Cutler, fans needed when Bears meet Steelers
September 18, 2009
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org
This would be a good week to play the Lions, don't you think?
That Matt Millen-legacy football mess from Motown could visit Soldier Field, do its usual chicken-without-a-head dance and help our city forget about Jay Cutler's four interceptions.
I mean, if you can't beat the Lions, just fold the tent and find a new career.
But, unfortunately, it's the 2008 NFL champion Steelers who will be coming to Soldier Field on Sunday. And if the Bears don't show marked improvement --particularly on offense -- over what they did Sunday in Green Bay against the Packers, they will be 0-2 and a good bet to be 0-3 after traveling to Seattle next week to play the resurgent Seahawks.
''Super Bowl champions coming in,'' Bears head coach Lovie Smith said calmly Thursday afternoon at Halas Hall. A-yep. The way you or I might say, ''Breeze comin' up.''
But then Lovie's unflappable, impenetrable, unchanging equanimity is probably what helps keep him from going insane in the nutso world of pro football.
Lovie keeps cool
You know, it might be fun to have Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker to help stuff the Steelers' seemingly pitiful running game. But Urlacher's gone for '09, and as Lovie has said, ''We'll move on.''
Starting outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is also out, with a knee injury, and here are his numbers for the season: 0-0-0-0-0-etc. Cutler himself has more tackles than P-Tino.
So linebacking should be a big concern. But veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer will move into Urlacher's spot in the middle, and former Northwestern star Nick Roach, just 23, who started nine games last season, will take Tinoisamoa's place on the outside.
''It's exciting,'' Roach said after practice there on the green, green field. ''Hunter has been here a lot longer than I have. But I look at it like doing my job. Yes, the Steelers won the Super Bowl last year, but this is a new season.''
And is it ever a new season for the offense.
In fact, this is the moment -- with the loss of captain and defensive anchor Urlacher -- when the Bears should officially turn into an offensive-minded team. No, not just offensive-minded. Offensive-powered. The 15-point-per-game-average is not gonna do it. Cutler was not brought in to be a Craig Krenzel clone.
He was brought in to be a superstar, a status from which he did not flee or retreat.
The guy threw for 4,526 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just 18 interceptions last year in Denver. So far, for the Bears, he's on pace to throw for 4,432 yards, 16 TDs and 64 pickoffs.
OK, that's not fair to simply extrapolate numbers after a single game. But it is fair to say that Cutler has been a major disappointment to everyone in Chicago who knows the Bears' desperate, decades-long search for a superstar quarterback.
Thus, the incredible verbal and written churn in just four days regarding Cutler's arm, decision-making, leadership qualities, disposition. This is what happens when a team plays once every seven days, and everything can be broken down ad nauseam on video and audio replay.
The most distressing part of Cutler's opening-day performance was his willingness to fling the ball into coverage and his seeming lack of rapport and sync with his receivers. The poor quarterback has been analyzed half to death already, and we all know that with a big win in Game 2, he will be declared a genius wonder for at least six days.
Fans have role
So it goes. The fan chatter and noise and speculation are part of the deal.
As Lovie said of this first home game, ''That's big. The crowd has had a big part to do with every win we've had at Soldier Field, and we'll be calling on them again this week.''
Calling on the fans to help.
So the fans have every right to their expectations and fears and suggestions and endless brain surgery. After all, the head coach is telling them they're part of the team.
What I know of Cutler is that he is a different sort of guy. Critics call it immaturity, but I'm not sure it's that. It's more of a disconnect with the crowd around him. One time, according to my sources, he did a TV interview in Denver and lay his head on the table the entire time. Who would do that? That's not 12-year-old behavior. That's odd behavior.
But then, who can blame Cutler -- at least now -- for having a disconnect with most people and things around him?
He was brought to Chicago to win and to excite us. So far he's winless and boring.
Light up the Steelers, and it's all fresh.