Under Adam Gase, his fifth offensive coordinator in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, Jay Cutler is having a breakthrough at age 32, and having it in precisely the area of his game that has been his greatest career shortcoming.
Gase’s primary mission statement going into the season was to reduce the interceptions and other turnovers that had become Cutler’s signature. After an interception-free game against the Minnesota Vikings,
Cutler’s interception percentage stands at 1.9, lowest of his career and among the rarified air of the NFL’s top 10 with 200 or more pass attempts.
Cutler, whose interceptions were noticeably absent even through training camp, has a current stretch of 51 pass attempts without an interception, going back to the Bears’ first possession of the third quarter of the Detroit game.
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The turnaround is no surprise whatsoever to the NFL coach who was part of Gase’s emergence when the two were part of John Fox’s staff with the Denver Broncos.
Mike McCoy, now head coach of the San Diego Chargers, was on the Denver staff in 2009 when the Broncos traded Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton. Gase was Denver’s receivers coach and moved to quarterbacks coach under McCoy, which meant working together with Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning before McCoy went to San Diego and Gase stepped up to offensive coordinator in Denver.
“I think Adam wants to do whatever it takes to win,” McCoy said. “And I think we’ve proven over the past couple of years that we were together, that we’ll make the change to do what our players do best. We started out with Kyle back in the day and then we went to Tim and we changed and then we went to Peyton.
“You kind of do what your players do best. So he’s going to figure out what Jay does best and let him roll with that.”
The only real meaningful quarterback stat is obviously wins. But Gase’s approach, developed with McCoy in Denver, also translates into efficiency gains elsewhere.
Despite the season of turmoil for the offensive line, Cutler has been among the least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL (nine). He has gone from being sacked on 6.6 percent of his dropbacks for his career to just 4.2 through his six games this season – a drop of more than one-third.
Meaning that Cutler is using his head and legs to play quarterback, not simply his arm – also part of the Gase plan, which McCoy has seen develop.
“I think the big thing is his attention to detail, his preparation,” McCoy said. “He lives at the office. I mean now that he has the three kids, he’s getting away more. Which is good for him.
“But he’s very smart, a very good football coach. He’s a good communicator with the players. I think all the [Denver] players you’d talk to, all those guys loved working with him. And Peyton. His success with Adam speaks for itself.
“I think it’s about being a better person than coach. And he gives everybody an opportunity to help the team win.”
And that involves bringing to Chicago what Gase learned in Denver working with McCoy, Manning and others.
“When he first got here he went through his relationship with Peyton and how it worked throughout the week and in the offseason and what Peyton liked, what Peyton didn’t like,” Cutler said. “You’re talking about a lot of experience there and a lot of success. I think Adam had a good feel and picked his brain pretty clean over the last three years. That’s been able to help me too.”