First and Ten: Thoughts and notes about the Bears

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Thoughts and notes about the state of the Bears following their 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday.

First: Lay off Cutler; too many defenders laying him on the ground

In the days following the Bears’ 23-10 loss to the Packers Thursday night on national television, there has been no shortage of players, coaches, and analysts ready to crucify Jay Cutler for his actions on the sideline to left tackle J’Marcus Webb.

It begs the question, are these analysts being politically correct or do they have hidden bias against Cutler and his volatile personality? Or, another question might be are they criticizing Cutler’s play on the field or his confrontation of Webb off it?

Addressing the former, Cutler had a bad game against the Packers, this much we know. But does he deserve the bulk of the blame? Hell no. When a quarterback barely has enough time in the pocket to set his feet to throw, and when the offense struggles to move the ball throughout the game, I don’t have a problem with him taking chances that may look silly on television. What did critics expect? Cutler to scramble out of the pocket and try to move the chains solely with his legs? He had to force the ball in tight windows because there hardly were any.

What bothers me more, though, is not Cutler’s four-interception performance on the field. That part is fair game. It’s the scrutiny Cutler’s receiving for confronting Webb that is leaving me scratching my head.

First, let’s address the alleged “shove.” Watch the replay over and over again. There was no shove. There was a bump. It sounds like nitpicking, but there’s a world of difference. A shove is provocation for a fight. I’ve heard a couple former NFL players say that if that type of thing took place back in their playing days, the lineman would have turned around and punched Cutler. But I’ve got two things to say about that: first, that’s assault and there’s no justifying that. Second, that would show even less respect for Cutler than the lack of respect analysts say Cutler had for Webb by nudging him.

Let’s be real about this. Cutler has had about all he can handle of the physical abuse he’s taken behind a shoddy offensive line. He’s been sacked more times in the three years he’s been in Chicago than any quarterback in recent memory in a similar time frame.

Think about this: if you were Cutler and you made your living playing professional football and you knew your livelihood would be at stake by one big hit because someone else wasn’t doing his job, you’d be more than a little upset, wouldn’t you? In the midst of taking a beating, Cutler got heated and wanted to help light a fire under Webb’s large behind. It’s no secret, by the way, that Webb doesn’t take his job seriously. On more than one occasion in the past, Bears coaches have said they were trying to get Webb to play with more intensity. He’s a head case, simply put.

If only you knew how many smacks on the helmet, fists on the shoulder pads, and slaps on the back are given on a football sideline to help motivate players who are having a bad game from a clear lack of motivation on their part. Cutler’s confrontation was only made a big deal because he was screaming at him on camera.

A little bump is far from the federal case that analysts are making it out to be. Then again, it’s the media’s job to overdramatize everything.

1. D.J. Moore rushes to defense of Webb

Bears cornerback D.J. Moore was the first person, at least publicly, in the organization to speak out against Cutler for what happened on the sideline between the quarterback and the left tackle. “I don’t think you can act like that,” Moore said. “To make it seem like it’s just [Webb’s] fault … I think it’s just wrong.” What Moore doesn’t seem to realize, nor do a lot of other people, is that Cutler wasn’t blaming the loss on Webb. Cutler was blaming Webb for allowing Packers linebacker Clay Matthews to drive him into the dirt and sit on his head. Bears coach Lovie Smith, though, came to Cutler’s defense, saying: “It’s pretty simple: I like Jay Cutler and everything that he is. … We’ll get back to that where the focus is on the play on the football field.”

2. Bears will start Chilo Rachal at left guard

The Bears reportedly will be making a change on the offensive line after Thursday’s disastrous effort but it won’t be at left tackle. Veteran guard Chilo Rachal, picked up by the Bears this offseason via free agency, will be replacing Chris Spencer at left guard. Spencer has been having his own troubles since the preseason and pairing him up with Webb on the left side of the line has been a bad combination. Rachal will hopefully bring a different attitude to the position.

