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Columnist
Cutler's pickoff propensity something he can control
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/17/2009 4:33 PM | Updated: 11/17/2009 10:24 PM

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You can blame Jay Cutler's league-worst 17 interceptions on any number of things.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner is a popular target, along with the leaky offensive line, an inexperienced group of wide receivers, and a ground game that looks as if it were run over by the bus.

And don't forget global warming, unemployment and the sluggish economy.

But the only person who can control Cutler's propensity for the pickoff is Cutler himself. No matter what the play call is, he has the final decision on whether or not to throw the ball.

As part of his game planning, Turner discusses with Cutler what pass plays the quarterback feels most comfortable with, and which ones he would rather eliminate. And Cutler has the option of audibling out of plays or throwing to a receiver who isn't the primary target.

So don't blame the play calling.

Regardless of how little time the offensive line provides him, it's ultimately Cutler's choice to A) force a pass, B) throw the ball away, C) take a sack or D) run.

Each of the last three choices is clearly better than the first.

Blaming the wide receivers is a cop out. Cutler has been working with Bennett and Hester since April. In his final year at Vanderbilt, Cutler completed 79 passes to Bennett, so they have a history together.

Even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have instances when there is miscommunication with receivers, but it hardly ever results in an interception.

A strong running game that forces the defense to focus on stopping the ground game first would absolutely help Cutler. And by any barometer, the Bears' run game stinks. But, again, that isn't an excuse for 17 interceptions. No one in the league threw more than 22 last season.

Four of the NFL's five worst rushing teams have quarterbacks with passer ratings of 91.5 or higher. The Bears, with the league's No. 30 ground game, are the exception, with Cutler's 76.0 passer rating.

The Chargers are dead last in rushing yards per game, yet Philip Rivers has a 97.9 passer rating with just 6 interceptions. The Cardinals are 31st in rushing yardage (they'd still be last if they didn't trample the Bears for 182), and Kurt Warner's passer rating is 91.5, although that's an unfair comparison given Warner's exceptional stable of pass catchers.

The Colts are 29th in rushing yards, but Manning's passer rating is 104.2 and he has been picked off just seven times. The Texans are 28th in rushing, but that hasn't stopped Matt Schaub from posting a 98.1 passer rating.

Even the Philadelphia Eagles, this week's opponent for the Bears, have thrown the ball effectively without much support from the run game, which has been weakened even further by the loss of Brian Westbrook. The Eagles are No. 23 in rushing yards, but Donovan McNabb has a 95.1 passer rating and just 4 interceptions.

Part of Cutler's problem may be that he's trying to do too much for a team on the verge of elimination from the playoffs. But if Cutler doesn't exercise more discipline, the Bears' postseason possibilities will be nonexistent by December.

NFL's five biggest surprise teams

1. Bengals (7-2): Unprecedented sweep of Steelers and Ravens

2. Broncos (6-3): Slumping recently but no one predicted 6-0 start

3. Saints: (9-0): Once-weak defense is now a strength

4. 49ers (4-5): Lost to Vikings and Colts by total of 7 points

5. Colts (9-0): Coach, WRs don't matter; it's still Peyton's Place

NFL's five most disappointing teams

1. Titans (3-6): 3 straight wins not enough to overcome 0-6 start

2. Redskins (3-6): They keep proving you can't buy a winner

3. Bears (4-5): How do you get worse by adding a Pro Bowl QB?

4. Browns (1-8): Everyone expected bad, but not this bad

5. Raiders (2-7): Maybe Coach Cable should break his own jaw