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Monday, June 7, 2010

The Meatheads Were Right, it was Turner's Fault

This article is obviously pretty old (and came before Jay's two game hot streak to end the year), but I found it to be an extremely good explanation of Jay's struggles last year, and why I think he'll improve this year.

While the author agrees that Jay's problems tend to stem from "the cumulative effect of a lot of things. One is an offensive line that is probably the worst in pro football. As you play more and more games, and there's more and more pressure, a quarterback who is not naturally mechanically sound, will become worse because no one likes to have people in their face all the time. Very often, when quarterbacks take shots early in games, you see them start to lose their mechanics over the course of a game, get rid of the ball too early, start to play too fast..." all of which is accurate, I found his critique of Ron Turner's abuse of Jay and terrible play-calling to be most interesting.

"But what happens to that talent if there's no room for it? Against the Vikings, Cutler came out of the box in a way that told me two things: First, the Bears' coaching staff was setting things up to eliminate risk. Second, anything but dink-and-dunk when you're looking at a Jared Allen-Orlando Pace matchup is just nonsensical. On Cutler's second throw of the game, on second-and-3 from his own 42 with 10:58 left in the first quarter, Allen got around Pace with no resistance whatsoever, and Cutler bailed out to Earl Bennett at the line of scrimmage for a loss of two yards. When Cutler hit tight end Greg Olsen for a three-yard out on third-and-five, Olsen could gain only one more yard after the catch because cornerback Cedric Griffin and linebacker Chad Greenway were playing close in, waiting for the short pass, and knowing that the Bears had admitted defeat in a strategic sense. Three quick passes, and a three-and-out.
It was difficult to know what to make of Cutler's mechanics early on -- the guy's obviously talented enough to complete quick outs -- but I was astonished to see Pace get no help with Allen on any of those plays. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner managed to combine the protection leakage of wide sets with the inflexible non-production of a quick-screen-only offense. It was mind-blowing."

One of my biggest problems last year was watching Ron Turner completely obliterate the faith that I'd shown in him before last year. Before last season I had, optimistically, chosen to dismiss the Bears offensive struggles under Turner with the notion that a "real" quarterback would fix them. It didn't. Now, Turner's problem lays not with his "predictability" or whatever lame excuse the media chose to pin his struggles on, but his adaptability. He simply has no idea how to react to changing situations. It was apparent early on that the Bears offensive line was not good enough to run the power offense that Turner wanted to run. His response was to continue calling plays as if it was, based on some miniscule hope that the line simply needed to "gel." It wasn't until Chris Williams took over at left tackle and the line play improved slightly that Turner even attempted to mix things up. During the Vikings and Lions games to end the season he did a good job of moving the pocket and taking advantage of Jay's ability to throw on the run, something the statuesque quarterbacks Turner has dealt with the in the past (Orton, Griese, Grossman, Kramer, Walsh) were unable to do.

This was a recurring problem for Turner throughout both of his tours with the Bears. When he can run the offense he wants to run, like in 1995 and the early parts of 2006 and 2008, and his offensive line blocks and the run game works well, he can score a lot of points. When teams figured him and Rex Grossman out in 2006 and started to put pressure on Rex, Turner failed miserably at adapting and adjusting protection schemes and finding ways to take advantage of the defense's emphasis on blitzing. Last year he seemed overmatched and completely unable to adjust to utilize Cutler's natural talents to overcome the schematic and protection deficiencies of the offense.

If I dare say it (and again, Every positive prediction I make about Jay Cutler and the Bears offense this year hinges on whether or not the offensive line can improve), I have hope that Mike Martz can improve both of these problems. Martz has justifiably acquired a status as a quarterback guru, as guys like Trent Green, Kurt Warner, Marc Bulger, and Jon Kitna were undoubtedly better under his tutelage then they were beforehand (or in Bulger's case, afterwards). He knows how to preach the fundamentals of the position, such as proper footwork, Jay's biggest problem area. I truly believe he can make Jay a more technically sound player.

Schematically, I think Martz is a much brighter individual than Ron Turner. He has shown an ability to adapt to poor personnel in order to generate some semblance of offense. People can criticize the Lions or 49ers win-loss records during Martz' tenures as offensive coordinator, but both teams scored significantly more points under Martz than they had without him. The 2006-2007 Lions were the only Lion teams since 2002 to score more than 300 points in a season. Martz' 2008 49ers scored more points than any 49ers team since 2003. He made Jon Kitna into a 4,000 yard passer in two straight years. I've said over and over again that he has far more talent to work with in Chicago than he has since St. Louis. He'll figure out how to utilize that talent much better than Ron ever would have.

I still don't like him, though.

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