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How Can Jay Cutler Overcome the Green Bay Packers?
Every quarterback worth his weight has had that proverbial mountain they had to climb to prove they were worth the investments their teams made in them. Steven Young had the Dallas Cowboys. Peyton Manning had the New England Patriots. Joe Flacco had the Pittsburgh Steelers. For Jay Cutler there is no doubt about which team has made life miserable for him in the NFL. Until he finds a way to get the Green Bay Packers off his back, any hopes of a Chicago Bears championship should rest on the backburner. Can he do it?
The Phony Rivalry
Bears-Packers are still one of the most stories clashes in pro football history. Yet to call it a “rivalry” over the past few years is selling it long. Since Cutler joined the Bears in 2009, he has beaten them once in eight tries. People like to trumpet how bad Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton were, yet they both have winning records against the Packers. Grossman went 3-1 against them and Orton went 3-1 as well. So how can a quarterback like Cutler, who is clearly more talented than either of them, be 1-8?
Anyone who wants to know why Jay can’t beat them need only look at his collective stat line from those games. Including the loss in the NFC championship playoff game, Cutler has thrown 17 interceptions, been sacked 30 times, and hit the 20-point mark once. That speaks to the same knock on him that experts have targeted for years. He makes bad decisions when he’s under pressure. That is why Phil Emery spent the entire off-season working to beef up the offensive line. Better protection will offer advantage but it will take more than that.
The only time Cutler beat the Packers in 2010 he had a lot of help from Devin Hester and the defense. Still he also had a veteran play caller for an offensive coordinator in Mike Martz. This year the advantages will go deeper than that. He no longer has Lovie Smith with his conservative, defensive mindset overlooking the game plan. New head man Marc Trestman is an experienced coach who earned a reputation in the NFL as an innovator who excelled in developing quarterbacks. His right hand man is Aaron Kromer, who helped build a championship offensive line with the New Orleans Saints three years ago. They expect to bring complexity, urgency and tempo to the Bears offense. That is something Cutler has pushed for from his coordinators for years. The big question is will he accept what they have to teach?
By far the biggest reason the Packers own Jay is because they know Jay. He more than any quarterback in the NFL today best resembles the characteristics of Brett Favre: competitive, huge arm, aggressive, and tough. Players like that take on the label of “gunslinger.” By their nature they feel if a window is there, no matter how small, they can fit the ball in. The Packers know this better than any team since they watched it for over a decade and a half with Brett. They understand if they hug the receivers and get pressure on Jay he is too competitive to give up and throw the ball away. This leads to an off balance throw and all too often an interception. Until he learns the value of protecting the football and the willingness to play the chess match it won’t matter how strong is arm is or how good his receivers are.
Starting Up Front
In order for things to turn around it has to begin in the trenches. The Bears offensive line has had fits dealing with Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and the Packers front for years. After adding Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Kyle Long it at least looks like they are starting to catch up in the talent department. What has to come next is execution. That develops through work and coaching. Even by cutting the sacks in a game in half, they increase the chance of Jay finding a receiver for a big play.
One final factor that cannot be overlooked is the goal Emery set for the team after the 2012 season ended. They must attack the middle of the field better. That responsibility falls to tight end Martellus Bennett and slot receiver Earl Bennett. Their threats between the numbers, along with an assist from Matt Forte, will take advantage of the double coverage Brandon Marshall is sure to see this season. A more complex system of routes and better play calling from Trestman should help. There is certainly reason for optimism. Earl posted a 109-yard game to end last season while Martellus had one of his better games last November against the Packers with three catches for 44 yards. The Giants won 38-10.
Cutler can’t topple a good team like Green Bay alone. There is no doubt he wants to win. The trick is to start believing he can. Once that happens, his teammates will follow suit and his coaching staff is smart enough to know how to take advantage. Until then the Bears will continue to live in that green and yellow shadow.