By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 23, 2010; 12:12 AM
In 2006, Mike Shanahan, then the coach of the Denver Broncos, thought enough of a young quarterback from Vanderbilt named Jay Cutler that he didn't schedule a pre-draft workout with the kid, lest other teams sniff out his interest and trade up to beat out the Broncos. Shanahan made Cutler the 11th pick of that draft, and by the end of his rookie season, Cutler was starting.
But as Cutler said this week, "The NFL is a funny league," and so it is that Cutler finds himself quarterbacking the Chicago Bears and Shanahan finds himself coaching the Washington Redskins, two teams that will play each other Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. It was not by accident that, when Shanahan was asked this week to look back on his time with Cutler in Denver, he immediately pulled out one stat from 2008, their final year together, when Cutler threw for 4,526 yards.
"I think he had 11 sacks in 616 throws," Shanahan said.
That was not only an accurate recollection, but a pointed one. This season, Cutler has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL: 23 times, despite his missing all of one game and half of another after suffering a concussion. That fact points to perhaps the most significant aspect of Sunday's game: Can the Redskins' pass rush, which has struggled to consistently bring down quarterbacks, right itself against an offense that can't protect anyone?
"We'll let sacks take care of themselves," said Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who has five of the Redskins' 13 sacks this season. " . . . We're going to be in a situation [where we need to] just execute the game plan and be relentless out there, and not get confused and worried about all the sacks and all the big numbers."
Against Chicago, though, there are big numbers to be had. Not only have the Bears allowed more sacks, 27, than any team in the league, but it's not even close. That average of 4.5 per game is far worse than the closest competitor, Arizona, which gives up 3.8 per game.
"Their line has been struggling a little bit because they've been changing guys in and out," Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said.
In six games, the Bears have used four starting lineups along the offensive line. Their starting right tackle is a rookie seventh-round pick out of West Texas A&M, J'Marcus Webb. Their starting right guard is Edwin Williams, the University of Maryland product who spent two seasons on the Redskins' practice squad before injuries forced him to start two games last season. Their starting left guard, former first-round pick Chris Williams, began the season as the starting left tackle, then missed three games because of a hamstring injury. Their starting left tackle, Frank Omiyale, began the year at right tackle before replacing Williams on the left side.
"We have two young guys on the right side and a whole overhaul on the left side," Cutler said. "Those guys are trying to gel together and mesh, and all the while we're still playing games. . . . It's kind of a work in progress."
Given the numbers, it's a wonder the work in progress has enabled the Bears to win four of their first six games and sit atop the NFC North. In a loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 3, Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half and was knocked out with the concussion. Last week, he returned against Seattle and was sacked six more times. The consensus is that this is more than just the line's problem. There are times, some Redskins said, when Cutler fails to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion. That can be deadly in the new system of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the former St. Louis coach who loves to throw the ball downfield.
"It's a combination of both, him holding on too long, [and] the line's not picking up a lot of these stunts, a lot of these blitzes," Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "So it's a combination of both. Until they get that down, I think sometimes he got so many routes where they're stretching the field so vertical, he's going to have to hold onto the ball longer."
Redskins notes: The Redskins listed eight players as questionable for Sunday's game, all of whom are likely to play: Trent Williams (knee/toe), DeAngelo Hall (back), Mike Sellers (heel), LaRon Landry (Achilles), Chad Simpson (hamstring), Rogers (shoulder), Rocky McIntosh (head) and Chris Cooley (head).
As for the Bears, cornerback Zackary Bowman (foot) and guard Roberto Garza (knee) are listed as doubtful after missing a third day of practice. Linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle) and safety Major Wright (hamstring) were limited in practice Friday, and both are questionable for Sunday's game.