There's been a subtle change of mood at Halas Hall, one that's becoming more noticeable by the day. It isn't exactly panic, but there's definitely a sense of unease. Gone are the giddy early days of the season right after the resounding win over Atlanta, when players would sit in the locker room talking to reporters like kings.
Jay Cutler was very specific today: "I don't see panic here."
What he clearly does see, however, is cause for concern. He admits the game plan may need to reevaluated but that it's not up to him to make those changes.
"The game plan is not my job," Cutler said. "It's Mike [Martz's] system and it consists of what Mike brings into it. Our job is to keep working with it as best we can."
That's hardly a ringing endorsement for the overall approach of an offensive coordinator who was supposed to help Cutler reach career-best numbers this season. The blame can't all be heaped on Martz though, as there were plenty of individual missed assignments on Sunday.
QB Jay Cutler
"I saw a couple of misses on run blocking and just the little stuff here and there," said Cutler. "That was the story of the Green Bay game: good starts, small mistakes, broken plays. To win, we need to be consistent the whole game, week in and week out."
Yet it doesn't really matter whether Cutler sees large mistakes or small errors. If the ball's not getting over an opponent's goal line, something somewhere is fundamentally wrong. Receiver Roy Williams finds himself comparing the anemic Bears offense to the consistently productive units of the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers.
"I watch those teams and drive after drive, play after play, they're successful," Williams said. "It's not that we don't understand the playbook because we most certainly do understand it. And it isn't a matter of scaling back the number of plays we run. In any given game you use maybe 60 plays. That's not a whole lot, and definitely an amount that any professional should be able to handle."
Williams himself may be part of the problem. His name has yet to be seen in the "scoring drives" column of the Bears' stat sheet this season. He had 4 catches for 55 yards in Week 1 against Atlanta and has caught nary a ball since then. Williams has been bothered by a groin injury and admitted he was in a lot of pain Sunday. Earl Bennett is out with a chest bruise, and did not practice again today, putting more pressure on Williams to produce in the passing game.
"I don't know how Roy is healing physically," Cutler said. "We haven't talked that much so I'm not sure if he's 100 percent yet. He and I need to spend more time together working on things."
It's clear Cutler misses the familiarity and dependability the sure-handed Bennett provides.
"[Bennett] is a receiver who always can anticipate what I'm going to do and is right there under the ball. I'd love to have Earl back out there."
Chicago's offensive line has given up the most sacks in the league through the season's first three weeks. T Gabe Carimi did not practice today with a knee injury and could miss his second game in a row this week. Which could lead to continued pressure on the Bears' signal caller, something Cutler admitted gets into his head.
"We've been getting a lot of pressure by third down," he said. "There's been a lot of times I've had to throw the ball away. As a quarterback when you get under pressure, the clock in your head speeds up. The more time you perceive in your internal clock, the more confidence you'll get as a quarterback. If you are under constant pressure your internal clock will speed up even when you are not under pressure at that specific moment."
Basically, Cutler needs more time to throw, he needs somebody to throw to and he needs a reliable running game. None of these three phases are functioning properly yet. In fact, they seem to be getting worse by the week. Cutler said it's too late to switch to a different system, so it appears that the Bears offense will continue to try to cope with what exists and stop hoping for what could be.
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.