In this week’s edition of ‘Take 2,’ Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times and Kevin Fishbain of Pro Football Weekly take a look at the reasonable expectations for Jay Cutler entering the 2016 season.
Fishbain: I think our readers and Bears fans in general have to be thrilled about the lack of Jay Cutler talk this summer. What new is there to say? However, it’s time for real games, which is going to naturally shine the spotlight back on Cutler, who will still be the catalyst for this team to exceed or fall short of expectations.
My question for you, Patrick, is can Cutler improve in this, Year 11? He improved his ball security in Year 10, but is it asking too much for him to maintain that level of efficiency again and keep upping his level of play?
Finley: Of course it’s not asking too much. But before we dive deep into the “Cutler has ANOTHER new coordinator?” trope, let’s remind ourselves that Adam Gase is gone because Cutler was markedly better, not the other way around. The new Dolphins’ coach was creative with his personnel groupings and let Cutler move his feet. Whether Dowell Loggains does the same – I suspect he’ll rely even more on the running game – will be a trend to watch in the first month.
I present this to you, Kev: in 12 preseason drives, Cutler-led offenses scored one touchdown and kicked one field goal. Reason for worry?
Fishbain: Oh no, Pat, you’ve summoned my inner Cutler apologist! He did look good in the scoring drives against the Patriots. The O-line wasn’t right against the Chiefs and everything seemed out of sync. The great quarterbacks, though, aren’t fazed by that.
I’m trying not to put a ton of stock into the preseason, but one thing we can expect from Cutler this year is getting more opportunities to take chances down the field. Will he have enough time to do so? And if he does, will those extra shots he takes per game be worth it, or lead to more turnovers?
Finley: They’ll lead to more chunks of yards – and more interceptions. Still, it’ll be worth it. Cutler stressed following the Game 3 debacle that the Bears are intentionally not throwing the ball deep to Alshon Jeffery in the preseason. That will be their most dangerous weapon during the regular season, which is why assembling a serviceable offensive line will be so essential to Cutler’s health.
Given that Cutler’s backup, Brian Hoyer, has been even worse this offseason, is Cutler’s ability to stay upright more important than ever? And what would you do to ensure that?
Fishbain: Hope you’re not too old to have enjoyed “Little Giants,” but maybe wrapping Cutler in tons of foam padding like when the very scrawny kid Jake showed up for tryouts? If Kyle Long is back, I’m actually not as concerned about the offensive line as many seem to be, and the Bears like what they have at tackle. This is still going to be a run-first team, too, and that will help keep the pressure off Cutler.
We’ve talked for years about what the Bears are doing around Cutler, how they are helping him. This offseason, they took Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte away, but he does still have a pretty electric receiving tandem. I won’t say, ‘is it enough for Cutler to finally put it all together?’ because we’re well past that point, but what can we set as a bar for the Bears’ signal-caller?
Finley: I am a member of the “Little Giants” generation, Kevin – and it’s overrated. It’s “Little Big League,” but much worse. As for Cutler, I won’t measure him by yards. The three categories I’ll consider are: TD-to-interception ratio (last year’s was 21-11), fumbles (eight in 2015) and games played. Cutler appeared in 15 games in each of the past two years. He needs to do that again for the Bears to have a chance.