Second of a series
During the death spiral that was the 2014 season, the offensive coaching hierarchy of coach Marc Trestman and coordinator Aaron Kromer grew weary and wary of Jay Cutler’s play at quarterback. There had been more than a passing desire to stay with Josh McCown during his career year of 2013 but the decision was to return Cutler to No. 1.
Last year the frustration with Cutler was enough to bubble over from Kromer to an NFL reporter after the latest in a run of dismal performances. Cutler failed to top 80.0 passer rating in three of his last four games, the other one being against the Dallas Cowboys in which the Bears fell behind 35-7 after three quarters before Cutler posted a stat burst in garbage time.
A change to Jimmy Clausen was made after 14 games. The surprise of this season will be if the new coaching staff stays with Cutler through another 3-6 start.
“We’re in a performance-based business,” Fox has said. “I understand that and you have to perform.”
This is probably just coincidence — probably — but after his benching in favor of Clausen, Cutler had one of the only two games over his final nine without an interception. Meaning: Maybe a little job jolt is a good thing where Cutler is concerned.
Cutler will not have the general manager resolutely in his corner as he did with Phil Emery, who used words like “elite” and “franchise quarterback” to describe Cutler when not even the head coach or coordinator were so inclined.
For Clausen, why Chicago?
Best guess is that Clausen will post better preseason numbers than Cutler; backup quarterbacks frequently do, if only because they’re playing against backups.
But the Bears re-signed Clausen to a one-year deal for a reason, and Clausen chose Chicago over some other options.
“I just felt comfortable here,” Clausen said. “I came here, met with the coaches, and love the offense and what they’re planning to do.”
Exactly how the quarterback situation was presented to Clausen is between organization and player. But Kurt Warner chose to sign elsewhere when told that Rex Grossman was not going to be dislodged as the Bears’ starter. Clausen may not have had the options a Warner would have, but enough teams have unsettled quarterback situations such that he did not need to settle for one where the starter was untouchable.
“That’s not up to me; it’s up to the coaching staff,” Clausen said. “We’re just trying to get to where we go out there and play fast and react, not think too much.”
Two Cutler questions
Cutler has remained with the No. 1 offense through the offseason. No surprise there.
But word around the NFL is that new coordinator Adam Gase will be limiting Cutler’s audible options. Cutler’s decision-making was a major issue with the previous staff, and that weakness in his game and makeup contributed to the interceptions that have come to define him as a quarterback.
Not entirely coincidentally, Cutler’s best quarterbacking stretch as a Bear came in 2010-11, with Mike Martz as his coordinator. The two increasingly clashed, in part because Martz did not allow extensive audibling, but Cutler’s career-low interception rate (2.2 percent) came in his 10 games of 2011 before the season-ending broken thumb.
The previous year Cutler threw seven TD passes and seven INT’s through his first six games under Martz. When Lovie Smith intervened and directed that the offense become more balanced, Cutler threw 16 TD passes vs. nine INT’s.
Fox’s history is that his offense will have balance, taking some pressure off his quarterback. Whoever that is.
The first question is how Cutler will take to a system and coordinator without the play calling freedom he exercised. He annually says the right things about his new bosses, but rarely have things worked to a playoff level. He has some familiarity with Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, but he had history with Jeremy Bates and that netted nothing.
|Year||Off. Coordinator||QB coach|
|2008||Mike Shanahan||Jeremy Bates|
|2009||Ron Turner||Pep Hamilton|
|2010-11||Mike Martz||Shane Day|
|2012||Mike Tice||Jeremy Bates|
|2013-14||Aaron Kromer||Matt Cavanaugh|
|2015||Adam Gase||Dowell Loggains|
Still Cutler’s job to lose
Bears senior management said early this offseason that the incoming GM and coach were not locked into Cutler because of contract commitments. The organization did put itself on the hook last March for $15 million this year and $10 million in 2016.
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But “it’s all an open competition,” Fox said. “Obviously you’ve got to start somewhere and my experience in football, really in anything, it’s not where you start a competition; it’s where you finish it… .
“I kind of have it in my brain and then they compete.”
That competition may not end even when the season opens in September.