Bears hoping to avoid familiar problem as Jay Cutler returns from thumb injury

Bears hoping to avoid familiar problem as Jay Cutler returns from thumb injury

While the trade that brought Jay Cutler from Denver to Chicago was widely celebrated — “Pro Bowl” is a voted-on award, not something won, but at least the Bears were getting a quarterback who’d been to one of those — the thinking inside the organization was guarded.

Cutler was not looked upon as a savior-type quarterback, a Tom Brady-Ben Roethlisberger-Aaron Rodgers type who could lift up a team and pass it to success, sources within personnel said then, and now. He was both a complimentary player and one who needed complimentary players for him and his team to be successful.

That evaluation has persisted, which could be considered concerning as Cutler returns from five games missed with a thumb injury, coming into a team that has lost one starting wideout (Kevin White), has its top nickel receiver down (Eddie Royal) and is unsure whether it will have either or both of its Pro Bowl guards (Kyle Long, Josh Sitton).

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has described his philosophy of the quarterback position, that one of its chief tasks is to have the other 10 members of the huddle performing at their best. That’s difficult enough when Cutler is healthy, even more challenging when multiple other members of the huddle are unknown or missing altogether.

“We’ve got to make sure of the guys around him, who’s going to be playing and who’s not, and make sure that we put Jay in a good position,” Loggains said. “We’ve got to make sure that we protect him and allow him to do some of the things that he does well and I don’t think there are any limitations.

“He has a skill set that allows him to do pretty much whatever we need to do. If it’s move the pocket if it’s drop back, throw quick game, getting empty, whatever that is.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Cutler’s skill set has never been an issue, however. More often it was how he focused those skills. Monday night against a Minnesota Vikings defense among the NFL’s best, while Cutler is potentially without so many of those key complimentary players, will challenge his focus.

“Yeah,” he said with a small smile, “coulda picked a different game to come come back, huh?”

Cutler’s improved play of last season grew out of his elimination of errors rather than him suddenly playing spectacularly. In his seven quarters this season, however, the offense turned the football over four times vs. the defense managing just one takeaway.

Not all of the giveaways were Cutler’s doing. But using Loggains’ dictum, the need is for Cutler to enhance what everyone else is doing.

Loggains and then-coordinator Adam Gase went into Cutler’s history, to the point of reaching out to Cutler’s former (failed) coaches to find out any common thread to his mistakes.

“Even when we got here, we went through all his tape,” Loggains said. “We went back far. He and I sat down and watched all of his touchdown passes, all the interceptions, all the fumbles. There were a couple fundamental things we were able to fix.

“When it comes to turnovers, when you tell a guy who is about to go sink a putt, ‘Hey, don’t leave it short’ what’s he going to do? He’s going to leave it short. So we don’t really talk about turnovers. We talk about the fundamentals, making sure that we’re good with our eyes, making sure we keep two hands on the ball in the pocket and work those drills to continue to improve those fundamentals.”

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context


Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:


On the Bears’ season as a whole:


“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”


On Mitch Trubisky:


“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”


On Tarik Cohen’s usage:


“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.


“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”


On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:


“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”


On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:


“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.


“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”


On Matt Nagy:


“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.


“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.


“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”


While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:


“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”


One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.


The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.


But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: