Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was a mess on Thursday night. A Green Bay Packers defense, the worst in the league last year, smacked him around like he was their redheaded stepchild. It led to a full Cutler meltdown and an embarrassing 23-10 loss for the Bears.
The main culprit was the offensive line, who allowed seven sacks on the night. Multiple times, Cutler took his frustrations out on his linemen as the offense was again sent off the field. He was a frothing, maddened signal caller that was imploding under the heavy pressure of a big divisional matchup in front of a maniacal Packers crowd in a primetime game.
We've seen this before.
When the Bears offensive line struggles like it did Thursday, Cutler gets knocked around. In 2010, the front five gave up nine sacks in the first half of a Monday Night contest against the New York Giants. Cutler was knocked out of that game with a concussion, forcing him to miss the following week's contest as well.
Last season, in a Week 2 matchup that unfolded eerily similar to this year's Week 2 game, Cutler was dropped six times in a 30-13 loss. It was a performance Mike Tice would later call an "ass-whipping debacle."
I wonder, then, how he would describe this week's mess.
The Bears first offensive snap of the game sent Cutler to the ground and it was all downhill from there, leading to a rattled quarterback who made bad decisions the rest of the game. Against the Packers, pressure – whether it was from Green Bay's defense or the bright lights of a game broadcast nationally – destroyed Jay Cutler.
Let's go to the film to break down each of those seven sacks to see what went wrong and how the offensive line might be able to fix what ails them.
1st & 10 at CHI 18. First offensive snap.
The Bears line up in a strong-right formation with two tight ends stacked on the right edge of the line. Cutler is under center with RB Matt Forte alone in the backfield. The Packers counter with a base 3-4, with NT B.J Raji shading to C Roberto Garza's right, and DE Ryan Pickett across from LG Chris Spencer. LB Clay Matthews is wide of LT J'Marcus Webb, while LB D.J. Smith is four yards across from Webb, showing blitz.
At the snap, Raji and Pickett use a cross stunt. This ties up Garza, Spencer and RG Lance Louis. Webb picks up Matthews coming off the edge. Cutler play fakes to Forte then drops back to pass. Smith blitzes through the B gap and Forte is there to make the block. Yet Smith just bulls his way past Forte, who makes a half-hearted shoulder block. Cutler barely has time to plant his back foot before Smith is in his face. The play goes for a 13-yard loss.
Usually, play action is only truly effective when you've established the run. Running a play fake on the first play of the game, like Tice did here, does nothing but make the play take longer to develop. Forte's effort here was horrible. This just set the stage for a horrible night. Chicago started the Colts game in the same fashion but the offense, at home against a weak Indianapolis defense, was able to overcome the slow start. In a hostile road environment against their division rivals on Thursday, Cutler was never able to recover.
1st & 10 at CHI 44.
The Bears line up in a three-receiver set with Cutler in shotgun. Forte is to his left. The Packers use a 2-4-5 alignment, with three players standing and bunched to the play's left, and two on the play's right. Before the snap, Matthews jumps inside, across from Spencer.
At the snap, Matthews flies across Spencer's face and just bullrushes his way past the blocker. It was all quickness and strength, nothing fancy. On the far side, OLB Erik Walden runs a delayed blitz and RT Gabe Carimi is slow to pick him up, allowing the defender to turn the corner. Matthews hits Cutler first and as he's picking him up in the air to slam him down, Walden gets a good a good shot on the quarterback. The play goes for 10-yard loss.
Cutler got killed on this play and was physically shaken as he walked back to the huddle. The Packers didn't do anything crazy except disguise their rush. Matthews makes contact with Spencer then easily creates separation and flies right past the blocker. On the other side, Carimi, possibly because of his knee, fails to get lateral movement and allows Walden a free shot at the QB.
2nd & 25 at CHI 47.
The Bears use a three-receiver set with Cutler in shotgun. Forte is to his left and TE Kellen Davis is to his right. The Packers counter with a 2-4-5. Both outside linebackers are showing blitz.
At the snap, all four linebackers blitz – two off the edge and one each in the A gaps. The Bears have seven guys to block six rushers and have everyone accounted for. Yet on the left edge, Webb tries to bend at the waist to block the speed rush of Matthews, who just slaps the blocker's hands away and blows around the corner. He hits Cutler in the back as he's planting his back foot. The play goes for a 7-yard loss.
