Quarterback Jay Cutler and offensive coordinator Ron Turner have taken a large share of the blame — maybe too much — for a 5-8 Bears team whose offense is 24th in total yards, 32nd in rushing yards, 16th in passing yards, 28th in interception percentage and 22nd in scoring.
Some of the criticism could just as easily be directed toward an underachieving offensive line, a youthful wide receiver corps that's getting on-the-job training, an inconsistent defense and a weak pass rush.
"The quarterback is going to take the blame," Cutler said. "A lot of the good ones around the league know we're going to take the blame, and we're going to figure it out in-house."
If it doesn't get figured out soon, starting with Sunday's noon clash with the Ravens in Baltimore, heads are expected to roll at Halas Hall.
Turner, whose contract is up at the end of this season, said he isn't worried about taking the fall for a season that started out 3-1 but has gone in the dumpster. But that may already be a foregone conclusion. The Bears have scored more than 21 points just three times in 13 games and just once in the last nine games, during which the Bears are 2-7. In their last six games, the Bears are 1-5 and have averaged just 14.7 points per game.
Turner's job security may ultimately depend on is relationship with Cutler, in whom the Bears have invested heavily. Two months ago Cutler signed a two-year extension through 2013 for $30 million in new money.
Cutler said his relationship with the Turner is "good," but didn't offer the offensive coordinator a ringing endorsement.
"There has been an open line of communication," Cutler said. "We have both been honest with each other. There has been some give and take on both ends, and that's how it goes. Anytime you struggle offensively, the offensive coordinator and the quarterback are going to take the blame, as it should be. So it's just as tough on him, I think, as it is on me."
It's probably tougher on Turner, since his job is more at risk. After the season Cutler said he would provide his input on Turner only if asked.
"I'm going to tell them how I feel, absolutely," he said. "But by no means am I going to march up there and tell them what should happen and what's going to happen. That's up to them. They're going to do the best thing they can for this team, and I'm going to try and do my job."
Cutler was asked what he would say if his opinion were solicited.
"At this point I'm not even going to start going down that road," he said. "That's not my job."
Turner and Cutler were on the same page there.
"That's not his position to (give a vote of confidence)," Turner said. "That puts him in a tough spot. Jay and I have a good relationship. We talk all the time. We communicate about what we're doing, about what we want to do, and I've got a lot of confidence in him, and hopefully he feels the same way."
Turner said the criticism from outside Halas Hall comes with the job anytime expectations aren't met.
"When you're struggling, it's part of it," he said. "You can't really get caught up in all that. I learned a long time ago, all you can do is continue to focus on the things you control. What you control is how hard you work, doing the right things, and if you do that, everything takes care of itself."
SERIES HISTORY: 3rd meeting. Bears lead 2-1. They won the last meeting, in 2005, 10-6 at Soldier Field. The Ravens won the last and only previous meeting in Baltimore, 17-6, in 2001.
BY THE NUMBERS: 32 — Bears rank in rushing yards, with just 85.8 per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of things have gone wrong when you don't make it three years in a row." — Bears coach Lovie Smith, when asked why the Bears haven't been back to the playoffs since losing Super Bowl XLI.
Both teams are coming off disappointing performances. But the Cardinals are playing for the playoffs, and the Lions, once again, are playing for their jobs.
The Cardinals come to Ford Field on Sunday trying to rebound from Monday night's 24-9 loss at San Francisco and win the NFC West. The Lions will try to pick up the pieces from Sunday's 48-3 debacle at Baltimore — their most lopsided loss since 1991 — and frankly show they belong in the NFL.
There is no escaping how poorly the Lions played against the Ravens, and there will be no escaping the Cardinals, the defending NFC champions.
"They were a playoff contender," center Dominic Raiola said. "We knew we were going to get their best shot, and we didn't put out a good effort. That's pretty disappointing.
