Bears

Bears problems at wide receiver producing 'better' Jay Cutler

jay-cutler-1026.png

Bears problems at wide receiver producing 'better' Jay Cutler

The health travails of Bears wide receivers — Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and, before that, Kevin White — have undercut some measure of the hoped-for development of an offense under coordinator Adam Gase that ideally would do some of the heavy lifting for a transitioning defense. What those problems did do, however, was quietly provide a forum and venue for a next step in the NFL life of one Jay Cutler.

From an apparent problem might have emerged a “solution.” Cutler has not completely exorcised all of his interception demons, but even those are showing signs of losing their death grip on his game. Significantly and perhaps coincidentally, certainly ironically, that might trace to what Cutler has had to do with a sometimes-makeshift receiver corps.

Put another way: Without the security-blanket catch radiuses of Brandon Marshall this season and Jeffery for most of the season, Cutler has had to raise his game. And he has.

He hasn’t always. For arguably too much of his early time in Chicago, Cutler was accorded considerable slack for performance lapses based on the perceived lack of “weapons” he had to work with in offenses under a succession of offensive coordinators and position coaches. “When you’re No. 1 receiver is Devin Hester/Johnny Knox, how can anyone expect you to do anything?” was the annual narrative.

(Remember Devin Aromashadu? Dane Sanzenbacher? Roy Williams?)

[MORE BEARS: Bears worried about 'safety of the building' in handling Jeremiah Ratliff]

Without Jeffery and Royal for extended stretches, Cutler has won games with Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani and Cameron Meredith taking as many as 75 percent of Bears offensive snaps in those games.

“It probably was a blessing in disguise,” quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said.

Cutler is completing 60.9 percent of his passes this season, inadequate by NFL standards. But that is a completion rate better than any of Cutler’s Bears seasons from 2009-2012. And that is without Jeffery, Marshall and Matt Forte on track to each average 85 passes as they did the past two seasons.

Even more importantly, Cutler’s interception percentage stands at 2.3 percent. Only in his injury shortened 2011 season (2.2 percent) saw Cutler as protective of the football.

Whether Cutler was not as careful when he had catch-machines Jeffery and Marshall operating together, or he wasn’t as confident with Hester, Knox, et al., is difficult to analyze. And not really as important as the effects of a depleted receiver group on Cutler.

“It’s made Jay step up, be a bigger part, bigger voice,” Loggains said. “He’s run meetings, been very vocal on what he expects from each individual and I think guys have responded well to him.”

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

Where the Cutler of five or so years ago routinely grew visibly frustrated and his throws more errant with lesser receivers running imprecise/outright wrong routes, the current iteration has been demanding yet patient, almost as if he were the father of two, soon-to-be-three young children (Wait. He is. Probably just coincidence).

The situation “probably made him a little more dialed-in,” Loggains said. “You take having veterans out there — with Alshon and Eddie and those guys — and he has to tell those guys, be more vocal with what he expects, his expectations of where those guys are supposed to be.”

For his part, Cutler does not dismiss or make light of the difficulties involved for everyone, from coordinator Gase on down the depth chart.

“It's hard,” Cutler admitted. “It's hard as a play-caller, especially when you don't know who you're going to have Sunday, who you're going to have available on a Wednesday and Thursday putting in plays, who's going to be up who's not going to be (active).

“But we're making do, (Gase) does a good job of kind of making these plays friendly for everybody and just moving pieces around.”

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

tb-bro.jpg
USA TODAY

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

truuub.jpg
USA TODAY

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

On Thursday, Brian Baldinger released another video clip on Twitter for his #BaldysBreakdowns series, this one praising the recent play from Bears QB Mitch Trubisky.

Baldinger states that Trubisky is "making some kind of jump", referring to how impressed he was with Trubisky's play when compared to his rookie season. 

In the video Baldinger explains in the video how you expect franchise QBs to make a big leap from year one to year two, and a big part of that leap for Trubisky is being unafraid to make aggressive throws downfield.

Baldinger highlighted a play where Trubisky hit Taylor Gabriel 47-yards down the field, choosing to trust his wideout after he hit him with perfect ball placement despite tight coverage. He continued this theme later on in the video, showing Trubisky's TD strike to Allen Robinson, which was whipped right past a Dolphins defender. 

But Baldinger's video wasn't exclusively compliments for Trubisky. He discussed Tarik Cohen's effectiveness as a pass-catcher, saying that you "can't cover him" and comparing him to a Ferrari with his ability to go from first to fifth gear "about as fast as anybody."

He ended his video by showing Trubisky punishing the Dolphins for a blown coverage, hitting rookie Anthony Miller in stride for a 29-yard TD. Baldinger's point in including this clip was to show Trubisky's improved recognition, as he may not have spotted the blown coverage last year. Noticing when and how to take advantage of defensive sloppiness is one of the many things that seperate a "franchise QB" from a stopgap, and Trubisky is trending in the right direction. 

If Baldinger's breakdown is any indication, we should expect Trubisky to keep his incredible momentum rolling when the Bears take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England is 3rd worst in the league in passing TDs allowed, giving up 15 scores through the air in six games.