Bears

15 on 6: Cutler's consistency crucial for Bears

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15 on 6: Cutler's consistency crucial for Bears

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
6:23 PM

By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com

Jay Cutler now has two very solid performances the last couple of weeks, and the Bears need this recent trend to continue as tough opponents await in the near future.

Specifically the New England Patriots next week at Soldier field. Before looking ahead, lets dive into Sunday's game in Detroit, as Jay subtly may have won a minor battle with Mike Martz in having more flexibility at the line of scrimmage.

Check Down Charlie

Nobody should have a problem with Jay checking down the ball to the running backs. It was the difference in the game and led to key first downs that extended drives on third down.

Chester Taylor was targeted five times and Matt Forte three times on the day, but no check down on the day was bigger than Jay finding Brandon Manumaleuna in the flat for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.

These check downs speak volumes about Jay getting through his progression, or foregoing his progression due to the pass rush to find his open outlet. There were four sacks on the day given up by the offensive line, all of which were physical mistakes by the tight ends and offensive lineman, not mental mistakes which were the root of the problem earlier in the season.

When Jay started to sense the offensive line was a little overmatched by the Lions defensive line, checkdowns were the key. He anticipated and felt the pressure, then quickly found his dump off. His growth in this area has been staggering after the bye week, along with tucking and running with the ball.

Keep the pressure on the defense! That is good football and heady quarterback play by Jay.

L O S

Everyone has anguished over the Bears not audibling at the line of scrimmage, which actually contributed to some of the sack issues earlier in the year when Jay could not check out of a bad play versus a certain defense. We witnessed some flexibility against the Lions as Jay utilized the "No Look Pass" against Detroit.

The "No Look Pass" is the quarterback and receiver communicating non-verbally at the line. Run plays were called in the huddle, but Jay communicated to the receivers at the line of scrimmage with either a signal - like grabbing his facemask or just making eye contact - giving them the heads up of the "No Look" situation.

As a QB, you execute it when numbers are against you and the defense stacks the box to stop the run. This took place early and often for the Bears as their commitment to running the football continues to be impressive.

Early in the second quarter, Jay hit Earl Bennett on a "No Look" pass when Earl was in the slot and Detroit tried to fudge their defense by playing the WLB half way in the box, yet walking out somewhat on Earl in the slot. The receiver just takes two steps off the line and the QB hits him on the move quickly with a one-step drop.

Stand up and throw it! Those can be gashing type of plays and they were today for the Bears. Johnny Knox and Jay gashed Detroit in the second half with a 20-yarder in another no-look situation. Jay also utilized it against the blitz, which is encouraging.

There must have been a lot of back and forth between Jay and Mike Martz during the week in order for Mike to relent and trust Jay and the Bears' young receivers.

Another offensive performance that is encouraging and proves these Bears are capable of more, which they are going to need as they start a critical home stretch against quality AFC opponents.

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.