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.”
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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.”