Bears

15 on 6: Cutler's playoff debut a great success

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15 on 6: Cutler's playoff debut a great success

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
6:37 PM
By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com
Ok, I cannot get ahead of myself for next Sunday's historic game against the Green Bay Packers just yet. But the football Gods couldn't have scripted it any better.

First, let's take a look at how Jay Cutler performed in his first postseason game. Going into the game, I thought it was important for Jay to check his emotions. All Bears fans have witnessed Jay get flustered after a bad play with a scowl or pump his fist like today after a huge touchdown toss.

In my experiences whether I was playing in a playoff game or just on the sidelines, you get pretty amped! When I started for the Bears versus Philadelphia back in the 2001 playoffs, I constantly had to calm myself down all week during preparation. It was a good thing because you want to do well, but as the quarterback, everyone is looking to you for leadership and you have to display that confidence and belief into your team. Getting too stoked up for the game can be a bad thing if you do not control it and your teammates sense it.

Jay handled it beautifully as he was locked and loaded into the game plan throughout his playoff debut. Cutler walks away from the Seattle game with two rushing touchdowns (46 rush yards), two passing TDs (274 passing yards), and achieving a QB rating of 111.3.

Only the legendary Otto Graham has performed at such a level in a Divisional playoff game, and I might remind you that Otto won 10 NFL Championships before the Super Bowl ever came into existence. You could argue Otto is the greatest to ever play the position. Jay's in very good company.

Jay was great from the start, hitting Greg Olsen for a 58-yard TD on the third play from scrimmage. He identified Safety Lawyer Milloy was way too close to the line of scrimmage and could make Seattle pay for such a mistake. Man Free coverage proved to be the wrong coverage and a mismatch Jay exposed early to Seattle.

Jay was also very good all day in diagnosing blitzes. Early in the game, Jay had a strong-side play action called but was worried Seattle was about to blitz from the weak side. He did not panic! It was textbook how Jay backed out from center his first two steps then switched mid drop to a traditional drop back and aborted the fake simultaneously. That is terrific, heady football by Jay knowing and ensuring exactly what he was seeing. Very nicely done!

What I was most impressed with today is that Jay acknowledged the Bears still left a lot of offense on the field. I may remind you that the Bears rang up Seattle to the tune of 437 yards, but Jay is correct in his postgame assessment. He knows he missed some throws and understands he has to be even better in the Bears' bid to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLV.

It is imperative Jay does not chase ghosts in his preparation for the Packers. Week 17 brought a lot of different fronts, looks and blitzes from Green Bay that resulted in six sacks. The Bears and Jay must dictate to the Packers what they are going to do offensively, not what blitzes Green Bay is going to do defensively. The fewer the protections, the better, for the Bears offensive line.

Jay needs to put the onus on himself to throw "hot" when needed. This will ensure he controls the punishment he takes during the game, minimizing unnecessary shots. Mike Martz will also have to be on point with play calling. Since the Bears do not have audibles, Martz will have to be special calling run plays, screens and draws away from the blitz and ultimately slow down Clay Matthews and Company.

I can't wait, it's going to be epic!

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

The Bears winning a road game against a perennial playoff contender, one with a winning record coming in – that’s great.

Winning in Baltimore with a rookie quarterback in only his second NFL appearance – that’s terrific.

Generating more takeaways than giveaways and netting points from them – that’s just outstanding.

And now what?

Because too often under John Fox the Bears have posted a victory and failed to have it mean much of anything because of what followed a week later – a largely self-inflicted loss. The Bears have not posted consecutive wins since midway through the 2015 season, and even then proceeded to unravel on by squandering opportunities sitting squarely within their grasp.

Why should this time be any different? Because if it’s not, and the Bears again fail to stack even one win on top of another, then a dominating performance against the Baltimore Ravens (leaving out special teams, which surrendered in two plays more points than the defense did in 14 entire Baltimore possessions) becomes another meaningless afternoon in the overall for a team determined to reinvent itself.

