Bears

Bears: Gase's changes to Jay Cutler's game more significant in hindsight

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Bears: Gase's changes to Jay Cutler's game more significant in hindsight

BOCA RATON, Fla. – The improvements quarterback Jay Cutler made in his game during the 2015 season are well documented: best passer rating of his 10-year career, tied for best yards per attempt, second best completion percentage.

But the size of Cutler’s step forward was greater than most realized even at the time.

It began with then-offensive coordinator Adam Gase canvassing a number of Cutler’s former coaches to find out something, anything, as to how Cutler thought.

Because as coaches told Gase, they weren’t always sure, particularly when Cutler was under pressure and forced into sped-up decision-making.

Gase processed the information and the sign of what was to come began unfolding in training camp. As CSNChicago.com reported at the time, the one-time interception machine went practice after practice, the first 11 in all, without throwing an interception, whether in full-team sessions, seven-on-sevens or anywhere.

What that told Gase was that something in his quarterback, even with a new offensive system and what would be a revolving door of wide receivers to throw to, had changed that had baffled so many of his previous mentors.

Cutler went on to post the second-lowest interception percentage of his career, coinciding with an overall directive that ran contrary to his nature as a big-throwing quarterback.

“We were trying to shorten the game up (in Chicago), and that’s what everything called for,” Gase said on Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “When you’re told, ‘go eight or nine possessions,’ (instead of the NFL average of 12 per game), it’s hard to hold back sometimes when you’re trying to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.”

(Note: The Bears did in fact hold time-of-possession edges in both their meetings with Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers last season)

“A lot of it has to do with – and I know you’re not going to believe this – (Cutler) doing a great job of being patient,” Gase said. “I know that was hard for him in the past. But he really had a great mindset going into the season.

“It started in training camp where I think he went 11 practices before he threw an interception. He did a great job of practicing taking care of the football and he didn’t force throws. For him to do that, he gave me the feeling that we were headed in the right direction.”

[WATCH: Kyle Long, Bobby Massie get to work together for Bears]

Gase remembered when the pick-free practices count reached eight or nine, thinking that Cutler had indeed internalized the change. “The narrative for some people was, ‘Oh, it’s just practice,’” Gase recalled, “But then he carried it over into games.”

Cutler had developed a reputation for “patting the ball,” holding it while waiting for receivers to come cleanly free and resulting in sacks. Despite the constant upheaval at receiver due to injuries, and dealing with lower-tier receivers who simply don’t get open as well, Cutler stayed on message.

The interception reduction in training camp was only part and the beginning of the story.

“When we got in games, he did a good job and very rarely made mistakes,”Gase said. “As the season went on and he got more comfortable, it really came together. He knew exactly where he was supposed to go with the ball, didn’t hold onto it long, and he really did a good job knowing exactly where the ball should go and getting it out.”

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

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USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

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USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

Take a look over the NFC landscape and try to find me a team that can compete with the Rams. 

Packers? Held back by Rodgers' knee and Rodgers' coach. Saints? Might not even win their own division. Washington? Does Alex Smith really scare anyone in the playoffs? 

The Rams have one of the easier paths to the Championship Round/Super Bowl that we've seen in some time. Will it likely stay that way? Probably not. But there's a difference between parity and mediocrity and right now the NFC is toeing the line HARD. 

Outside the NFC's "elite", how did your team do this week? 

You can take a look here and see where they landed.