion was a short-route, dismally high throw that a leaping Devin Hester barely got a hand on.

The interception throw toward Roy Williams was not only thrown closer to safety Morgan Burnett than to Williams, but Cutler also pump-faked to Williams and drew Burnett toward that side of the field. The execution was criticized by analyst Troy Aikman at the time. Cutlers next pass also went toward a wide-open Williams but was so high it was beyond any reach.

Thats three of the seven not-caughts.

Williams gets full credit for the fourth not-caught by dropping a TD pass at the goal-line, a throw that is a must-catch for a No. 1 receiver, which Williams is proving he is not.

Four not-caughts.

The next two also cost the Bears a touchdown and rest with Cutler.

From first-and-goal at the Green Bay 7, Cutler threw behind Sanzenbacher who was breaking open, giving the Green Bay defender an easy pass-breakup. That was followed by another throw-behind to Sanzenbacher coming free in the middle of the end zone. The final miss was a correct throwaway, leaving the Bears with a field goal.

That was just the first half. The numbers for Cutler were respectable, 10 completions in 17 attempts for 180 yards and a passer rating of 90.3.

The specifics place the blame on Cutler, whom some have come increasingly to believe is getting a pass for the myriad problems besetting the offense. In some respects, it may have been Cutler who made Martz look bad, rather than vice versa.

Accountability

Defensive linemen Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, Julius Peppers and Matt Toeaina had a long, long private meeting in the back corner of the locker room Sunday before breaking up to get dressed and talk with the media. One observer wondered if it was a case of simply not wanting to spend media time, but all four are very standup guys, win or lose, so it had to be something else.

It was.

The point was very simple: It was really about self-evaluation, looking at ourselves, Toeaina told CSNChicago.com. We feel like it all comes back to the D-line. We knew they were going to run. There were holes and we just didnt get there.

The self-examination was in order because the Bears believe they have a very, very good team and are not playing like one.

When you have a good team and dont play up to your standards, youve got to look at whats going on, Idonije said. It starts with every individual and we didnt do a very good job.

Is this a surprise?

Beyond the problems previously ascribed to Cutler, is there really any reason to be surprised by what has unfolded with Martz as offensive coordinator?

First, with the backfield...

Matt Forte put up big numbers in the first two weeks of this season and had his breakout year in 2010. But with Martz running the preferred version of his scheme, Forte through the first seven games had five with per-carry averages below 3 yards in five of them. After the offense was forcibly moved toward a more physical approach after the off-week, Forte had just one game below 3.3 per carry and that was against the New England Patriots.

This year, with the offense veering back to runaway passing, Fortes average before Sunday was respectable but he has rushed now for 68, 49 and 2 yards in his three games.

With Martz as coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers, Pro Bowl running backFrank Gore had the lowest rushing total of his four seasons as a full-time starter and second-lowest rushing average in his first five NFL seasons.

As far as passing...

Revisiting some checking I did when Martz was being considered for the O.C. job: With Martz as Detroit Lions coordinator in 2006-07, Jon Kitna passed topped 4,000 passing yards for the first two times in his career. Lions passing yardage indeed shot up sharply.

But more revealing perhaps, Detroits combined offensive yardage ranking improved much more modestly, from 27th before Martz to 22nd and 19th with him. And scoring increased from 15.9 points per game before Martz to 19.1 and 18.9 with him. Thats an improvement, but far from division-altering and it was not all in the scheme, either.

Martzs Detroit receivers in 2006 included Roy Williams (he was good then) and Williams and Calvin Johnson in 2007. Johnson has proved to be one of the top receivers in the entire NFL. In St. Louis, his top pass catchers were Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. Of the five players here, only Bruce was taken as late as the second round; the other four were top-six No. 1s.

Martz does not have that talent level now but the scheme is still operating as if it does.

The surprise, again, is that Martz is operating in large measure in the pattern that was discarded last season and Lovie Smith has allowed it to get even this far.

Duly noted

The 13 rushing yards Sunday are officially the third-lowest rushing total in franchise history.

