Jay Cutler was nodding his head before the question was even finished. Are you more comfortable throwing on the move? Is this something you want to promote in your offense?
“Yeah, definitely,” Cutler said after he threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns passes in the Bears’ 21-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on Sunday. “We’ve got to move the pocket. We’ve got to help out the offensive line. Guys get some easy throws in the flat. Get some stuff on the outside, because it’s going to negate some of the pass rushes we’ve seen. Keep teams off balance. Make us a little bit less predictable.”
Though it wasn’t Cutler’s best game statistically, the Bears utilized their franchise quarterback as well as they have all season Sunday. They gave him chances to make plays on the move. They kept the Vikings’ pass rush off him — Cutler was not sacked by a defense that came ranked No. 1 in the NFL in sacks-per-pass attempt. And with their own defense holding the Vikings to 243 yards and 13 points, the Bears gave Cutler what he needs most of all — a margin for error.
For once, Cutler could afford to make a mistake. Besides completing 31-of-43 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns against the fourth-ranked pass defense in the NFL, Cutler also threw two interceptions and they didn’t come back to haunt him.
He threw one to cornerback Xavier Rhodes at the end of the first half that might have cost the Bears a chance for a late field goal — though clock mismanagement was a much bigger culprit. And he threw another that in previous games would have been big trouble — safety Harrison Smith returned an interception 52 yards to the Bears 27 with the Bears protecting a 14-10 lead in the third quarter. But the Bears forced a 38-yard field goal attempt by Blair Walsh that went wide right.
It marked the first game this season the Bears have won a game in which Cutler has thrown an interception. Before Sunday, Cutler was 0-6 in games in which he threw a pick. He was 3-0 when he didn’t — seven touchdown passes and a 107.5 passer rating. As we know all too well, expecting Cutler to be that good too often is a losing proposition. The Bears need to find a way to give Cutler the best chance to win.
Allowing him to move the pocket was one key to success. “We encourage that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Obviously he moved around and extended some plays that got some big plays.”
When Cutler gets in a groove throwing on the move, he seems even more productive when he scrambles. Chased out of the pocket in the second quarter, he synced up with Alshon Jeffery adjusting his route in the end zone and turned a difficult situation into a 27-yard touchdown pass between cornerback Josh Robinson and safety Robert Blanton that cut the Vikings lead to 10-7.
“You see [Jeffery] peeling out of that [route] and he’s man-on and it’s going to be hard to get it over the top. It’s going to take a perfect throw,” Cutler said. “We’ve made that throw a lot — kind of a back-shoulder [throw] and Alshon does a great job with the ball in the air.”
Of course, favorable circumstances might have been the biggest contributor to Cutler’s success. That Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played like a rookie, kept the Bears in it at halftime. Whether the Vikings were playing man or zone, Bears wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall ended up in a lot of one-on-one situations where they usually come out on top. And they did.
And the Bears finally played a team without a cornerback such as Cortland Finnegan, Darrelle Revis or Sam Shields. In fact, they found a particularly favorable matchup against 5-10 cornerback Josh Robinson and attacked it relentlessly.
“We wanted to go at 21 [Robinson]. We knew he was a little bit smaller,” Cutler said. “Twenty-nine [Rhodes] has some length and some speed, so we wanted to put some balls up to the right side. We got a few opportunities to do it.”
Eventually, Cutler and the Bears will have to pass bigger tests than this one. But it was a start.
“We’ve got to keep winning. We’ve got to keep playing better,” Cutler said. “We knew that coming into the game … that we’re probably not going to have the best home-field advantage and rightfully so. We haven’t performed the way that fans think we should perform. We haven’t performed the way the players think we should. We’ve got to give them a reason [to cheer].
“I think everyone had a chip on their shoulder. No one is happy with where we’re at. I think it showed [Sunday].”