When then-coordinator Aaron Kromer vented his frustrations over Jay Cutler to an NFL writer late last season, part of the exasperation lay in Cutler’s decision-making, that the Bears quarterback didn’t audible out of obvious bad plays among other issues.
Earlier this offseason, sources around the NFL told CSNChicago.com that new coordinator Adam Gase had reached out to a number of Cutler’s former coaches in an effort to find a key to what makes Cutler tick, how he thinks. Some echoed Kromer’s frustration, that they in fact couldn’t always get from Cutler a clear idea exactly what he had seen and decided when foul-ups had occurred.
The result was not Gase limiting the playbook or limiting Cutler per se, but establishing clearer, simpler rules and guidelines for a quarterback whose history of turnovers traced too often to faulty decisions. The solution wasn’t to limit the plays – one Cutler asset is in fact that there are few throws or plays he can’t execute – but to limit the scope of the decisions open to him beyond the initial play called.
And it appears to be agreeing with Cutler.
Marc Trestman gave the quarterback a wide range of options. Too many, in some opinions, as reflected in the fact that some coaches had wanted to stay with Josh McCown in 2013 because he ran the offense the way it was conceived, whereas Cutler, with the same offense, didn’t.
In the early going under Gase, with tighter guidelines, Cutler is flourishing: zero interceptions, 75 percent completion percentage, and a passer rating of 93.5. For the first time in memory, Cutler is using words like “efficient.”
More important, even learning his fifth offense under a fifth coordinator in his time with the Bears, Cutler is far from chafing at the parameters imposed by Gase.
“I feel comfortable,” Cutler said. “I think [Gase] is doing a really good job of making sure the quarterback's in good position.
“He gives us parameters and a little bit of flexibility with what we can do up there; it's not like we're just going out there and free-styling,” Cutler said. “We have some rules, and if you stay within those rules you're probably going to be successful. I feel good about it. I know we're heading in the right direction.”
That was not even remotely the early sentiment under coordinators Ron Turner and Mike Tice. And by the end of his time with Mike Martz, who all but eliminated audible’ing, Cutler was in open rebellion.
Not this time. Gase and the Bears determined that whatever had been the way with Cutler just wasn’t working; quarterbacks don’t lead the league in turnovers when systems are working.
The difference is perhaps that Cutler, a little older, maybe a little smarter, is accepting some of his own limitations and what he does and doesn’t do well. As he himself said, he’s not free-styling, and not all the options are coming from his own head.
“It's just different,” Cutler said. “As a quarterback it's hard to go out there and just call your own game. You're going to need somebody that's going to help you along and [Gase] does a great job of talking us through things, and being in the headset and giving us different options as we go.”