By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) It became such a tired trope that it all but faded away as eight years elapsed, the notion that Jay Cutler could never get a fair chance to realize his full abilities due to any number of factors beyond his control.
Whether poor receivers or incompetent play-callers or too many offenses or not enough time to throw or whatever combination of the above was conspiring against him, there was a sense of frustration with his Bears tenure that focused not just on his own shortcomings but the team’s continuing inability to optimize his talent.
And after finally reconciling whatever he has proved to be and all but taking his presence for granted, here we saw it all distilled again in Chicago’s 23-14 loss at Houston in the season opener Sunday afternoon.
Cutler never had a chance against the brute-squad that is the Texans’ defensive line, getting sacked five times and taking a variety of other hard hits. We expected the Bears’ hastily reconstructed offensive line to struggle, and it did. Rookie Cody Whitehair can tell people someday about having to start his first NFL game on the road, at a new position and lined up against human apartment building Vince Wilfork, all factors that probably contributed to a mishandled snap and a turnover.
The worst offenders, though, were the tackles – the two spots unchanged and uninterrupted by injury. Bobby Massie was let go by the Cardinals largely due to his problems in pass protection, and they were entirely evident. Both he and Charles Leno Jr. repeatedly failed to slide their feet, bending at the waist instead of the knees and surrendering leverage when not being completely blown away by edge speed. If this continues, Cutler will soon be hurt and any already slim aspirations will be vaporized.
He wasn’t helped by the running game, either, with Jeremy Langford managing just 57 yards on 17 carries. Alshon Jeffery had a terrible third-down drop to kill one second-half drive, and Kevin White’s blown route assignment resulted in an ugly interception that left Cutler openly gesturing to the raw second-year receiver at the end of the play. In all, the offense had just 71 second-half yards and no points in that time, never crossing midfield. And this was with Texans starting linebacker Brian Cushing out of the game with a knee injury.
Referees did Cutler no favors, either, particularly on an illegal-pick call on Zach Miller that FOX officiating expert Mike Periera said shouldn’t have been made due to Miller’s proper positioning at the line of scrimmage at the point of contact. It nullified a clever call by offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains that was executed almost ideally.
And Bears coach John Fox could have challenged the spot after Ka’Deem Carey appeared to have been short-changed on a potential first-down run, but Fox let the mark stand and Cutler was sacked on the ensuing play. Fox also could have challenged a generous spot for the Texans later and a touchdown catch by DeAndre Hopkins on which his elbow could have been out of bounds before the second foot came down, but he opted only to ask for a replay on an obvious catch by Will Fuller later in the game. Fox’s curious decisions merit ongoing attention, but they weren’t the primary reason the Bears lost.
That would be protecting their most important offensive player, allowing him sufficient opportunity to scan the field and let receivers get into routes. A stouter run game will keep defenses off balance and control down and distance while also setting up play-action that can buy more time for bigger plays.
The Bears need to keep people away from and off of Jay Cutler, or the piling on is only just beginning.