Change coming, but when?

The surprise of this season will be if Mike Martz is back after it. There was a reason he was offered a contract extension without a raise, and there was a reason he turned it down.

Forces at Halas Hall wanted Mike Tice as the offensive coordinator, and Tice was hired two weeks before Martz last year. Lovie Smith wanted Martz, his former boss in St. Louis but Martz has all but played his way out of a job. It happened in Detroit and San Francisco when he and defensive-based head coaches had irreconcilable differences.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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Next couple weeks a critical opportunity for Brian Hoyer, Bears

Next couple weeks a critical opportunity for Brian Hoyer, Bears

One overarching NFL reality is that with extremely rare exception, the quarterback position is always a matter for discussion and planning.

Even in Green Bay when Brett Favre was setting the standard for durability, the Packers were about succession planning, cycling through quality backups (Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck) until one – Aaron Rodgers – was needed.

Even in New England, where Tom Brady wasn’t missing a game for 14 of the last 15 seasons, yet the Patriots were drafting quarterbacks in the second or third rounds of three of the last six drafts.

What the Bears are confronting last weekend and this Sunday is a template for what could be their tactics for the position in the year or years ahead. The Philadelphia Eagles with Carson Wentz and Dallas Cowboys with Dak Prescott are starting (and winning with) rookies who were selected into a depth chart presumably already set with a starter in place. And the Bears have faced a situation in their recent past eerily similar to one just three years ago that, had it been handled differently, might have positioned the Bears somewhere similar to where Dallas and Philadelphia now find themselves.

With Jay Cutler in the final year of his contract calling for guaranteed money, 2016 was clearly a prove-it year for him irrespective of the Bears’ failure to invest a meaningful draft pick in a possible successor. Now Cutler is injured and Brian Hoyer is the presumptive starter, setting up a potential scenario not altogether unlike what they faced in 2013 when Josh McCown stepped in twice when Cutler was hurt.

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McCown played the best football of his career, giving the Bears the option of re-signing him as a placeholder and pursuing a young apprentice, which the Marc Trestman coaching staff favored, or signing Cutler to a massive contract and committing to him as a franchise quarterback, which GM Phil Emery did.

Hoyer may or may not play remotely as well as McCown did. But this is not entirely a position competition between Cutler and Hoyer, any more than Cutler-McCown was. Should Hoyer perform creditably, however, as he did last year to get the Houston Texans into the playoffs, he gives the Bears another “McCown Option” – an affordable, competent-if-unspectacular veteran who starts until such time as the young quarterback is ready. That could be as early as the draft pick’s rookie season – as Wentz was correctly judged to be in Philadelphia, as Russell Wilson once was in Seattle, and Prescott is demonstrating in Dallas.

Wentz was not going to start for Philadelphia before the Eagles were offered a can’t-refuse offer by the Minnesota Vikings for Sam Bradford. Prescott was not drafted to be a starter, but Tony Romo’s preseason back injury and Kellen Moore’s broken ankle changed whatever QB plan the Cowboys had.

If there’s a twist to the situation it lies in the fact that it is far from necessary to believe that winning quarterbacks lie only in the first round. Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick, is still riding the Los Angeles Rams bench. Paxton Lynch, grabbed by Denver at the end of round one, wasn’t able to take the Broncos’ starting job away from Trevor Siemian, the 250th pick of the 2015 draft whose only action last season was one kneel-down.

But Jacoby Brissett, New England’s third-round pick this year, and Cody Kessler, Cleveland’s 2016 No. 3 pick, are starting, jokes about Cleveland notwithstanding.

The Bears looked closely at Marcus Mariota going into the 2015 draft. But they were faced with a franchise decision of expending massive draft capital in a trade, something they did once upon a time in 2009 for Cutler and didn’t want to do again with other needs to fill.

Ryan Pace has had 15 draft choices in his two drafts as Bears general manager. None were invested in a quarterback. He will not go a third draft weekend without discussing the quarterback the Bears selected in (insert round here).