Sad sack fact: For Cutler to thrive, it's up to O-line

Franchise quarterback?


Big, dominant, game-changing wide receiver?


Elite, productive, all-around running back?


Actually, check back on that when Matt Forte shows up.

But when he does, there's no reason to believe he won't be ripped and ready to put up big numbers, just as he did last season before suffering a sprained knee late in the year.

Reliable backup running back with the skills to function as a solid starter?


Tough, reliable, sure-handed possession receiver who has a long history with the quarterback, who has a lot of confidence in this trusted receiver?


Field-stretching speed and unique big-play ability from the other outside receivers?


Big, physical, rookie wideout who should provide matchup problems for the secondary?


As everyone in Chicago knows, the Bears finally have given franchise quarterback Jay Cutler a cornucopia of resources in what appears to be a state-of-the-art offense. At least at the skill positions.

But all that glitz and glamour won't be able to shine this season if the offensive line doesn't protect Cutler better than it has in the past two seasons, when the Bears gave up more sacks than any team in the NFL.

If Cutler is preoccupied with his survival and has one eye on the pass rush, he won't be able to focus on getting the ball to the players who can give the Bears one of the NFL's most explosive offenses.

It's simple: When Cutler is unencumbered by pass rushers, he generally puts up impressive numbers and, as a result, the Bears usually win.

The problem, however, is that in Cutler's first three seasons with the Bears he has played in only 10 games in which the offense has given up fewer than 2 sacks.

By keeping Cutler on his feet, the Bears won seven of those games and scored 27 points or more in 6 of them. In each of those 6 wins, Cutler had a passer rating of at least 96.9, while throwing 14 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions.

And it's no coincidence that in Cutler's only Pro Bowl season with Denver (2008), the Broncos' offensive line allowed him to be sacked just 11 times on 627 pass plays.

In contrast, during his second season with the Bears, in 2010, Cutler was sacked nine times while getting off just 11 passes in the first half of a loss to the New York Giants. He suffered a concussion before halftime of that game.

“We know that it starts with protecting our quarterback,” said Roberto Garza, the Bears' 12-year veteran lineman and the leader of the offensive line at center.

“We can all be successful when we do our job. It all starts up front, and we have to go out there and get it done. There's no ifs, ands or buts. It's time for us to go out there and make a statement.”

For a while last season the O-line was making a positive statement. Over a stretch of five games, all Bears victories, Cutler was sacked just five times and had passer rating above 96.0 three times. The Bears averaged 32.2 points in those games.

“We did some good things last year,” Garza said. “But there's obviously a lot of room for improvement. When you have guys that can make big-time plays like we do, it's up to us to go out there and get the job done.”

It all came undone last season when, at the end of the fifth straight win, Cutler suffered a season-ending thumb injury. In the final six games, five of them losses, Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown were sacked 26 times.

That won't get it done this season.

Even though Cutler's athleticism and resourcefulness have enabled him to survive on occasion — and at times flourish — while getting pounded, it's a recipe for disaster.

Somehow, in the four Bears games that Cutler was sacked four times, he managed to engineer 3 victories, posting a plus-100 passer rating in all 3 wins.

But if you include his Broncos days, Cutler's career record as a starter is just 4-5 in games in which he's sacked four times. In only three of those nine games was his offense able to put up more than 21 points.

More than 4 sacks in a game? Not good, as you might guess.

Cutler has been taken down more than four times in a game six times in his career and, no surprise, five of those have occurred in the past two seasons. Cutler is 1-5 in those games, his team has scored 13 points or fewer four times, and four times his passer rating has been below 70.

But with new offensive coordinator Mike Tice calling the plays this season, Bears quarterbacks are not expected to face the pass-rush pressure they did the past two seasons.

Tice, a former college quarterback, will not expose his trigger man to the mayhem that often resulted from Mike Martz's slow-developing pass plays that provided little assistance for the offensive line.

“The offense really is tailored more to Jay, and we're going to keep him clean, and he's going to get the ball out of his hands a lot faster,” said 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end Kellen Davis, who will help keep Cutler upright and also figure more as a pass catcher this season.

“It's tailored more to what he likes to do,” Davis said. “Obviously it makes him more comfortable, and the routes are better for us, better for me at the tight end position. I get a lot of first reads on a lot of plays. So it's all looking good for me right now.”

If the line can provide Cutler with moderate protection, history says he will put up Pro Bowl-type numbers.

In the 22 career games in which he has been sacked exactly twice (the NFL average last season was 2.3), Cutler has had a passer rating higher than 95 in 10 of them, and he has scored below 68.5 just six times.

More important, when he has been sacked just twice in a game as a Bear, Cutler is 10-5.

Based on physical attributes, Cutler is considered the equivalent of any top NFL quarterback by most talent evaluators, and this season he has better skill position complements than any Bears quarterback in recent memory.

If he's protected, the offense could produce an upside rarely seen in Chicago.

If not, the O-line, already considered the weakest link, will be the scapegoat again.

“That's been every year that I've been here, so I don't think that that's really a shock to anybody,” Garza said. “We know we have to go out there and get better, and that's what we plan on doing.

“Obviously we have to keep our quarterback upright; we have to continue to do well in the running game and get Matt and Mike (Bush) and the rest of those guys some great yards out in the open field. That's up to us.”

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