"But again, we're going to get these guys' best shot. They're trying to win the West. We'll see where we're at. We're not sitting there Monday night, saying we hope they win so they're not as pissed off or whatever. It's the NFL. You don't go out there to compete. You don't go out there for pride. You go out there to try to win the game, and that's what we're going to try to do."
The Lions didn't compete and showed little pride against the Ravens. Schwartz was furious on the sideline during the game and on the podium after it. He said the loss didn't reflect who the Lions were or would be, and he said there would be accountability for it "this week," "next year" and "Wednesday in practice." He said the Lions had to "make a stand" and "there's further accountability other than just benching."
When the Lions returned to practice Wednesday, no player who took part in the Ravens mess had been released. But it seemed like the calm before the storm. Even the ever-combustible defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was "surprisingly calm," linebacker Jordon Dizon said.
"I probably kept my poise more than I wanted to, because if I really said how I feel, it would probably be a negative effect," Cunningham said.
To some, it was a relief.
"After the way we played on Sunday, I know in my mind I was a little uneasy coming to work today because I didn't know the reaction I was going to get from the coaches," defensive end Jason Hunter said. "So just to kind of see how he approached us made me feel a little bit more comfortable."
But it made others uncomfortable.
"That's when you should be worried," said veteran linebacker Larry Foote, who played at Michigan. "Old Lloyd Carr used to tell me that. ‘When I stop yelling at you, that's when you should get worried.' We ain't get yelled at today, so we worried."
Schwartz said Monday there would be no sacrificial lambs just to make a point and there was only so much the Lions could do this late in the season. Cutting a player or two wouldn't absolve the sins of the rest. And where are the Lions going to get better players in mid-December?
But everyone is on notice.
"I don't think a lot of players understand what goes into an organization to develop a winner and to develop a defense that's in the likeness of what we want," Cunningham said. "They think it's OK maybe to take a play off or to take a practice off. At the end, they find out it wasn't a good idea."
SERIES HISTORY: 60th meeting. Lions lead series, 31-23-5. Not too long ago, a home game against the Cardinals was one of the few things the Lions could count on. They beat the Cards at home in 2003, ‘04 and ‘05. But they lost to the Cards on the road in ‘06 and ‘07, and now the Cards are the defending NFC champions.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 — Defensive backs the Lions have added to their active roster since Sept. 4, thanks to injuries and poor performance.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's coming. This locker room is probably going to turn over again. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to seeing what Jim has in store, because I believe he's going to have guys that are going to want to be here and want to go out and win." — C Dominic Raiola, on coach Jim Schwartz's comments about accountability.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Let the chess match begin.
The most compelling story line in the Packers' game Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers isn't that red-hot Green Bay (9-4) could clinch a playoff berth, or that badly slumping Pittsburgh (6-7) could be eliminated from postseason contention 10 1/2 months after winning the league title, or that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy will be among family in his native Steel City.
Instead, what really jumps out — and what could ultimately decide the outcome of the game — is the presence of two defensive masterminds in the same venue. While the Steelers' Dick LeBeau will be scheming on the sideline, the Packers' Dom Capers will be plotting up high in the coaches' box.
To be sure, these guys have been on site together before, just a lot closer as coaching teammates once upon a time with the Steelers and in a different arena — Three Rivers Stadium, which gave way to the contemporary Heinz Field.
McCarthy affectionately refers to Capers, whom he hired in January to overhaul a porous defense, as "old school."
"He's not the guy that is going to sit on the computer and punch out a bunch of printouts for you," McCarthy said. "He still writes everything out by hand. He has a method that he has done for so long and can jump up and pull the book off the shelf from 1995, and I appreciate that.
"He is just extremely detailed, and he writes everything out. We don't have enough highlighters for him, but we've invested in that because he has a certain method of how he highlights things. He's just extremely organized."
The method to Capers' highly effective madness — the Packers rank in the top three in the league for total defense (No. 2), rush defense (No. 2) and pass defense (No. 3) — includes the handprints of LeBeau. At 72 years old, 13 years Capers' senior, LeBeau must be "old, old school," by McCarthy's standards.
