Bears

Mullin: Is Cutler making Martz look bad?

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Mullin: Is Cutler making Martz look bad?

Monday, Sept. 26, 2011
Posted: 11:19 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
It has been a convenient theme that the problems with the Bears offense, besides Mike Martzs game-planning, has been that the organization has not put sufficient talent around Jay Cutler for him to be successful.

That is also a convenient lie.

First, it is a poor craftsman who blames his tools, so anything along those lines from either Cutler or Martz is poor buck-passing.

Second, part of what great quarterbacks (or players in any sport, for that matter see: Johnson, Magic; or Bird, Larry) make the players around them better. Cutler is not doing that, unless it is somehow the case that Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, Dane Sanzenbacher, etc. are really, really garbage and are being saved by Cutler. Dont think so.

At some point, the spotlight comes to rest squarely on Cutler. That as much as anything was the case Sunday. At this point, Cutler can only be viewed as a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, which in fact is about where hes generally rated. Nothing special.

This is more than just opinion. Taking a quick look at the tape from Sundays first half alone:

Behind overall good pass protection, Cutler threw 7 incompletions and an interception among his 17 pass attempts.

His first completion in fact was on a fine catch of a low, underthrown pass to Sanzenbacher. His first incompletion was a short-route, dismally high throw that a leaping Devin Hester barely got a hand on.

The interception throw toward Roy Williams was not only thrown closer to safety Morgan Burnett than to Williams, but Cutler also pump-faked to Williams and drew Burnett toward that side of the field. The execution was criticized by analyst Troy Aikman at the time. Cutlers next pass also went toward a wide-open Williams but was so high it was beyond any reach.

Thats three of the seven not-caughts.

Williams gets full credit for the fourth not-caught by dropping a TD pass at the goal-line, a throw that is a must-catch for a No. 1 receiver, which Williams is proving he is not.

Four not-caughts.

The next two also cost the Bears a touchdown and rest with Cutler.

From first-and-goal at the Green Bay 7, Cutler threw behind Sanzenbacher who was breaking open, giving the Green Bay defender an easy pass-breakup. That was followed by another throw-behind to Sanzenbacher coming free in the middle of the end zone. The final miss was a correct throwaway, leaving the Bears with a field goal.

That was just the first half. The numbers for Cutler were respectable, 10 completions in 17 attempts for 180 yards and a passer rating of 90.3.

The specifics place the blame on Cutler, whom some have come increasingly to believe is getting a pass for the myriad problems besetting the offense. In some respects, it may have been Cutler who made Martz look bad, rather than vice versa.

Accountability

Defensive linemen Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, Julius Peppers and Matt Toeaina had a long, long private meeting in the back corner of the locker room Sunday before breaking up to get dressed and talk with the media. One observer wondered if it was a case of simply not wanting to spend media time, but all four are very standup guys, win or lose, so it had to be something else.

It was.

The point was very simple: It was really about self-evaluation, looking at ourselves, Toeaina told CSNChicago.com. We feel like it all comes back to the D-line. We knew they were going to run. There were holes and we just didnt get there.

The self-examination was in order because the Bears believe they have a very, very good team and are not playing like one.

When you have a good team and dont play up to your standards, youve got to look at whats going on, Idonije said. It starts with every individual and we didnt do a very good job.

Is this a surprise?

Beyond the problems previously ascribed to Cutler, is there really any reason to be surprised by what has unfolded with Martz as offensive coordinator?

First, with the backfield...

Matt Forte put up big numbers in the first two weeks of this season and had his breakout year in 2010. But with Martz running the preferred version of his scheme, Forte through the first seven games had five with per-carry averages below 3 yards in five of them. After the offense was forcibly moved toward a more physical approach after the off-week, Forte had just one game below 3.3 per carry and that was against the New England Patriots.

This year, with the offense veering back to runaway passing, Fortes average before Sunday was respectable but he has rushed now for 68, 49 and 2 yards in his three games.

With Martz as coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers, Pro Bowl running backFrank Gore had the lowest rushing total of his four seasons as a full-time starter and second-lowest rushing average in his first five NFL seasons.

As far as passing...

Revisiting some checking I did when Martz was being considered for the O.C. job: With Martz as Detroit Lions coordinator in 2006-07, Jon Kitna passed topped 4,000 passing yards for the first two times in his career. Lions passing yardage indeed shot up sharply.

But more revealing perhaps, Detroits combined offensive yardage ranking improved much more modestly, from 27th before Martz to 22nd and 19th with him. And scoring increased from 15.9 points per game before Martz to 19.1 and 18.9 with him. Thats an improvement, but far from division-altering and it was not all in the scheme, either.

