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While the Bears await word on QB Jay Cutler's status for Week Five, the coaching staff is trying to figure out what to do with an offensive line that allowed him to get sacked nine times — eight times while facing a four-man pass rush — in the first half Sunday night before he exited the game with a concussion.
Chicago has allowed a league-high 18 sacks. That's more than the Colts (four), Browns (four), Ravens (four) and Packers (five) have allowed combined through four games.
Cutler has never missed a start because of an injury in his NFL career, but he'll have to pass a series of tests before doctors clear him to play the winless Panthers, who have made four sacks this season, which ties them with the Bears, Buccaneers, Vikings, Broncos and Bills for the second-fewest in the league.
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Some of the blame for the sacks has to be placed on Cutler. Several of the sacks appeared to be avoidable, but he held on to the ball too long and suffered a brutal beating for it.
The Bears will catch somewhat of a break in Week Five against Carolina's front four, which shouldn't overwhelm them. There is a good chance OLT Chris Williams (hamstring) will be back this week. The 2008 first-round pick could provide some relief, although he struggled at times in the preseason and in the season opener before he left the Week Two contest vs. Dallas in the first quarter with the injury.
An unfortunate reality the Bears have to face is that help really isn't on the way for the front five. All eight offensive linemen on the roster have played on offense this season. We've seen Frank Omiyale play left and right tackle. Rookie seventh-round pick J'Marcus Webb has rotated in at right tackle in each of the past two games. Edwin Williams, who was elevated from the practice squad last week, played when ORG Lance Louis went down with an injury Sunday night.
None of these combinations of offensive linemen looks like a clear solution to the problem. Cutler is being harassed too often and wide lanes for the running backs have been rare. A solid rushing attack could help to upset the rhythm of an opposing pass rush, but only the Broncos gain fewer rushing yards per game than the Bears' 68.8.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice can yell, teach and game-plan as much as he'd like, but the talent to sufficiently protect Cutler from defensive lines ranging from average to good doesn't appear to be there right now.