Holmes: It Takes A Village To Protect A Quarterback
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By Laurence Holmes-
(WSCR) Through two games, Jay Cutler has been sacked 11 times. Beyond getting sacked, Cutler’s been touched up quite a bit.
We all can agree that it’s too much and that the Bears offense is not going to work if Cutler is running for his life, but let’s have a frank discussion about where the pressure is coming from and who’s responsible for it. When sacks occur it’s easy to point at the offensive line and say that they’re the problem, but we need to start looking at protection as the entire offense’s responsibility because all 11 guys and the coaches play a role.
Let’s start outside and work our way in. The Bears system doesn’t have audibles in it. We can argue the merits of that, but it is what it is. What they do have is a system of hot-reads to combat blitzing defenses. Basically, if a blitzer vacates a coverage area, the receiver (whether it’s a RB, TE or WR) has a responsibility to identify it and then make themselves a quick target. In some cases that means that they’re going to have to break off their routes, but the most important part is the recognition. One Bears player told me yesterday: “Everyone has to see it (the blitz). If only one person sees it, it’s not going to work.”
On Sunday, the Saints covered their blitzing very well. They protected themselves against big plays by rotating quickly to where receivers were “hot” and kept them from making plays.
“They pressed us up pretty good. Stuff was going to have to be down the field and we’re going to have to hold on to the ball a little bit longer. We just didn’t hold up for whatever reason and that’s where we’re gonna have to get the running game going and pop some creases and get ’em off of us,” Cutler said.
Receivers need to identify and communicate, verbal or non-verbal, that they see what’s going on and are ready to get to a spot where Cutler can get them the ball.
From Cutler’s quote it’s clear that he would like to see more running. That’s where Mike Martz comes in. Calling runs saves wear and tear on your quarterback. It also keeps the Bears from being predictable and one-dimensional.
Martz admitted to exposing Cutler to pressure with the 51 dropbacks.
“I got into 2-minute mode too soon. No one wants to throw the ball that much. It’s not fun,” Martz said.
Look, I don’t think a 1:1 run/pass ratio is the way to win. The NFL is a passing league now. The rules benefit the passing game and the smart coordinators exploit that. The problem always goes back to can you block it? Martz’s system is complicated and puts the quarterback at risk. How much? Well, in the last three seasons (including the first 2 games of 2011) where Martz has been in charge of an offense, his quarterbacks have been sacked the most in the NFL. It’s a timing based system that thrives on deep routes. The idea is to put pressure on the defense to cover, but that won’t matter if the quarterback doesn’t have time. An adjustment from a coaching standpoint may be necessary.
The Bears spent time and money prepping their tight ends to be ready in protection. It was a philosophical change to work them with the offensive line during camp. So far, the protection hasn’t been stellar. Kellen Davis has struggled when left in one-on-one assignments. He gave up the Turk McBride sack that the Bears called the turning point in the game.
“The only thing that was a little bit hard for me was the noise and not being able to hear the snap. That’s how I got beat, gave up that sack for Jay. I can’t speak for every guy. I can only speak for myself. There’s a few things I need to get better,” Davis said of that particular play.
Overall, Matt Spaeth has been fine on the other side, but those guys have a big responsibility in this system. They need to be able to block defensive ends without help. So far Davis has given up two sacks. The edge needs to be better protected.
Running backs have a role of identification too. They’re responsible for blitz pick-up. We saw Khalil Bell struggle with that too. It’s tough when it’s a tailback on a linebacker, but the Bears are going to continue to see DB blitzing and they have to win those. Of the first 11 sacks the Bears have given up, 6 of them have been by defensive backs. The Saints were successful getting Roman Harper freed up. He ended up with two sacks and a forced fumble.
“It was more pressure than we probably expected,” Martz said.
The protection of Cutler also has to do with him too. He has to communicate what he sees, anticipate where pressure is coming from and get rid of the ball quicker. Sometimes he’s going to have to step up into a precarious pocket too, so that he can make a play. Sometimes he’s going to have give up on going down the field and just get rid of the ball out of bounds. We saw him get a grounding call outside of the pocket, when the prudent play was to throw it away.
So the protection issue isn’t all on the offensive line, but as a unit, they haven’t been great either. The whole offense needs to look hard at their individual responsibities and get prepared. They can expect a lot more pressure until they figure out a way to stop it. The Packers have some similarities to the Saints. They’re aggressive and will show different fronts and packages to blitz out of. They’ve surely dissected the tape and are going to bring the heat.
“We struggled with some things, we made some changes. That’s what this league is about is going out there and putting stuff on film. People are going to react to it and we have to react back,” Cutler said.
They better react quickly. Cutler’s health is at stake along with the prosepcts for the season.
For more on the Chicago Bears, follow Laurence on Twitter (@LHolmes670).