Jay Cutler not afraid to sacrifice his body to lead Bears


Jay Cutler not afraid to sacrifice his body to lead Bears

Jay Cutler is a different quarterback in 2015.

Yes, he still throws off his back foot from time-to-time. Some things will never change.

But what has changed is Cutler's offensive coordinator, and it could be the best thing to happen to him since his arrival to Chicago from the Mile-High City in 2009.

Dialing it down to more of a conservative-based offensive attack which masks some of Cutler's flaws and relies more on game-management, Cutler is thriving in Year 1 of offensive coordinator Adam Gase's system.

And no further proof of that was more evident than in Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings in which Cutler delivered his second-best passer rating of the year (94.4) by completing 22-of-33 passes for 211 yards and going turnover-free for the first time in 2015. In addition to his solid performance, Cutler matched Sid Luckman's franchise record of 137 touchdowns with a first half touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.

[BEARS GRADES: Cutler makes solid plays, team fails to finish

If it wasn't for a late-game collapse by the Bears defense, Cutler would have notched his third game-winning fourth quarter drive of the season, and while it didn't technically go down as another late-game comeback, Cutler once again showed his affinity for stepping up in crunch time as he continued to earn the respect from the coaching staff and the other 52 members of the locker room.

"Another ballsy effort by Jay," Bears starting right tackle Kyle Long said. "Some exceptional throws and catches by our guys on the back end. Tremendous job finishing there at the goal line. Speaks to the kind of person he is and the kind of player he is."

If playing behind an offensive line which only had one remaining Week 1 starter still in place (Long at RT) and left guard Matt Slauson making his first career NFL start at center wasn't enough of adjustment for Cutler, how about losing Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte to a knee injury in the second half?

Still, Cutler rolled with the punches and delivered for the Bears. Cutler led a 14-play, 74-yard scoring drive that he capped off by his first rushing touchdown of the season. Cutler appeared to have a myriad of running room toward the right pylon, but instead decided to cut his run inside and deliver a shoulder on Vikings safety Harrison Smith to plow into the end zone for the score.

The toughness Cutler showed on that play wasn't lost on his teammates.

"It's always exciting when Jake makes a run," Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said. "When he lowers the shoulder you get revved up, but at the same time you're like 'Dude, what's up?' I was like 'I think you can beat him to the pylon, but I think you caught him off guard when you cut it up because he thought you could beat him to the pylon too.'

"It was always fun seeing him. He plays at max effort every single week. You know, he catches a lot of flack all the time, but the guy just goes out there every single week and gives it every thing he has. That's the only thing you can ask for from your quarterback and he's making plays, making runs, making throws, making checks, he's doing everything. He's playing phenomenal for us right now and I'm very proud of him. It's very fun to be out there with him and watching the success that he's been having at quarterback."

[MORE BEARS: Bears blow fourth quarter lead, fall to Vikings in final seconds]

Cutler's touchdown also inspired one of the leaders of the Bears defense.

"That was awesome," said Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who followed up with a sack on the next play from scrimmage after Cutler's touchdown. "He sold out his body for the team. Jay is one of our leaders and everybody respects him. That's what leaders do. They sell out their body for the team."

Although his run had the sidelines buzzing, Cutler admitted afterward that he may seek a different angle on his next scramble.

"Do I remember it? Yeah. Me on 22, I don't know. He might have won that one.

"I instantly regretted it. I'm thinking the shortest distance is a straight line. I knew the situation and wanted to get a score. It was me on him and ultimately we got the touchdown so I can't regret it too much.

"I mean I felt fine. I'm not used to those types of collisions, let's be honest. That's not something I want to make a living doing but you get over it pretty quickly whenever you get the touchdown and you get some endorphins going so I was okay."

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

Following Cutler's go-ahead touchdown run, the Vikings immediately answered when Teddy Bridgewater connected with rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs for a 40-yard score to tie the game.

The stage was set for Cutler to get the Bears in position for a second-straight Robbie Gould game-winning field goal at Soldier Field, but what didn't happen may have shown just how much Cutler has grown as a leader this season.

