Bears Grades: Jay Cutler nails nearly perfect game


Bears Grades: Jay Cutler nails nearly perfect game

In what was perhaps his finest all-around game, certainly as a Chicago Bear, Jay Cutler played what approached a perfect game. Statistically. Leadership-wise. Coordination-wise with coordinator Adam Gase. Win-wise.
“He continues to kind of amaze me with what we are doing and how hard he works out,” said coach John Fox. “Obviously, we are all evaluated by how we execute on Sunday. It is up there as one of our better games as a team.”
Cutler completed 19 of 24 passes for 258 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, all for a passer rating of 151.0. He was the epitome of consistency, completing 12 of 15 in the first half, seven of nine in the second, and even threw in a 26-yard scramble as his contribution to the Bears’ 153 rushing yards.
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And it was not simply his own execution. The overarching element to Cutler’s game in the 37-13 win over the St. Louis Rams was his making teammates better with his play and his leading.
“Being around him, this is the most comfortable I’ve seen him, the most fun I’ve seen him have,” said tight end Zach Miller. “He’s on the money, playing great football, stepping up and being a leader, and having fun.”
Cutler had Jeffery and Wilson in single coverage in the Rams end zone on consecutive snaps in the first quarter but was late getting the ball to Wilson, who did Cutler no favors with a soft break out of his route that failed to create any separation.
But outside of those, Cutler’s execution was crisp on precision-based plays, with screen passes and pitch outs put in proper position for Jeremy Langford to take balls in rhythm and stay in stride, key against a defense with speed and closing ability.
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Cutler turned in the longest run of the game when he took off through a gaping hole in the middle of the Rams pass rush and covered 26 yards before opting to slide down rather than risk a tackle from behind.
“I don’t feel like I did that much,” Cutler said. “I think the offensive line did a great job controlling the ball in the second half. I think some guys on the outside made some plays. Against a front like that and a secondary like that, very rarely are you going to get some ‘chunk’ plays like that.
“I think they had only given up a couple [plays] past 25 yards all year long. You’ve got to give guys [receivers] on the outside credit; they didn’t back down. Up front, we knew it was going to be a physical game against a really talented team.”


Moon's Grade: A+


Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

The Chicago Bears selected inside linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the expectation that he'll become an immediate starter and impact player on defense. But, was there a need at inside linebacker?

According to Pro Football Focus, Nick Kwiatkoski, who Chicago selected in the fourth round of 2016's draft, was a standout performer last season. He ranked third in the NFL among inside linebackers in run-stop percentage and was fourth-best in pass-rush productivity.

Kwiatkoski also wasn’t tagged for a missed tackle against the run all season. He still has to share time on the field with Danny Trevathan and newly-drafted Roquan Smith, but should be able to capitalize on a great sophomore year after being drafted in the fourth round from West Virginia in 2016. Overall, Kwiatoski was graded as the NFL’s 12th best inside linebacker, higher than both Spaight and Hitchens.

His 21.0 pass-rush productivity ranked fourth and came on the heels of his rookie season in which he ranked 10th in the same category in 2016.

Kwiatkoski didn't receive much fanfare last season but the analytics speak for themselves. He started six games (appeared in 11) and registered career highs in tackles (34) and sacks (two). He's an ascending player but his growth is likely to be stunted by Smith's presence. 

Chicago could view Kwiatkoski as the heir to Danny Trevathan's starting job. The Bears can move on from Trevathan with little consequence at season's end. His dead cap number drops to just $1.25 million in 2019. Kwiatkoski will be in the final year of his contract that season (2019), and if he hasn't earned a starting job by then, he's a near lock to sign elsewhere when his rookie contract expires. 

Kwiatkoski has proven he can produce when given a chance to play, something 31 other teams have certainly taken notice of.

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

If the Chicago Bears want to make a real run at the playoffs in 2018, the offensive line will have to do its part by keeping QB Mitch Trubisky upright. The offense is expected to be more pass-heavy under coach Matt Nagy and will depend on Trubisky having time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the open target.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help that cause. He's universally praised as one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport and will be charged with getting a better effort from a unit that ended last season ranked in the bottom-third of pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.


2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Josh Sitton, 97.4

Because of several crippling injuries, nine different players saw at least 100 pass-block snaps for the Bears in 2017. They gave up 152 pressures on 536 passing plays. The top performance came from left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who enjoyed the best season of his career and allowed just 24 pressures all season. Heading into the 2018 campaign, rookie guard James Daniels is penciled in to fill the shoes of the recently departed pass-blocking star Josh Sitton. Daniels performed well in pass protection during his final college season, allowing just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa.

The Bears will be without last season's top pass-protector, Josh Sitton, who was let go by GM Ryan Pace this offseason and signed with the Dolphins. 

Pass protection was once all about the play of the offensive tackles, but with the NFL's interior defensive linemen evolving into disruptive forces up the middle, guard play will be nearly as important. A healthy Kyle Long is critical. Chicago can't afford growing pains from James Daniels, either. Cody Whitehair returns to full-time center duties, a role he excelled at during his rookie season. 

Charles Leno should provide reliable play at left tackle. Bobby Massie remains a wildcard, but with little depth behind him, the Bears can do nothing more than hope his bad reps are limited in 2018.

With Hiestand in the fold and a healthy Long ready to compete at a high level again, the Bears' offensive line should be much improved this season.