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Columnist
Bears clueless or just careless?
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/4/2010 8:12 PM

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The Bears knew going into Sunday night's game that their quarterback had been battered like a piñata for three weeks.

And yet they game-planned as if it hadn't happened at all.

So are they delusional or merely negligent?

One would think them guilty of dereliction, but when you consider the vocabulary in Lake Forest, and how blissfully unaware they were of their good fortune the first three weeks, you leave the door cracked for hallucination.

What everyone else knew before the Bears' loss Sunday is that the Giants were coming after Jay Cutler, considering the state of the Bears' offensive line and their running game.

Add in the deep drops that expose Cutler in the Mike Martz offense, which lends itself to getting QBs pulverized, and you have quite a formula.

Even armed with that knowledge, Martz had the usual array of slow-developing plays that left Cutler a sitting duck, and unlike previous weeks Martz did little to adjust and left Cutler running for his life.

In fairness to the offensive line, when the Bears got Cutler in exchange for Kyle Orton who leads the NFL in passing yards despite getting hit frequently playing behind the NFL's least experienced offensive line it was well known that Cutler tends to eye a receiver, unwilling on occasion to go through his progressions and search for an open target.

For all his immense talent, he sometimes holds the ball too long, creating sacks, fumbles and interceptions.

He was guilty of that Sunday.

On the Bears' second series, Cutler was slow getting the ball to Earl Bennett on a second-and-19 from the Bears' 41 that went for 9 yards, but it would have been a huge gainer had the ball been delivered sooner.

On the next play Cutler badly underthrew Devin Hester on a deep throw down the right side that should have been a touchdown and instead went incomplete.

Of course, by then he'd already been sacked a couple of times and could have been woozy.

Cutler has to take a portion of the blame, but it's Smith who allows Martz to have Cutler stand back there and get hammered play after play. It's Smith's job, not Cutler's, to make certain the QB is in a position to succeed and lives through the exercise.

But they finally ran into a team this season that took away Cutler's main target long enough for the defense to get to him and prevent big strikes. Instead of 10 hits in a game, which is horrible, he took them all in a half, and you know the result.

They paid Brandon Manumaleuna all that money to block, and he couldn't block anyone Sunday night.

The offensive line is getting worse, not better.

Guys don't know assignments in the complicated Martz system, which was easily forecast.

And they're running into each other in the backfield.

Martz had Hall of Famers all over the field in St. Louis, players who could learn quickly and make adjustments on the fly. The Bears, we need not mention, don't, and the result is Sunday's mugging of Cutler that was as ugly as anything Bears fans have seen.

This is hardly an overreaction to one defeat. If Cutler's back the Bears should handle an 0-4 Panthers team that averages 11.5 points per game with a rookie QB, no Steve Smith and the 30th-ranked offense.

But it's not just about Sunday's loss. All four games have ended carrying the same questions with which the Bears began the season. At 3-0 they were able to pretend they had overcome all their weaknesses, even if no one outside the team believed it.

They went into the season without an offensive line or a backup quarterback, banking entirely on Cutler's ability to take a hit and make a strong throw, but only a fool would have thought they could get away with it.

Lovie Smith has very much enjoyed his "I told you so" 3-0 start, but with a few minutes left in Sunday's game, he was steely-eyed as he stood over a fallen Todd Collins, another victim of a brutal hit.

He had to be wondering about Cutler's health, Collins' age and Caleb Hanie's lack of experience.

One can only guess his season and career flashed before his eyes.

If not, then consider that Cutler will become only a bigger target for the opposition now that he has been concussed.

Not a pleasant thought to sleep on for those in management or a head coach trying to save a job.

And especially not for Cutler, whose headache is likely to get worse.

brozner@dailyherald.com