SAN FRANCISCO–Folks, it might be time for some people to offer up an apology of sorts to KC Joyner, who runs the Web site TheFootballScientist.com.
Joyner was flamed thoroughly on here back in the spring for some of his observations when it came to Jay Cutler. I haven’t seen Joyner do an I-told-you-so, but his articles and statistics on Cutler and risk taking look to have proven quite accurate now through nine games. His five-interception performance Thursday night at Candlestick Park was a stunner. He leads the NFL now with 17 interceptions. Let’s put that in perspective–Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman combined for 14 last season. The Bears had 21 interceptions as a team in 2007. When Grossman cemented his risk-taker image in 2006, he threw 20 interceptions. As it stands, Cutler is on pace for 30 picks. The franchise record is 31 set by good ol’ Sid Luckman back in 1947. Bill Wade tossed 24 in 1962 and George Blanda had 24 in 1953. Johnny Lujack threw 22 in 1949.
“I don’t,” Cutler said when asked to explain the turnovers. “I have to go back and look at it.”
Yes, Cutler supporters are going to rush to his defense, as they did after the four-pick performance at Green Bay, and claim they were not his fault. Hold on a minute on that. Cutler two red-zone interceptions now give him five for the season and nine in the last 25 games dating back to last season. That’s throwing away a minimum of three points (chip shot field goal) every time.
Pick 1. His first pick, snared by nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin at the one-yard line, ended an 88-yard, 18-play drive that took up more than nine minutes in the first half. Talk about a momentum killer. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said he could have made a better call on third-and-goal at the one. Fine. Don’t throw the ball into intense coverage of tight end Kellen Davis, though. The blame goes to Cutler.
Pick 2. The second pick came after Devin Hester fell down coming out of his break on a deep comeback. It looked like Hester’s fault but the ball never should have been thrown to him. Tarell Brown was playing way off of Hester. The wide receiver tried to beat him with a little stutter-and-go move but Brown was playing so far off, nothing of the sort was going to work. He was sitting all over the route.
“The corner sat,” Hester said. “I was trying to come out of the break because he was anticipating the route. So he was going to get there before me. By the time I got close to him he was getting ready to jump the route, so I tried to hurry up and come out and beat him to it.”
Hester stumbled to the turf, Brown intercepted and returned the ball 51 yards to the 49ers’ 14-yard line. Frank Gore scored on a run on the next play, the game’s only touchdown. Here’s the bottom line: The ball never should have been thrown to Hester. Brown was all over the route and Cutler should have recognized that.
Pick 3. Pressured in the pocket, Cutler tried to push the ball to Hester, who was crossing the field. I haven’t seen all the TV replays but it appeared he was impeded by the umpire on the play and Dashon Goldson made the pick. This was a result of Cutler trying to make a play, not a bad decision if the replays hold up.
Pick 4. Mark Roman beat Davis to a ball over the middle of the field for an interception. The big tight end needs to find a way to win this battle here, but it’s what happens when a quarterback tries to fit a pass into a tight spot. The play was doomed from the start though as the snap to Cutler in the shotgun was on the ground.
Pick 5. Cutler stepped up in the pocket and threw for Greg Olsen in the back of the end zone but the Niners knew he’d be looking to his favorite target and this play had no chance with Michael Lewis easily intercepting.
What Joyner wrote about Cutler and his decision making really looks accurate at this point. You can’t blame the Denver defense anymore, either, as he’s one short of the career-high 18 interceptions he threw with the Broncos last season. Cutler apologized to the defense afterward. Who needs to apologize to Joyner?
Here are 10 more observations before I pack my bags and head toward the airport:
1. Solid game from defensive tackle Tommie Harris, but now he needs to multiply that by about seven more games. He got into the backfield and made some plays and blew up running back Frank Gore on one play. Press box statistics gave him three tackles and two stops for loss. But Harris can’t keep racking up inexcusable offside penalties. He’s a tackle. The ball is right in front of him. It’s pretty simple.
2. Alex Brown has been better this season than he was in this game. The 49ers had a journeyman at left tackle in Barry Sims and I know they have him a fair amount of help, but the Bears needed to dominate there. That could have led to a turnovers if the Bears could have gotten more pressure on rattled quarterback Alex Smith, who looked like he was playing not to lose more than he was playing to win.
3. Lovie Smith is no Jim Mora, that’s for sure.
“Sure, we can make the playoffs,” he said. “We have five losses right now. Five losses won’t keep you out of the playoffs, but for us it’s about getting a win. Philadelphia is coming up next. Again, there are some bright things that we can build on. There’s a lot of football left to go. Two 9-7 teams, I think, made it in [last year]. But that’s a long ways away. As much as anything for us, we just need to be able to finish a game and get a win.”
Actually, one 9-7 team and an 8-8 club made it into the postseason last year. But the problem with that logic is they were both division winners. Arizona got in at 9-7 as the champ of the NFC West, and San Diego beat out Cutler’s Broncos with an 8-8 record in the AFC West. At 4-5, the Bears have a 2-4 record in the NFC, and that will not help with tiebreakers. It is worth nothing Washington got a wild card at 9-7 in 2007. The year before that, Kansas City and Dallas both won wild-card berths with 9-7 marks and the Giants got a wild-card bid at 8-8.
But this Bears’ team doesn’t look like it is fixing to play on the second weekend of January, not with the wild fluctuations by both sides of the ball.
4. Who said the Bears cannot run an effective screen pass? Those screen passes to the left with center Olin Kreutz, he of the bad snap, and left guard Josh Beekman pulling worked very well. Matt Forte didn’t look real fast in the open field but you can’t argue with eight catches for a career-high 120 yards.
5. Robbie Gould’s second field goal from 38 yards came after Cutler threw a one-yard pass to Earl Bennett on third-and-eight. The play call has to demand that the Bears have a better chance of getting the ball past the sticks for a first down. That’s really a give-up play right there. They have to get a better call in that particular situation.
6. Eleven of Cutler’s interceptions have come in the prime-time losses to Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco. Don’t look now, but the Eagles’ game will be on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Really, the defense has played well in all of those games. The Niners managed just 216 yards total offense, the second-best effort on the season for the defense. But should we count stats vs. the lowly Cleveland Browns? The defense gave up 226 yards at Green Bay and 253 at Atlanta. That is difficult to accept right there.
7. So, Vernon Davis wins the war of words, right?
“I don’t want to even answer that question,” Ogunleye said when asked if he was motivated by Davis’ remarks this week. “I go out here everyday regardless of who is on the other side of the ball and play my best game. I try to go out and show pride in myself, my family and my last name. I don’t care what another guy says. I can’t care less.”
Davis said the Niners would dominate up front and he sure did on one play when he flattened linebacker Nick Roach, who was shaken up on the play.
8. Of the 10 penalties for 75 yards the Bears got, two were inexcusable. The delay of game before Gould’s field goal before the end of the first half (when the Bears had a timeout remaining) and the unnecessary roughness call against Chris Williams for jumping into the pile on the final drive of the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a good game for Williams, who was steamrolled in the first quarter on one play by Ray McDonald.
9. The Niners had 90 yards in interception returns, more than twice as many as the Bears had rushing. Forte finished with 41 yards on 20 carries but at least Turner stayed committed. Anymore throws and Cutler could have had a six-pack.
10. With 10 days to get ready for the Eagles, hopefully the Bears can make productive use of the time. Brown said he’ll take a day to reflect and rest up before getting back to it. The Bears should get an extra practice on Monday. They need it at this point.