Coaches typically divide seasons mentally into quarters, and clearly in Fox’s mind, Sunday was part of a different quarter from the 1-3 first quarter. “Really it takes almost four games, it’s almost like the preseason anymore, where you kind of get it figured out,” Fox said. “So just developing that confidence, usually good things have to happen to gain that confidence. And we did some good things.”

But the Bears have done “some good things” in games past and it becomes much ado about nothing, sound and fury signifying less than nothing. So again: Why should this time be any different?

Two reasons, actually. Neither absolute, but neither very complicated, either.

Reason No. 1: Trubisky

Without making too much out of one individual player, the chief reason arguably lies in the person of Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback who already has palpably changed the psyche of a previously languishing team.

“The team didn’t make nearly as many mental errors this week because of his patience,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright, who supported Trubisky with a leaping catch of 18 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

Unlike Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and 2016 Jay Cutler, each of whom won one game and one game only over the past 22, Trubisky delivered the ball security of Hoyer with added impact that none of his predecessors did manage, or arguably even could have managed.

Put simply, the Bears do in fact have a quarterback who even at this point appears able not only to make plays as drawn up, but also to create something out of nothing or at least avert catastrophe.

“Mitch made some great plays,” Fox said. “I mean, if you look at the snap over his head in the end zone, there’s probably only five or six or seven quarterbacks in this league that could get out of that. I go back to the touchdown pass to Dion [Sims, tight end]. He flushed [from the pocket], we adjusted and he dropped a dime in the end zone for a touchdown. And the play obviously at the end where more than likely if we don’t get that, we’re probably punting, the play he made to Kendall. I think Mitch played outstanding… .

“Those are really good decisions. It beats six interceptions, for sure. There’s a 3rd-and-3 play in the red area, low red, sprint out to our left. It wasn’t all perfect but he did the next best thing and that’s throw it away. So those are really, really good decisions that I think sometimes the casual or un-casual fan does not see.”

The noteworthy element in Trubisky’s game was the impact achieved by a Bears quarterback who completed all of eight passes. The reality is that Trubisky doesn’t need to attempt more than 20 passes a game (including the four sacks his protection allowed, which absolutely needs to be fixed).

For perspective purposes: Ben Roethlisberger in his first two seasons averaged 17.4 and 15.9 passes per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers reached the AFC Championship game and won the Super Bowl in those two seasons, running an offense that was just short of 60 percent runs.

Reason No. 2: Mistake reduction

A mistaken notion as to how improvement happens is the belief that it comes from just getting better and better, skill sets rising to the loftiest heights.

Not necessarily. Anyone who has had the good fortune of working their golf handicap down knows that the stroke reductions come less from suddenly adding 30 yards to drives or developing a draw on a 200-yard three-iron, than from eliminating the fluffed pitch shots, the approach shots pushed into traps, the drives into the woods. Cut down the mistakes and good things happen.

So it is with the Bears, who effectively lost the Minnesota game by allowing a 58-yard TD run by Jerick McKinnon, and sealed it with a poor Trubisky pass on a possession with a chance to tie or win. They lost the Atlanta game simply by dropping passes. They aren’t as good as the Green Bay Packers – at least not until Trubisky reaches full extension and proves to be a challenge to Aaron Rodgers.

But only in the Atlanta near-miss did they self-destruct with fewer penalties (four) than they did at Baltimore (five). Sunday was the first time since Atlanta that they threw zero interceptions. And the defense limited the Ravens to three third-down conversions out of 18, one indicator of fewer breakdowns on the most important down.

“As long as we eliminate those mistakes that we’ve been making,” Fox said, “we’re gonna be right there going into the end of the game.”

The Bears have had positive spikes in the past and then collapsed; even after winning three of four in late 2015, the inept home losses to San Francisco and Washington were arguably a tipping point in the Fox era.

The point next Sunday against Carolina is to determine if the Bears are through with their one-and-done ways.