Jay Cutler and Tony Romo have been starting in the NFL since 2006.
There are other distinct similarities as well between the quarterbacks, from the number of games started — Cutler has 81 starts, and Romo 80 — to the number of playoff victories at one each. Both lead teams that are 2-1 this season despite their own somewhat underwhelming individual performances, though they might not be solely to blame for those.
Cutler has been sacked 11 times already. Things got so bad for the Chicago Bears in their second game, when he was sacked seven times and threw four interceptions, that Cutler visibly berated and bumped his left tackle on the sideline.
Romo found himself sandwiched between defenders on several occasions in the Dallas Cowboys’ last game, when he was sacked four times and had three turnovers — two of those fumbles after crushing hits.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this. ... We are not playing well right now,” said Bill Callahan, the Cowboys’ new offensive line coach who also has the title of offensive coordinator. “We’ve got some things to fix. Believe me. We are not ducking that.”
Like Romo, Cutler was bailed out in a victory last week by his own team’s suffocating defense.
Now they go head-to-head Monday night at Cowboys Stadium, and against those powerhouse defenses.
The Cowboys and Bears are both among the top six in the NFL total defense, and both allowed under 170 total yards a week ago.
If the Cowboys don’t get some things fixed, Romo might have to duck a lot against the Bears, who have an NFL-high 14 sacks. Three Chicago linemen already have multiple sacks.
“Obviously, he’s our starting quarterback, and we’d like to keep him in that position for the remainder of the year,” said center Ryan Cook, who didn’t join the Cowboys until after the preseason.
Cutler has to worry about perennial Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware (four sacks, seven quarterback pressures).
“Make sure we’re taking care of 94 (Ware) because he can be a problem,” Cutler said. “If you leave him alone too many times one on one, he’s going to make a play. So you’ve got to keep him guessing, throw a lot of stuff at him, and hopefully at the end of the day keep him off you.”
Cutler, now in fourth season in Chicago, got everything he wanted this offseason from the Bears.
They haven’t gotten a lot in return so far for reuniting the quarterback with Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback coach Jeremy Bates, who were part of his three seasons in Denver.
Miami rookie Ryan Tannehill has the only quarterback rating lower than Cutler, who is tied for the league interceptions lead with six. The Bears have managed 25 points a game while only gaining 290 yards per game, though they anticipate a boost with the expected return of Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, who missed last week’s 23-6 win over St. Louis because of a sprained right ankle.
“It’s the first year in the offense. It’s going to take time,” Cutler said. “Very few offenses go out there first year offensively with a new offensive coordinator, new system, and put up 30-40 points a game. It’s a whole season. You’ve got build on each and every game and get better.”
Cutler has re-connected with Marshall, the Bears’ top receiver with 16 catches for 214 yards.
“I’m excited, but now the honeymoon’s over. Now we’re focused on being Chicago Bears and leaving a legacy here,” Marshall said. “We’re off to a good start and we need to get better definitely. We’re not even close to where we want to be.”
As for Cutler handling continued criticism, Marshall can’t think of anyone who could handle the situation better than his quarterback.
“And I’m talking about outwardly, I’m talking about inwardly. When you get criticized nationally for the world to watch, it’s really tough for some people to bounce back,” the receiver said. “To be criticized the way he does, it’s really amazing to see him handle adversity and bounce back and really continue to lead us.”
Since an impressive 433 total yards in the season-opening victory at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Cowboys haven’t achieved any real balance on offense. They have been held to less than 50 yards rushing in consecutive games.
Along with the pressure Romo is getting from defenders, the Cowboys’ offense has already been flagged for 15 pre-snap penalties, including 12 false starts.
Romo has an interception in each game, including the fourth play last week that led to Tampa Bay’s only touchdown in the Cowboys’ 16-10 victory.
“He’s had to handle some different situations. We talked a lot about the bad down and distance situations we’ve been in the last couple of weeks,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He has to manage his way through that and make sure we don’t get in those situations as well.”
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