Martzs Detroit receivers in 2006 included Roy Williams (he was good then) and Williams and Calvin Johnson in 2007. Johnson has proved to be one of the top receivers in the entire NFL. In St. Louis, his top pass catchers were Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt. Of the five players here, only Bruce was taken as late as the second round; the other four were top-six No. 1s.

Martz does not have that talent level now but the scheme is still operating as if it does.

The surprise, again, is that Martz is operating in large measure in the pattern that was discarded last season and Lovie Smith has allowed it to get even this far.

Duly noted

The 13 rushing yards Sunday are officially the third-lowest rushing total in franchise history.

Change coming, but when?

The surprise of this season will be if Mike Martz is back after it. There was a reason he was offered a contract extension without a raise, and there was a reason he turned it down.

Forces at Halas Hall wanted Mike Tice as the offensive coordinator, and Tice was hired two weeks before Martz last year. Lovie Smith wanted Martz, his former boss in St. Louis but Martz has all but played his way out of a job. It happened in Detroit and San Francisco when he and defensive-based head coaches had irreconcilable differences.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

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For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

In the aptly-named mock drafts to this point, this reporter has posited the Bears selecting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. That’s not the complete story, however. There’s a “problem.”

The landscape: The Bears currently sit at No. 8 overall; Nelson is rated among the best prospects, regardless of position, in the 2018; Nelson is the consensus top offensive lineman in this draft; the Bears have an immediate need on the interior of their offensive line (at guard or center, depending upon where where the new coaching staff slots Cody Whitehair); and among the prime directives for GM Ryan Pace is the protection of franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

And full disclosure: This reporter does see Nelson to the Bears, just not at No. 8, and presumably if the Bears do not address the post-Josh Sitton situation in free agency.

But there’s a problem. A couple, actually, and having nothing to do specifically with Nelson.

The “problem” centers (no pun intended) around his position: Guard.

Guards do not typically come off the board within the first 10 picks of drafts. Worse for guards, when they do, they don’t work out well. In the last five drafts, only two guards were selected within the first 10 picks, both in the 2013 draft, both (Jonathan Cooper, No. 7; Chance Warmack, No. 10) already undistinguished and both already on their second teams.

Great guards are indeed to be found in first rounds. But relevant NFL history says that they do not come early. Selectively, to wit:

Player Drafted Year
David DeCastro 24 2012
Alan Faneca* 26 1998
Steve Hutchinson* 17 2001
Kyle Long 20 2013
Zack Martin 16 2014

* 2017 Hall of Fame semifinalist

Meaning: Assuming the Bears do not spend starter money in free agency on the like of Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh, Zach Fulton or (insert UFA name here). Parenthetically on the draft-value aspect of good guards, Norwell was undrafted, Pugh was the 2013 pick just ahead Long, as a tackle, and Fulton was a sixth-rounder.

Pace predilections: “stat” players

Pace is in desperate need of impact players in both the draft and free agency. A guard is simply not in the “impact” vein as Pace’s first three No. 1 draft picks, all top-10’ers and all with something in common that a guard does not bring: stats.

Stats themselves aren’t the point, and an elite offensive lineman contributes to the stats of everyone else on his unit. But 2015 No. 1 Kevin White is a wide receiver; they catch passes and score touchdowns. Pace’s 2016 No. 1 was a rush-linebacker who generates sacks; Leonard Floyd. And 2017 No. 1 was Mitch Trubisky. All players with the potential for producing major-impact, game-changing stat plays.

Conversely, Pace’s New Orleans touchstone was an offensive line that protected Drew Brees with mid-rounders Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks at guard, and no offensive lineman drafted higher than the second round (Jon Stinchcomb).

Best guess, too, is that new head coach Matt Nagy, who’ll obviously be an intimate part of the draft process, will not be pounding the table for a guard, or perhaps for any offensive lineman with that first first-round pick of his tenure. The Kansas City Chiefs got just a so-so starting tackle (Eric Fisher) with the No. 1-overall pick of the 2013 draft while Nagy was there. And the very good Philadelphia Eagles teams took exactly one offensive lineman higher than the fourth round during Nagy’s years there (2008-12) with Andy Reid – and that pick was a guard (Danny Watkins) picked at No. 23, and who was a bust.

Conclusion: If Nelson is far, far and away the highest-graded player on the Bears’ draft board, Pace will make that move – if, and only if, Pace cannot trade down and add the picks that every GM craves as part of franchise-building, which is where the Pace-Nagy administration stands.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.