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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) – Jay Cutler’s latest beating wasn’t the only ugly aspect for the Chicago Bears in their loss to Seattle on Sunday.

They were 0 for 12 on third downs. The running game was nonexistent. And the defense struggled.

Yet they’re still leading the NFC North with the Redskins up next, whether they’ve looked like a first-place team the past few weeks or not.

And there are glaring issues at the moment, starting with Cutler’s protection. He’s been sacked 15 times in his last two games, with six against Seattle. As bad as that was, it wasn’t as brutal as the nine-sack first half against the New York Giants two weeks earlier that left him with a concussion and sidelined him for the next game.

Coach Lovie Smith insists the Bears (4-2) can succeed with their offensive line.

“You mean the four wins that we have with this offensive line? That is what convinces me,” he said. “We’ve won four games with this offensive line. You have to keep in mind, too, with the offensive line we’ve worked different combinations. I’m excited about this week hopefully having the same combination start the game and play together.”

The Bears used their fourth starting lineup on the line Sunday, with Chris Williams replacing the injured Roberto Garza at left guard after missing three games with a hamstring problem. The former first-round pick started the first two at left tackle, but the Bears decided to keep Frank Omiyale there and go with Edwin Williams at right guard and J’Marcus Webb at right tackle.

The results were about the same.

There were missed assignments against the blitz, with tight ends and running backs as well as linemen failing to pick up defenders, and Seahawks defensive backs wound up with three of the six sacks.

“Getting rid of the ball,” Smith said. “Blocking better. Everyone involved. Offensive line. Tight ends, running backs. It’s accumulation of a lot of different things. Receivers running the routes a little bit better, us making better calls. I’m going to say that it’s all of the above right now.”

Yet, much of the focus remains on the line. That unit was a major question mark coming into the season, and it remains one six weeks into it.

“Honestly, there’s going to be a learning curve there with those guys,” Cutler said. “We’d like to see an offensive line all the way through training camp and get to know each other in preseason and then go into the season and learn but we haven’t had that luxury, which is difficult on those guys. But they’ve got to do it. That’s part of the NFL. There’s going to be guys that go down. You have to have some depth of guys who can come in and step in. Guys have got to figure it out.”

If the quarterback is taking a beating, one solution would be to hand the ball off. Yet the Bears ran it just 14 times with Cutler throwing 39 passes.

And while Smith started by saying he’d like to see more balance, he also seemed to contradict himself on Monday. When asked if the gameplan called for such a disparity between the number of passes and runs, Smith responded by saying, “That’s what we did. So we’re going to stay with that plan.”

So what would the right balance?

“Fifty-50, how’s that?” Smith said.

Considering the Seahawks’ defense came in ranked second against the run and 31st against the pass, it wasn’t shocking that the Bears were looking to take to the air. Plus, the Bears no longer “get off the bus running,” as Smith used to say, now that Mike Martz is the offensive coordinator.

“As head football coach I’d like to think I have input on everything that’s going on, and I do,” he said. “We all went in with that game plan feeling good about it, Mike and everybody else.”

NOTES: Smith sounded optimistic that linebacker Lance Briggs will return this week after sitting out Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. He stopped just short of confirming it while running down the team’s injury list, saying, “To get a guy like Lance back.” He paused and switch course, saying “Major Wright (hamstring) continues to get better each day. Roberto Garza’s surgery went well.”

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