LeBeau and Capers are kindred spirits. They are Ohio guys who grew up about 100 miles apart. They wound up working side by side with the Steelers from 1992 to ‘94, when LeBeau was the secondary coach for the defense coordinated by the up-and-coming Capers. Thanks in part to the wisdom imparted by LeBeau, who previously was a defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals, Capers turned Pittsburgh into "Blitzburgh" with an all-out, punishing 3-4 scheme.
"That's the beauty of the 3-4, is that you don't always know who's coming and where they're coming from," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
While Rodgers isn't resting easy this week as he prepares to face LeBeau's version of the "Blitzburgh" defense, which tops the league in run defense and is No. 4 in total defense amid the Steelers' late-season meltdown, Capers has become a mad scientist with his Green Bay charges.
He rolled out his self-titled "Psycho" package more than a half-dozen times in the Packers' 21-14 win at the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
To compensate for a shortage of healthy linemen, Capers hornswoggled the Bears' passing attack by surrounding only one down lineman (Cullen Jenkins) with five linebackers and five defensive backs.
"I think this is always a good time, that if you have some things that you haven't done because people have a lot of tape on you," Capers said. "Now, they've got 13 games on us; they certainly know a lot more about us now than they did when we started the season. We just felt that with our injury situation and the timing and being able to show them something we hadn't showed would help us in the game."
In case LeBeau was peeking in on the Steelers' offensive players as they watched game tape for the Packers this week, the exotic package undoubtedly looked familiar. Capers employed "Psycho" in his time with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s and in subsequent stops as an NFL head coach and defensive coordinator.
Elements of the disguise-oriented, walk-around look are staples in the 3-4 Steelers defense that LeBeau has led since 2004.
Which kindred spirit will have the upper hand Sunday remains to be seen, but Pittsburgh product McCarthy is glad to have Capers up in the Green Bay coaches' box.
"Our defense is in rhythm — their play tempo, play speed — and Dom is keeping his foot on the gas," McCarthy said. "There is a confidence; there is a trust there. I'm very pleased with the way we're playing on defense."
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 18-13. The Steelers have dominated the series in the interconference opponents' irregular meetings the last 35 years, winning six of eight games. Pittsburgh has won the last two matchups dating to 1998, most recently 20-10 at Green Bay in 2005. The Steelers have won three in a row at home, going back to 1980. The Packers' last win in Pittsburgh was in 1970. This is the teams' first meeting at Heinz Field.
BY THE NUMBERS: 169.9 — Combined average of rushing yards per game allowed by the top-rated Pittsburgh Steelers (84.9) and the No. 2-ranked Packers (85.0), which is less than the league-worst clip of 170.5 rushing yards surrendered by the Buffalo Bills.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would clearly say that Aaron Rodgers has fallen into the classification of a franchise quarterback. He has played at that level. I know it's only been a year and three-quarters (as a starter). I think he's definitely at that level of play. So, I just think that, in itself, tells you how we feel about him and his value to our football team." — Head coach Mike McCarthy, on what kind of blow it would be to the team if Rodgers were to suffer a major injury and miss any significant time.
Head coach Mike McCarthy might be leaning toward reverting back to an in-game rotation of Mark Tauscher and rookie T.J. Lang at right tackle in Sunday's game at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team is wary after Tauscher showed signs of fatigue toward the end of the 21-14 victory at the Chicago Bears on Sunday. It was Tauscher's second full game in less than a week — the Packers previously played on Monday night.
Prior to those two games, Tauscher had been spelled for a few series by Lang in three previous starts the 10th-year veteran made since rejoining the team in October following major knee surgery in January.
"We are going to watch reps this week ... and make sure T.J. is getting work over there," McCarthy said Wednesday. "Talking with Mark (on) Monday after the game, we just want to be smart with him."