LAKE FOREST, Illinois — Those who think the Chicago Bears' offense has underachieved this season will get no argument from Jay Cutler.
"I think that's fair," he said.
A team that ranked second in scoring last season is moving toward the middle of the pack. The Bears are 2-3 heading into Sunday's game at Atlanta and nowhere near where they expected to be in their second season in coach Marc Trestman's system.
They've struggled down the stretch in games. They've been hit hard by injuries, with star receiver Brandon Marshall hobbled by an ankle injury. Several starters on the offensive line have gone down.
Meanwhile, Cutler has been the same old Cutler for better and for worse. He's still putting up big numbers and still committing mistakes at inopportune times. That's a bit jarring, considering the progress he showed in his first season under Trestman.
He comes into Sunday's game with a career-high 94.9 rating. With 12 touchdown passes, he is tied for second in the league with Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers and is on pace for a personal best. But he is also tied for second in the league with six interceptions, several in big situations.
There was an ill-advised throw across the body to Martellus Bennett with the Bears driving in the fourth quarter of the season opener against Buffalo. That pass on a third-and-1 at the Bills 34 got intercepted and the Bears wound up losing in overtime.
In last week's loss at Carolina, Cutler completed 28 of 36 for 289 yards and two touchdowns. But he also got picked off twice, overthrowing Santonio Holmes across the middle in the fourth quarter.
In the second half of the past two games against Green Bay and the Panthers, he has a combined 44 rating and three interceptions without a TD. The Bears were outscored a combined 34-3 during the final two quarters, dropping those games.
"It's hard to look past the turnovers," Cutler said. "We have to concentrate on that. If we clean that up, we think that that's going to solve a majority of our problems."
Injuries haven't made things easier.
Marshall was hobbled for about three weeks after spraining his right ankle against Buffalo, and the Pro Bowl receiver said Thursday he was supposed to miss four games. Instead, he played through it and caught three touchdowns in Week 2 at San Francisco. He was clearly limited the next two games, catching just three passes in the next two games.
He felt better against Carolina and had three catches for 44 yards in that game.
"The first two weeks, the doctors ruled me out," Marshall said. "They said I wasn't going to play. I went to them and said, 'Just make it a game-time decision. With some adrenalin, I'll be able to go.'"
Trestman chose his words carefully when asked about Marshall's comments, saying, "I can't answer those questions. I can talk directly about what I've seen in Brandon recently because that's his point of view, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with that."
He pointed out Marshall has been practicing at full strength the past two weeks and his speed appears to be back.
That's good news for Cutler, who also had to contend with the Bears' other Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery limited by a hamstring injury earlier in the season. Throw in the injuries on the line, and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said it wouldn't be difficult to understand if his quarterback was a little skittish.
"I believe that any quarterback that's in an unfamiliar situation — which that would be — with different guys that he's not used to is going to have some questions in his mind," he said. "What's going to happen when he throws a ball? Or what's going to happen when a guy runs a route? How's it going to look? Because it's not the same guy.
"And how's the protection going to be? Because it's not the same guy. And he has to work through that. If you ever had to stand back there, and I never had to thank God, they stand back there with their health in the hands of 10 other guys and they have to have a lot of trust and Jay has shown that. But at times there are things that you're not sure about and it may affect a guy."
Notes: LB Lance Briggs (ribs) sat out Thursday's practice, as did LB Jonathan Bostic (back), LB SheavMcClellin (hand) and LT Jermon Bushrod (knee/ankle). C Roberto Garza (ankle) and DT Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion) went through a full practice, while S Chris Conte (concussion), LB D.J. Williams (neck) and CB Sherrick McManis (quadricep) were limited.