Filling in for the injured Forte, rookie running back Jeremy Langford got open for what looked like it was going to be an easy reception to move the chains on a crucial third-down play. Cutler hit Langford between the numbers, but the rookie looked up field before securing the catch and dropped the ball. The Bears were forced to punt and the Vikings were the ones celebrating a game-winning field goal just minutes later.

Dejected after not making the catch to extend the drive, Langford was consoled by Cutler.

"He's going to be a heck of player for us," Cutler said. "I told him that one play doesn't win or lose a football game. I don't care what game it is and that one didn't win or lose our game."

Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

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Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

Every team will try to scheme against what its opponent does best. Not every team does it as well as Bill Belichick consistently has in his Hall of Fame tenure as the coach of the New England Patriots. 
This is what Belichick is famous for, beyond the five Super Bowl trophies and historic partnership with Tom Brady. That thing your team’s offense does best? He’s going to take it away. 
That can create a mental challenge for an opposing coach during the week. Do you focus on doing something other than what your offense does best because Belichick is going to identify and scheme against it, or do you try to accentuate what you do best so it can’t be taken away? 
“That’s that whole chasing the cat’s tail thing,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “All of the sudden you start out-thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck?’ That’s the mystique, and that’s what they do. They’ve earned that over time because of the success they’ve had. 
“When you don’t go too crazy with that and balance it and control what you can control. Then in the end, win, lose or draw, no matter what, you at least feel good you approached it the right way, and you weren’t, ‘Oh shoot, I should have done this. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.’”
When Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons faced the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, everybody on that team knew Belichick would do what he could to take Julio Jones out of the game. But that didn’t make preparations any easier. 
“We knew he was going to take away Julio, but we didn’t know how he was going to do it,” Gabriel said. “So it’s just just something you kind of have to adjust to when you get in the game.”
Jones only had four catches in that game, and the Falcons were able to quickly adjust to how he was taken away — though it wasn’t enough to keep them from a historic collapse and ultimate overtime loss. 
Tight end Dion Sims played New England eight times during his four years with the Miami Dolphins, and came away with a healthy respect for the scheme and the players on that defense. 
“They’re fundamentally sound, they got good coaching over there, a good staff,” Sims said. “You gotta be prepared because they come out and they play their ass off.” 
But what should give the Bears confidence they can mentally and physically beat New England’s defense?
1. The Patriots’ defense isn’t what it once was
The way Bears coaches and players have talked about New England’s defense this week has been with reverence and respect. But lately, the Patriots’ defense production hasn’t quite equalled its reputation. 
Maybe it started with Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs launching 42 points and over 500 yards of offense against New England in 2017’s nationally-televised season opener. Maybe Super Bowl LII, in which the Philadelphia Eagles ripped off 41 points with a backup quarterback, was another turning point. Or maybe the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, which looked more like a Big 12 game than an NFL game, further chipped away at that mystique. 
New England’s defense heads to Chicago ranked 18th in points allowed (24.7) and has allowed 400 or more yards of offense in four of six games this year. They’re 19th in defensive DVOA, though Pro Football Focus’ grades do peg this group fourth, behind only the Bears, Rams and Eagles. 
What this defense does well is take the ball away, with eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries critical in propping up a defense that isn’t good on third down (44 percent conversion rate, 25th) or in the red zone (68 percent, 26th). But as long as the Bears' ball security is better than its two-turnovers-inside-the-five-yard-line showing in Miami on Sunday, an offense that scored 48 and 28 points in its last two games should be in good shape. 
2. Multiple weapons
How Belichick schemes against a Bears offense that’s been explosive and productive in its last two weeks will be fascinating to see on Sunday. Maybe it’ll be Tarik Cohen, who Belichick said is “a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.” Maybe it’ll be making sure Taylor Gabriel doesn’t beat them deep (“The execution on that was like 99 out of 100,” Belichick said of Mitch Trubisky’s 54-yard deep ball to Gabriel against Miami). Or maybe it’ll be dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, spying Trubisky and forcing the second-year Bears quarterback to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. 
