NFL: Cutler far from lone perpetrator in Bearsí prime-time comedy of errors
By Dan Pompei
If you should happen upon Jay Cutler on the street and wave to him, donít be surprised if he flinches.
After being hit as if he were a blocking dummy pad all season, Cutler looks like he is starting to get jittery. It affected both his judgment and his accuracy in the Bearsí 10-6 loss to the 49ers.
In addition to throwing five interceptions (more about them later), he also threw 23 incompletions, including two high passes on screens, a low pass to a wide open Johnny Knox in the middle of the field, a high pass to Knox and a throw behind tight end Greg Olsen. Though he never was sacked, Cutler was pressured 18 times ó on 35 percent of his 52 passes. The result was a quarterback who looked like he was playing hot potato as much as he was playing football.
Letís start off by saying not all of the interceptions were Cutlerís fault. Devin Hester fell down on one interception. The umpire blocked Hester from getting to another throw that was picked off. And 49ers safety Mark Roman should have been called for pass interference on his interception because he knocked over Kellen Davis before the ball got there.
But Cutlerís first red zone interception ó throwing into essentially triple coverage ó was inexcusable. His interception on the last play of the game was an example of an ill-advised throw as well as a poorly thrown ball ó though there apparently was yet another ďmiscommunicationĒ between Cutler and Olsen, according to an interview with Cutler on Yahoo.com. Instead of trying to force the pass to Olsen, Cutler could have taken off and run.
Cutler forgot about running against the 49ers ó and thatís a dimension of his game that can really mess with a defense. His only rushing attempt was a quarterback sneak. Whatís more, he was sloppy on his play-action fakes.
Is it any wonder the 49ers could sit with two safeties deep all game?
But back to interceptions. Even if we overlook the three that really werenít his fault, we canít overlook three other passes that could have been interceptions.
Cornerback Shawntae Spencer dropped one second quarter Cutler pass after stepping in front of Hester. And he nearly got to another ball Cutler inexplicably threw up for grabs while under pressure in the fourth quarter. Roman also nearly picked Cutler off again on an overthrow to Bennett in the fourth quarter.
Even though the line didnít give up a sack, it did not perform well.
There were three costly penalties (Roberto Garza was called for being downfield ineligibly to erase a 40-yard reception; Garza was called for holding; and Chris Williams was called for unnecessary roughness). Some of the shotgun snaps missed their target. Both tackles gave up a number of edge pressures.
The linemen got hardly any push in the run game as the 49ersí defensive front physically outplayed them.
The blocking on the screen passes, especially the blocking of Olin Kreutz and Josh Beekman, was very, very good, however. Also, not all of the pressures were the fault of the linemen.
What a disappointing performance by Hester. He helped the 49ers more than he helped the Bears, falling down on one Cutler interception and letting an umpire stop him from completing his route on another.
Whatís more, he didnít get much yardage after the catch on the seven passes he caught. He also had a false start and a hold on consecutive plays.
Hester did have a couple of important catches on the final drive, and it was good to see Devin Aromashodu come up with a clutch grab.
Olsen easily was the Bearsí most dangerous weapon. They should have thrown to him 20 times instead of 10 because he was getting favorable matchups against 49ers safeties and linebackers and taking advantage of them.
Forte did not run the ball very efficiently despite the fact the 49ers rarely felt the need to play an eight-man front. If you take away Forteís 16-yard run, he averaged 1.3 yards per attempt.
But he was very good as a receiver, averaging 15 yards per catch and totaling 120 yards. He also made a couple of nice blitz pickups.
There was more activity than production from this group, but the linemen played well enough to win.
The four encroachment penalties (one by Adewale Ogunleye negated a Lance Briggs interception) were ridiculous. And the two sacks were coverage sacks. It took Tommie Harris 5.4 seconds to bring down Alex Smith and Marcus Harrison 4.6 seconds.
Despite committing two of the penalties, Harrisí play was encouraging. His tackle for a loss of Frank Gore was a thing of beauty, and he helped stuff Smith on a fourth-and-1 play in the third quarter.
Briggs was all over the field, wherever the ball was. Itís scary to think where the defense would be without him.
Nick Roach was a force against the run and had a nice pass deflection on a blitz. Hunter Hillenmeyer stepped up late in the game to make a number of tackles.
Josh Bullocks did not make much of an impression in place of Al Afalava and Kevin Payne. Danieal Manning chased down some plays, as usual.
Overall, this unit had a minimal impact.
Zack Bowman won a jump ball and intercepted a pass intended for Michael Crabtree. Charles Tillman had another strip.
The corners were challenged more than they have been because they were asked to play more man and more press, and they did OK. Of course, the 49ers donít have the most feared passing game in the league. But you have to give the cornerbacks credit for doing what they were supposed to do.
Other than Robbie Gouldís field goals and one nice Brad Maynard punt, the special teams were below average. There were two penalties called against the Bears special teams units.