Five Reasons Jay Cutler Will Get the Chicago Bears to the NFL Playoffs
Decision time is fast approaching. Jay Cutler is in the last year of his contract and the Chicago Bears need to know if he is their long-term answer at quarterback. Stats alone say he is close. All it might take is one 4,000-yard season or one Pro Bowl appearance and a new deal could find him next year. However the real marker for his future in Chicago rests on whether he can get the team back to the NFL playoffs.
Everything starts up front in the NFL. It's very hard to win games when a team can't control the line of scrimmage. That is the problem dogging the Bears since Cutler came to Chicago in 2009. In that time span the offensive line has given up no fewer than 35 sacks in a season. This is a big part of why Jay has also struggled to stay healthy, enduring a multitude of minor injuries as well as concussion problems. That should change this year. Bears GM Phil Emery spent the off-season bringing in as much line help as possible. His hard work paid off when the team landed two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, three-year starting guard Matt Slauson and talented prospect Kyle Long in the first round of the draft. Suddenly the talent issue up front appears solved, or at least less obvious. If the eventual starting group stays healthy there should be a considerable drop in the number of quarterback pressures, hits and sacks.
More than anything this is the area that has lacked consistency the most for Jay. Since seeing former coach Mike Shanahan get fired back in Denver, Cutler has played in three different offenses under Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice. A lack of continuity played a big part in why the offense hasn't found any sustained success or identity. Part of the problem was indecisiveness at the top. Former head coach Lovie Smith ran the same defense in Chicago for eight years. During that same span he had four different offensive coordinators. That will change this year. Head coach Marc Trestman is the first offensive-minded coach the Bears have had since Mike Ditka. He brings a proven history of success with him and a mandate of direct communication between him and the quarterback. With him in charge and Aaron Kromer gearing the offense to protect Jay the offensive swoon should start to come around.
How ironic it is that Hester could have his biggest impact on offense only after his experiment at wide receiver ends. Yet that is the reality Cutler faces. Even at age 30 and having not posted a return touchdown in over a year, the Hester mystique is still alive and well. The decision by Trestman to have him focus solely on return duties should pay huge dividends. Why? Part of the problem a lot of experts believed that hampered Devin in the return game was too much mental and physical work trying to become a receiver at the same time. The last season he was not a primary receiving option and was focused on returning was 2007, a year he broke the single-season record for return touchdowns with six. Obviously people should not expect that number, but they should expect major improvement with the receiving burden lifted. His threat not only could bring back the Bears' ability to score instantly after a defensive stop. It also will bring a decisive edge in field position that the offense can take full advantage of.
On paper it was pretty much a one-man show last season for the Bears at wide receiver. Brandon Marshall posted the best statistical year a Chicago wide out has ever had with over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns. Outside of that they got little from the rest of the group. Rookie Alshon Jeffery managed 367 yards and three touchdowns while slot man Earl Bennett added 375 and two scores. That is not the kind of production expected from the second and third men when a player like Marshall is on the roster. Are Jeffery and Bennett just not good enough? No. A big part of why they never got on track last year was injuries. Jeffery suffered a broken finger and knee problems that forced him to miss six games. Bennett also battled various ailments and sat out four games too. That lack of time on the field and unfamiliarity with the latest offense played big parts in driving their numbers down. Improving protection and an overhauled coaching staff should bring about some big boosts for both players.
At the heart of why Chicago should see improvement from Cutler is the offense Trestman and the coaches plan to install. While unique in its own way, the scheme is a variation of something football pundits affectionately dub the "West Coast" offense. It is a complex system based on using a horizontal passing game (curls, slants and screens) to spread a defense out. This in turn keeps the quarterback protected, opens up running lanes and creates opportunities for long passes down the field. It's founder was the late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh who made it famous in San Francisco with Joe Montana. It is also an offense Cutler knows well. He spent three years in a similar system under Shanahan in Denver. Like Shanahan, Trestman learned the scheme in San Francisco and found great success with it as a coordinator. Given Jay's arm, mobility and ability to throw on the move he is an excellent fit for the scheme. He did reach his only Pro Bowl back in 2008 playing in this offense. If the other ten starters can absorb the teaching quickly then the Bears will see progress very early.