Protection Still an Issue for Offense

Jay Cutler has proven to be a durable player during his NFL career. However, if the Chicago Bears don't start protecting him better along the offensive line, that might change in a hurry.

In just over five quarters of preseason action, Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 10 times.

He's also been picked off twice, both in Saturday night's third straight preseason loss, in which the first-team offense failed to score despite playing into the third quarter.

"We have a lot to improve on," center Olin Kreutz said. "We're nowhere near where we want to be."

The first-team offense played through the first possession of the second half, and the lack of production after halftime actually got worse. On the starters' last possession, Cutler was sacked for the fourth time. He avoided another potential sack when he scrambled for a 12-yard gain in the second quarter. In the Bears' previous game, while playing just the first half, Cutler was sacked five times.

On Saturday night, Cutler did not appear comfortable in the pocket, and he might be experiencing trust issues behind an offensive line that looks to be a long way from jelling.

"We had some protection issues last game," Cutler said. "There might have still been some little effects from that, just trusting the guys up there. We had a miscue on the first play, and from that point on it was just up and down."

After one second-half possession, the Bears made the wise decision to remove Cutler from the game rather than subject him to continued punishment and lack of success, along with the rest of the offensive starters.

"We're not playing good enough football. It's as simple as that," coach Lovie Smith said. "We never got any consistency, and Jay was under too much pressure."

That's been the case the entire preseason, as a reworked offensive line struggles in protection. Cutler's night ended with a passer rating of 31.0 thanks to the two interceptions. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 129 yards.

"That's not how we planned it," Smith said of the offensive ineptitude. "We had opportunities early on."

Cutler agreed that inconsistency plagued the offense, keeping them scoreless despite 166 yards of total offense in the first half.

"That's a great way to put it," he said. "It was just up and down, like a roller coaster. We had some big plays, we had some good plays, and then we'd come back and miss something. We wanted to get rid of that coming into the third preseason game. Obviously, we're still learning a little bit."

QB Jay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Right tackle Frank Omiyale, who was unimpressive at left guard last year, was called for two holding penalties Saturday night. Left tackle Chris Williams was responsible for three of the four sacks by Raiders defensive end Kamerion Wimbley in the second preseason game, and Saturday night he was beaten by Calais Campbell for another that led to a Cutler fumble, which the Bears recovered.

Cutler, who had a league-high 26 interceptions last year, threw his first of the preseason when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stepped in front of Johnny Knox along the left sideline to thwart the Bears' game-opening drive.

"Offensively, we talk about starting fast," Smith said. "But that first turnover really hurt us."

After three straight preseason losses, the Bears' offense has yet to get started at all.

All of the Bears' top five safeties have missed time during training camp and/or the preseason, including rookie Major Wright (finger), Craig Steltz (ankle) and Josh Bullocks (quad), who did not play Saturday night.

All are expected back for the regular-season opener, if they're still on the roster, and Wright practiced last week but was not cleared for contact. Bullocks missed the first three preseason games.

"We've been in this situation before," said Smith, who has made a total of 40 lineup changes at free and strong safety in the previous six seasons. "It seems like the secondary in general, there are a lot of injuries. They run a lot. It's a physical football game, too. We just look at it as an opportunity to see some more guys. We came in with a lot of guys that we like at the safety position, and we've needed every one. This week we may have to work different combinations, but during the course of the season you have to work those combinations."

Chris Harris started at free safety Saturday night with Danieal Manning at strong safety, same as last week. Manning led the Bears with seven tackles, and he forced a fumble in the red zone that killed a Cardinals drive seven yards short of the end zone. Harris' missed tackle on Tim Hightower just past the line of scrimmage allowed the Arizona running back to make a 29-yard run in the third quarter. ...

Julius Peppers' pass-rush prowess is common knowledge. He's hit double figures in sacks in six of his eight NFL seasons.

But Peppers demonstrated his dominance against the run in last week's game, when he had two huge tackles near the line of scrimmage with the Raiders inside the Bears' 5-yard line.

"He's about as complete of a defensive end as you'll see," Smith said. "A 300-pound man with DB-type speed, plays with leverage, plays the run, plays the pass, all situations. We have a lot of things in store as far as what we're going to do with him this year. He plays as hard as anyone, pursues ... should I stop? We could keep going for a while.

"He's a scholarship player that we're going to keep around here for a while." ...

Running back Chester Taylor has backed up Jamal Lewis with the Ravens and Adrian Peterson with the Vikings, so his role behind Matt Forte isn't foreign.

"I know how to work with another back," he said. "You have to have depth in the backfield because it's going to be a long season."

Taylor had just eight carries for 11 yards in the first two preseason games. But he picked up 34 yards on his first carry Saturday night with a nifty cutback move at the line of scrimmage and a couple jukes in the open field.

In his only season as a full-time starter, Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards and caught 42 passes in 2006 with the Vikings. ...

Rookie Dan LeFevour finished Saturday's game at quarterback after taking over for Cutler following the first possession of the second half, and the sixth-round pick from Central Michigan completed 10 of 12 passes for 100 yards, a 3-yard TD pass to Juaquin Iglesias and a passer rating of 129.2.

Even with No. 2 quarterback Caleb Hanie out with a shoulder injury, Matt Gutierrez did not see any playing time for the second straight week, nor did Todd Collins.

"We're putting in a new offense, and guys are a little uptight about making mistakes out there. We've just got to relax and go out there and play. With the talent we have and Mike calling plays, we're going to be hard to stop if we're clicking." – QB Jay Cutler on where the offense stands trying to learn Mike Martz's system

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