DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- Jay Cutler wore the beginning of a beard Wednesday, perhaps because there's no time to shave when you're trying to figure out how to score a few points.
The whiskers framed a rueful smile when someone suggested to Cutler that the Miami offense has struggled this year.
"That," he said, "is an understatement."
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In the wake of a 20-0 loss to New Orleans, the Dolphins (1-2) rank last in the NFL in points and yards per game, yards per play and third-down conversions. They've scored two touchdowns in three games and hope to break out Sunday against the Tennessee Titans (2-2).
While Cutler doesn't sugarcoat the situation, he said it's not as awful as it seems.
"On the outside it looks like all the walls are falling and we're really bad and there's no hope and no prayer for us," he said. "But we're close. We're right there. If we clean up a few things here, we can be a competitive team offensively."
Cutler acknowledges he has been part of the problem. He appears unsettled in the pocket and has often responded to pressure with awkward footwork, which has led to erratic or weak throws. As a result he ranks 29th in yards per attempt and 25th in quarterback rating. In short, he looks like a rusty veteran who took the summer off before being coaxed out of retirement to sign with Miami and replace an injured Ryan Tannehill.
And that's what he is. But second-year coach Adam Gase defends Cutler, and expresses exasperation with the tendency to make the quarterback the culprit whenever things go wrong.
"It drives me nuts," Gase said. "I heard when I got here Ryan couldn't play. That was wrong. The evaluation skills that everybody has about quarterbacks is really bad. I'm not going to listen to anybody else outside myself."
Gase is telling himself to stick with the 34-year-old Cutler.
"If we protect him and give him a second to throw the ball, we'll be all right," Gase said. "If he's going to get hit from start to finish, I don't care who you put back there. We need to do a better job of protecting him."
Cutler's slump actually began last year. In his eight games over the past two seasons, including five with the Chicago Bears in 2016 before he got hurt, he has a 2-6 record and a passer rating of 79.1, with six touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Better footwork is the key to improving those numbers, Gase said.
"When he does have a clean pocket, we have to make sure that he sets his feet and throws the ball the way that I know how he can throw it," Gase said. "He's older now. He's not 25 anymore, so those off-balance throws, they're tougher. They're not going to happen like they used to, and he knows that."
In other words, Cutler struggles against a stout pass rush, which has long been his reputation. And bad blocking is perhaps Miami's biggest problem. Along with pressuring Cutler, opponents have often hit running back Jay Ajayi before he reaches the line of scrimmage.
Cutler said he still has faith in his linemen.
"They're smart guys and they know when they play well; they know when they play bad," he said. "It's important to them. They're one of the first guys that help me up. They're one of the first guys on the plane ride back asking me how I'm feeling, asking me how I'm feeling the next day. They take it personally. That group is one group I'm not that worried about. We'll get that straightened away."
But at this point the Dolphins are sputtering badly, with even trick plays a bust. Miami took the wildcat out of mothballs against the Saints, but a direct snap to Ajayi produced no gain.
Don't blame Cutler for that one. He lined up as a flanker and didn't twitch a muscle when the ball was snapped.
"That's what they told me to do -- sit there, don't get hit, don't touch anybody, don't move," he said, breaking into another smile. "I feel like I executed that one."