BOURBONNAIS —It appears the die has been cast with Jay Cutler after nine star-crossed, mostly disappointing seasons in the NFL — just one playoff berth and one playoff victory over a sub-.500 team.
But the Bears’ new regime of general manager Ryan Pace, head coach John Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains are giving Cutler his best chance yet to be a winner — by treating him like the quarterback he is rather than the quarterback everybody thinks he should be.
Cutler is not going to lift a team on his shoulders and carry it to a championship. He’s not Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Drew Brees. He has skills and strengths and weaknesses that need to be managed. Cutler is 21-7 in games in which he has thrown fewer than 30 passes. He’s 32-40 in games in which he has thrown 30 or more passes. Those numbers might be skewed a bit by game circumstances, but not that much. With Cutler, less is more.
The Bears seem to have figured that out. Pace and Fox have almost pointedly refused to treat Cutler like he’s king. They looked for something better in the offseason. And when they decided to stick with Cutler, they have downplayed expectations at every turn — including Wednesday, when Fox was asked if, after six practices “on he grass,” Cutler was the quarterback he had heard about. His response? Still too early to tell.
“Anytime you go in somewhere new … you don’t have that relationship yet. But you really kind of wait and see on your own,” Fox said. “This is my third time around walking into a new organization. From my experience there was a lot of guys that were talked down about that … were way different for me. I kind of wait and see. Like I’ve said all along, I’ve been very impressed with the way he’s attacked this new challenge.”
That’s a far cry from the way Cutler was treated as royalty by general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman. Emery gave Cutler a six-year, $126 million contract normally reserved for Super Bowl winners after Cutler threw 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 11 games in 2013 for an 89.2 passer rating that ranked 13th in the NFL. Trestman leaned on Cutler like no coach ever has. In his 15 starts in 2014, Cutler dropped back 600 times —on 67 percent of the Bears’ offensive plays.
(It’s true the Bears were blown out a lot last year and had to rely more on the passing game. But even when they were within two touchdowns, they dropped back on 62 percent of their offensive plays in 2014. Even with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers dropped back on 60 percent of their offensive plays.)
Even from a poor vantage point at training camp, it’s pretty clear the Bears are taking a different tack with Cutler than previous coaching staffs. They are running the ball more. And they appear more committed to accentuating Cutler’s actual strengths rather than his perceived ones.
“Any quarterback I think is going to be happy with [Gase],” Cutler said. “I know Jimmy [Clausen] likes it; David [Fales] and Shane [Carden] enjoy working with him. He does a really good job putting you in the right position, keeping the defense off balance, mixing up the play calls, and that makes it easier on the quarterback.”
Already it appears to be working. Cutler has yet to throw an interception in team drills through six practices — unheard of for a guy who usually threw two or more on the first day of practice every year. And Gase seems to have a finer appreciation for Cutler’s ability to make plays by moving the pocket than previous coaches.
“We all know that his athletic ability for a guy his size is pretty unique; there’s not a lot of guys like him,” Gase said. “We’ll try to do what we need to do within a game. How the defense is playing — is that calls for five nakeds a game, great. If it’s two — you never know how a game is going to play out, you never know how they’re playing. But his ability to move outside the pocket … we really like what he’s done so far and we’ll keep growing that package.”
Gase and Fox seem to have a better handle on Cutler than others. But it remains to be seen if they can succeed where others have failed. Typically, Gase made no promises. Smart man.
“Time will tell,” he said. “We’re taking it one day at a time right now. If I knew what was going to happen, I’d play the lottery. Right now, I don’t know. Every day we’re getting a little bit better.”