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.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case. 

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.