Giants won't duplicate Cutler feast

They sacked QB 10 times in 1 half in 2010, but rush not as good now and Bears improved

Among the many horrible beatings Jay Cutler has taken as quarterback of the Bears, the worst came in New York against the Giants in 2010. Cutler was sacked an NFL record nine times in a single half before being knocked out.

That's knocked out as in concussed and forced to miss the second half and the next week's game.

The good news is the Bears won't let that won't happen again Thursday night and the Giants aren't up to the task.

Cutler, who entered the season having been sacked 199 times in 93 games, including 148 in 56 starts with the Bears, has been sacked nine times this year in five games. Even with six of those sacks coming in back-to-back losses to the Lions and Saints, Cutler is more protected now than ever before to start a season.

Maybe that's damning with faint praise, considering he was already sacked 14 times through five games last year, 18 times in 2011, 23 times in 2010 and 10 times in 2009. The 2010 number is deceiving because Cutler actually had to sit out the fifth game of the year with the aforementioned concussion. He returned for Week 6 and the Seahawks sacked him six times.

That was in the glory days of rogue offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The Bears, after a 4-3 start, wound up in the NFC Championship Game when Cutler was knocked out with a knee injury.

"The first thing coach (Marc) Trestman talked about was protecting our quarterback,'' said center Roberto Garza, the only offensive lineman remaining from the 2010 game against the Giants. "Coach Trestman and coach (Aaron) Kromer have made sure we've done that.''

The Bears are tied with the Falcons and Buccaneers for the fifth-fewest sacks allowed in the NFL. Not bad considering the numbers have bloated with three in each of the last two weeks. The personnel has changed dramatically, the scheme is significantly different and the priority is set.

"I watched that entire game and I felt so bad for them,'' said left guard Matt Slauson, then playing with the Jets. "It was just seven-step drop after seven-step drop, everybody was running go routes and there was nothing underneath and no help in protection. That is an offensive lineman's nightmare.''

Slauson pointed out the Bears could have had the same issues against the Lions if they had opted simply to throw downfield after falling behind, but the coaching staff wisely stuck with the game plan and offered Cutler options for checkdowns if the big plays weren't there. It was the same thing with Sunday's loss to the Saints. The Bears trailed 13-0 and 23-7, but never let the game get away from them in the fashion in which it might have in previous seasons.

Trestman reiterated Tuesday that protecting Cutler remains the highest priority.

"It all starts with that,'' he said. "You try to avoid the hits early. We had a couple of hits early but that doesn't mean he didn't come out of it because he did. Protection is the No. 1 area where a quarterback's poise and confidence and creativity can come into play. When he knows he can step up and complete a throwing motion, then his sense of accountability comes into play. When he feels like he can't step up or he can't move and make a play in the pocket, then it's just an act of survival. That's tough."

The Giants had a ferocious pass rush in 2010 and broke out of a slump in that game against the Bears. The same seems unlikely this year, given their lack of production thus far. Bears fans aren't pleased with the team's status as the 30th ranked team in sacks with just eight. The Giants are 31st with five, ahead of only the Steelers' four in one fewer game.

The Bears have only five offensive players left on the roster from that 2010 game: Cutler, Garza, Matt Forte, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester. Hester now is solely a return specialist.

The offensive line in that game featured Olin Kreutz at center, Garza and Lance Louis at guards, Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer at tackles and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. It was Shaffer's last start at tackle for the Bears with J'Marcus Webb taking over at right tackle the following week.

Webb, of course, is gone, despite entering training camp as a projected started. The Bears revamped the line with big-money free agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod and veteran guard Slauson on the left side and rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said when he looks at Cutler on tape now he sees "an improved football player.''

"Over the years they have worked very hard to try to protect him better and he certainly has responded to that,'' Coughlin said. "Whether you are talking about maxing the protection, getting better players upfront in front of him or going to the quick game, whatever. They certainly have thought this thing through and done a good job of that.''

Here's hoping the days of Cutler's weekly beatings remain a hazy memory.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

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