After this drive stalled and the Bears punted, Cutler gave Webb a piece of his mind coming off the field. And why not? Webb has been doing the same thing repeatedly for more than a year now: not moving his feet and lunging at rushers. Every single time the defender flies right past him, and so it was with Matthews on this play.
2nd & 20 at midfield.
The Bears line up in a three-receiver set with Cutler in shotgun and Forte to his left. The Packers counter with a 2-4-5. Both outside linebacker are showing blitz.
At the snap, both guys come off the edge. The Bears release four receivers down the field. Cutler stands in the pocket for a full two seconds waiting for someone to get open but it doesn't happen. He tucks the ball and runs but is taken down by DE Mike Daniels a yard short of the line of scrimmage.
This was technically a sack but it wasn't the fault of the offensive line. Chicago's receivers, all four of them, failed to get open. All game, the Packers rolled coverage over the top of Brandon Marshall, leaving one-on-one matchups for the other wideouts. Yet none of those pass catchers could win those battles. Most of the remaining sacks, as you'll see, are coverage sacks, with no one getting open down the field.
At that point in the game, Cutler had been hurried 18 times already and hit 11 times. It's no wonder he was so rattled.
1st & 10 at GB 24.
Chicago lines up strong right, off-set right with Cutler under center and RB Michael Bush deep in the backfield. The Packers use a base 3-4, with the OLBs showing blitz.
At the snap, Cutler drops back to pass. The pocket forms well and he has four seconds with which to get rid of the ball. But again, he can't find an open receiver. There is no pressure but after four seconds, he starts dancing around in the pocket looking for a lane. Webb does a good job with Matthews but eventually the linebacker gets past him and takes Cutler down for his third sack of the game.
You can't blame this one on Webb. NFL quarterbacks are lucky to get four seconds to throw. Most coordinators want the ball out after 3.5 seconds. Cutler had his four seconds but no one was open down the field. Again, Chicago's receivers failed to create separation and find open areas in Green Bay's zone coverage.
1st & 10 at CHI 18.
The Bears line up in a three-receiver set with Cutler under center and Bush alone in the backfield. Green Bay counters with a 2-4-5.
At the snap, Cutler drops back to pass. The Bears use six guys to block four rushers. Cutler has time but cannot find an open receiver. He dances around, gets happy feet and tries to leave the pocket, right into the waiting arms of DT Jerel Worthy.
Another coverage sack, although at this point, Cutler is beyond repair. He's afraid to throw the ball and risk another interception, and he's afraid to stand in the pocket for fear of getting crushed.
2nd & 14 at CHI 14. The following play.
The Bears use a three-receiver set with Cutler in shotgun. Green Bay counters with a 2-4-5.
At the snap, Cutler drops back to pass. The Packers bring five rushers. Matthews comes off the left edge and drives Webb inside. Smith then runs a delayed blitz off the left side. He flies into the backfield untouched, forcing Cutler to step up, right into Matthews' arms.
Same old song and dance.
What this film work doesn't show is all the times Cutler was hurried and pressured on plays that didn't result in a sack. Haranguing his linemen was poor form but honestly, if you had taken the pounding Cutler has taken the past two years – 105 total sacks allowed in 2010 and 2011, by far the most in the league in that timeframe – wouldn't you be sick of it?
The problem is that Cutler let it affect his play on the field. The pressure got into his head and he made a number of boneheaded throws because of it. That's where Jay must improve. The line isn't filled with Pro Bowlers. He's going to get hit. He needs to handle it better because meltdowns like this going forward could cost the team a chance at the playoffs.
As for the offensive line, something has to be done with Webb and Spencer. It might be time to put Chris Williams back at left guard, where he played so well last year. Spencer has shown all season just can't handle his new position.
Yet Webb is the bigger problem. His mistakes are the same ones he's been making since his rookie season in 2010. He's not showing progress as a pass protector. His feet are too slow and his technique is too poor. Against elite pass rushers, he's garbage. And when Webb is bad, that makes Cutler bad, and you end up with pathetic, four-interception performances like the one on Thursday.
Maybe give Williams a shot on the left edge or try out newcomer Jonathan Scott, a veteran left tackle. Whatever it is, the coaching staff needs to make a move, as Webb obviously can't cut it on the left edge.
Tice did a solid job last season re-stabilizing his offensive line after a horrible Week 2 performance against the Saints. Once again, he has his hands full trying to fortify a unit that crumbled against the Packers. We'll find out soon how good of a magician he really is.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.