3. Marshall has earned benefit of the doubt

In the middle of all the Cutler hoopla, some have posed the question: “Why did Cutler get up in Webb’s face over the mistakes he was making but all he did was pat Brandon Marshall’s head after the star receiver dropped a sure-touchdown pass?” Well, for two reasons. First, and it’s getting repetitive saying this, but, Marshall wasn’t responsible for the Packers planting Cutler into the ground. Secondly, Marshall is a Top 10 receiver with an unbelievable skill set who has earned the benefit of the doubt and will make up for it with outstanding play most games. Webb is a slow, fat, aloof “mental midget” — as Ron Rivera once famously called Rex Grossman — and he needs a good kick in the butt to stay focused.

4. Smith denies Forte has high-ankle sprain

Smith denied a report claiming that running back Matt Forte suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Packers. A sprain of the “high” variety is the worst kind which usually keeps players out between a month or two. Assuming Smith is not putting up a smoke screen, this is very good news to hear. Although Michael Bush remains a capable backup, the duo of Forte and Bush will be a much more lethal combination.

5. Return of Bell the safe choice, but is it the best one?

To fill Forte’s role until he returns from his ankle injury, the Bears re-signed Kahlil Bell, whom the team cut in the preseason after the back chose not to accept a pay cut. Bell is an obvious choice for a number reasons, most notably his familiarity with the offense and contributions on special teams. But even though the acquisition makes sense, was it the right one? Will Bell get any touches on offense and if so will he hold on to the ball? He’s had a fumbling problem throughout his time with the Bears and he does lack a certain burst that the Bears might have been able to find elsewhere.

6. Urlacher’s knee remains a concern

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher played a full game against the Packers and made one standout play where he blew up fullback John Kuhn into running back Cedric Benson to make a tackle. But he was clearly hobbled and limited by his knee injury as he tries to work his way back into football shape. The real question is whether he’ll be able to ever fully recover this season or if he’ll remain at the same level he’s currently playing. For the sake of the defense, here’s hoping he is just shaking off the rust from not playing in the preseason.

7. Strength in numbers a good thing for Bears

The best defenses in football are the ones that can bring a pass rush in waves — that is, the starters will apply the pressure early in the game and then the reserves will step in and keep up a similar level of play. Then, repeat. It’s still early in the season, but the Bears are starting to develop that consistency through two weeks. The Bears harassed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and sacked him two times, the kind of pressure we’ve never really seen the Bears put on him. Starters Julius Peppers and Henry Melton are playing strong, Stephen Paea is bringing pressure up the middle and Israel Idonije remains a solid contributor like he usually is. But a healthy Corey Wootton and a still learning, developing Shea McClellin are creating those badly needed waves.

8. Cautiously optimistic about Tim Jennings

Through two weeks, cornerback Tim Jennings has three interceptions, clearly a reason for optimism given his propensity to drop turnover opportunities last year. And given the up-and-down health of Charles Tillman and the development of the safeties, it certainly helps to have another playmaker in the secondary. But the reason I’m being cautiously optimistic about Jennings’ early production is that he’s also been beat by receivers through the first two weeks. Fortunately, he recovered quickly to intercept two passes against Andrew Luck and the Colts, but a better quarterback could exploit him, like Rodgers might have done if the pass rush hadn’t gotten to him so quickly.

9. St. Louis should be “pesky” opponent

The Rams may have won just two games last year but they’re already causing problems in this young season, outlasting the Redskins this week and nearly knocking off the Lions in Detroit in Week 1. While I can’t see the Bears losing to the Rams at home this week even if they play nearly as poorly as they did against the Packers, anything is possible. The Bears don’t have to face a pass rusher as good as Matthews, so I feel Cutler will receive adequate protection and the Bears will be able to resume moving the ball through the air like they’re capable of doing. But the important thing will be not playing down to the level of their opponent and never taking their foot off the pedal on either side of the ball.

10. All things considered, it could be worse for 1-1 Bears

Despite an impressive effort from the Bears in a 41-21 victory over the Colts in Week 1, you would have thought the sky was falling after their flop against the Packers. It’s only been two weeks and Bears fans need to calm down and take a few deep breaths. The Bears find themselves deadlocked at 1-1 in the division with the Packers, Lions and Vikings. There’s a lot of talent in the NFC this year but it’s too early to write off the Bears as Super Bowl contenders, let alone playoff contenders. There’s plenty of time left for the Bears to adjust things on offense and make their run. Besides, you don’t want to peak early in the season; you want to be playing your best ball at the end.

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