This goes back to the guessing game, though, and it’s one the Bears can’t allow themselves to play. 
“I think you can spend too much time on that,” Nagy said. “I look at that and I think I've said it before, it can be kind of like chasing the cat's tail. You've got to be careful of that and when you just start worrying about what you do — and of course here or there you might so something a little bit different — but if you just start doing things different because of one coach, now you've stopped worrying about just controlling what you can control and I haven't found too much success with that.”
The good news for the Bears, though, is they seem to have the multitude of weapons necessary to have success against a Belichick defense. Kansas City showed it on Sunday — when the Patriots took away Kelce, Kareem Hunt racked up 185 yards from scrimmage, while Tyreek Hill gouged New England for 142 yards on seven catches with three touchdowns.
So if the plan is to take away Cohen, that could lead to opportunities for Gabriel, or vice versa. Or if the plan is to drop seven or eight into coverage, that would give Jordan Howard an opportunity to carve out yards on the ground.  
“They utilize all their players, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, the quarterback, they all have production, so if you take one away, they just go to the next guy, and that’s hard to defend,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of options on some of those plays, which guy is going to end up with the ball based on a quarterback’s decision, if it’s a check-with me type of play, bubbles and look passes and RPOs and things like that, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right decision and Trubisky’s done a good job of that. I think all those things, they keep getting better and they’re hard to defend.”
3. History repeating itself
In Nagy’s only meeting with New England as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his offense scored 42 points — and that’s a number that has resonated in the Bears’ locker room and practice fields this week.  
“You have to go into this game with confidence and know that we’re playing against a great group of guys who’ve been there, been to the Super Bowl and then they also have Tom Brady on the other side,” Sims said. “It’s important that we capitalize on everything and try to be mistake-free.” 
“What the defense is giving you is what the offense will take — what good offenses will do,” Gabriel said. “I feel like we have those type of minds up there in the booth and on the field with us to figure out what those guys are doing and how we want to attack it.”
The Bears’ offense is young, from the coach to offensive coordinator to most of the players that populate it. Beating New England, even if its defense isn’t what it used to be, would send a message around the league that the Bears are for real. Until the Patriots are dethroned in consecutive years, or even finish a season with fewer than, say, 12 wins, they’re still the Patriots.  
But while this team is young, it does have a handful of guys who’ve competed against New England on some of the NFL’s biggest stages. So expect guys like Gabriel, Burton and even Nagy to not allow this team to let facing the Patriots become daunting on Sunday. 
“It’s not difficult at all,” Gabriel said of avoiding thinking about that mystique. “Just like this team, we have the weapons to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups. I don’t care what defense you are, you’re going to have a one-on-one matchup somewhere unless you’re dropping everybody. So as long as you’re staying the pace and being confident in what you’re doing, I feel like we’ll be okay.” 

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

The Bears were getting used to life in the big chair. Chicago was favored in each of their last four games, but it all came crashing down at the hands of Brock Osweiler in overtime last week.

The Miami Dolphins pulled off the upset, and now the Bears return home to take on one of the best teams in the league.

Even if they had won in Miami, Chicago likely still would have been underdogs to the New England Patriots on Sunday, but as it stands, Bill Belichick and company are favored by three on most major sportsbooks, according to Vegas Insider.

The line initially opened at Patriots by 2.5, but it would seem that money placed on New England pushed the spread a little more in the Bears’ favor.

Vegas is expecting another higher-scoring game for both teams, with the over/under sitting at 49. Given that the Patriots have scored at least 38 points in each of their last three games, the Bears’ defense may have some trouble keeping this game low on the scoreboard.

In Week 6, home underdogs went 4-1 against the spread and 3-2 straight up. According to Bet America, home underdogs have covered in 20 of their 30 games this season, which bodes well for a Bears team facing a tough task at Soldier Field.