Bears Take Urlacher Criticism in Stride

Injured players in the NFL are out of sight and out of mind more often than not. However, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher let his teammates have it recently. Were his comments out of bounds?

Jay Cutler has been criticized as much as anyone for the Bears' problems this season, but he says that's OK because it comes with the territory.

"It's 100-percent fair," Cutler said. "That's how it goes."

Even if Cutler was playing well, which he's not, it's inevitable that the guy who touches the ball on every offensive snap will be judged by his team's win-loss record. And at 4-7, the judging is bound to be harsh.

"Head coaches and quarterbacks, it's [the] record," Cutler said. "You can go out there and throw four picks, but if you get the win, you get the win at the end of the day. It's definitely the record, and I'm not doing very well."

But Cutler and the Bears get an opportunity to break out of a slump that has seen them lose six of seven games when they play host to the 1-10 Rams on Sunday at noon at Soldier Field. Defensively, the Rams are in the bottom five or most statistical rankings, so Cutler should have an opportunity to put up some points.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner says Cutler hasn't lost any confidence, and the quarterback himself says he isn't even offended by what some others considered a slight from the Bears' injured defensive captain/middle linebacker/face of the franchise Brian Urlacher. The six-time Pro Bowler lamented the team's change in identity this season, from a running team to a passing team, in a recent Internet story.

"He doesn't have to apologize to me," Cutler said. "I talked to him. I understand what he's talking about. It's frustrating. It's frustrating for everybody in that locker room. So I know where he's coming from."

Cutler said he understands how some people might consider Urlacher's comments a slight toward him, but he isn't offended.

"You can't take anything personal in this game, especially whenever we're losing," he said. "I'm going to get a lot of blame, and I'm aware of that, and a lot of it should come my way. I'm understanding [of] that. I know Brian's frustrated. I'm frustrated. There's not much we can do."

Cutler is No. 23 in the NFL with a 74.4 passer rating, easily the worst of his career and nearly 13 points lower than his three-year average of 87.1 entering the season. He's already thrown a career-high 20 interceptions with five games still to play.

Coaches and teammates have gone out of their way to point out the many factors other than Cutler's performance that have contributed to the Bears' demise.

"It's a team game," Turner said. "It's not one guy. One guy, one quarterback, no matter who it is, can't go out there and do it by himself and win the game. You win as a team. You lose as a team. Obviously, the quarterback's the leader of that group, and he has a huge impact on it, but it takes a whole team."


QB Jay Cutler
Getty Images: Elsa

The Bears have suffered breakdowns and inconsistencies on both sides of the ball. Offensively they're 28th in red-zone scoring with touchdowns on just 41.2 percent of their opportunities. They're also 23rd in total yards, 32nd in rushing yards and 29th in interception percentage. They're 30th in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 69.2 of their opponents' opportunities. The defense is also 18th in total yards, 24th in rushing yards, 30th in third-down efficiency.

Cutler has his own opinions on why a 3-1 team has become a 4-7 unit.

"It's a bunch of different things," he said. "You can't put your finger on just one thing. When it comes down to it, we're not making the plays, we're not executing, we're not doing what we have to do to win. We're struggling on third down, struggling in the red zone, (making) a lot of turnovers, and all those things are not going to add up to wins."

NOTES AND QUOTES
Running back Matt Forte said he was unaware of Urlacher's comments that were critical of his ability to make tacklers miss.

He wasn't thrilled when he was told.

"We've got to make people miss, we've got to block people, we've got to do a lot of things," said Forte, whose average per carry has dropped from 3.9 last year to 3.3. "It's not one particular thing that is hampering the offense. We're hurting ourselves most of the time."

Asked if he felt slighted by one of the team's defensive captains, Forte said: "Urlacher has his own opinion. If I couldn't make anybody miss, I probably wouldn't be playing pro football."

Among the 45 players with 300 or more rushing yards, Forte's average is the second lowest, ahead of only Larry Johnson, who is averaging 3.1 yards per carry.

"It's frustrating, but you can't harp on being frustrated because it carries over into other games," Forte said. "The, you'll be focused on being frustrated instead of going out there and trying to do things right on the field."

Forte averaged 20 carries per game last season as a rookie, but he's getting just 15 attempts per game this season.

"When you don't get rushing opportunities as a running back, you have to try to make an impact somewhere else," he said, "which is catching the ball and pass blocking."

Forte is third in the NFL among running backs with 46 receptions and second in receiving yards with 433. ...

Cutler was asked if his presence has changed the identity of the Bears' offense from run first to a pass first, as Urlacher said.

"We've struggled running the ball," Cutler said. "Brian's right. You don't have to run the ball every play. You don't have to be a running team. But when you run the ball you have to be effective, and I think that's the most important part. There are a lot of teams that throw the ball a lot, but when they do run the ball it's effective. I think that's the main issue." ...

The Bears are last in the NFL in rushing yards and 23rd in average gain per run.

Turner said it's not a philosophical change but a practical one because of the struggles in the run game.

"It's just the way it's turned out," Turner said. "We know we've got to be able to run the ball, we want to be able to run the ball and we're committed to running the football."

QUOTE TO NOTE
"One that wins. I think that's the main thing. Anything that gets it done. Whether we run the ball a lot or we throw the ball a lot. Whatever's scoring points, whatever's getting first downs is the key, and right now we're not doing either one of them very effectively, which is a problem." – QB Jay Cutler on what type of offense he would prefer to play in.


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