LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- All through the Chicago Bears' locker room, players insist the coaches are doing all they can, that the offensive scheme is just fine.
Yet, clearly, something isn't adding up.
Quarterback Jay Cutler is taking a beating. The running game seems to be an afterthought. And with two ugly losses in the last three games, the calls for more balance are growing louder.
Cutler said the players have "to take more responsibility" for the recent struggles, and the Bears have "excellent" coaches. He also pointed out that for all the issues, the Bears are 4-2 and leading the NFC North entering Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.
"We're 4-2," Cutler said. "We've got one more game before the bye. We're still in a good position in the division, the NFC. I don't think there's a need to hit the panic button by any means, but we've got to get better. There's no doubt about it."
Although Cutler sees no reason to panic, there is plenty of angst surrounding this team -- particularly when it comes to the quarterback.
With 15 sacks in his last two games and 23 this season, Cutler has taken a beating. A nine-sack first half against the New York Giants knocked him out of that game and left him sidelined the following week at Carolina, and things weren't much better in last Sunday's home loss to Seattle.
There were missed blocks, with three of those sacks coming from defensive backs, and if the hits added up, the number of runs did not. The Bears handed it off just 12 times, with Chester Taylor and Matt Forte combining for 42 yards, while Cutler threw 39 passes.
The disparity was surprising given Cutler's recent concussion and the success the Bears had on the ground against the Panthers in a 23-6 win the previous week, even if the Seahawks are better against the run. Forte was coming off a 166-yard performance, with the Bears going for 218 on 42 attempts.
"We weren't playing Carolina -- it's a different team. Seattle is a completely different team," Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "And there are different challenges for us. We probably should have run the ball, particularly in the second half, when they did change. I need to change there.
"But we're reluctant to do some of the things. We're just trying to keep things simple at times, and it's the wrong thing to do. We need to do what we do and just go play. We were very close in that game, a lot of positive things. Big plays very close to being made there, both in some of the runs and passes. We need to stay the course and execute."
A big problem for Martz is the line. As bad as the pass protection is, the run-blocking hasn't been much better.
The Bears have used four different starting combinations on the line as a result, and the tight ends and running backs aren't helping out as hoped. Yet general manager Jerry Angelo is adamant: The line will improve.
"It's a fact," he told the team's website. "How confident am I that it's going to come together right away? I can't sit here and tell you that. But you can't evaluate players until you're in the heat of battle, and now that we know them better, we understand more of what they can handle mentally and physically. That's when you start making progress."
The Bears can only hope it happens soon.
Opponents see Cutler as a punching bag, hanging there and ready to be hit. Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy made that clear after last week's game, saying the Seahawks were "licking their chops," and Washington cornerback Carlos Rogers said the Redskins see "many opportunities. A chance to get sacks. A chance to get our hands on some balls."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press