The word choice was more than a little interesting:
Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase was working with quarterback Jay Cutler, all part of the early going in a relationship that will have major implications for both careers longer-term. The conversations ranged over Gase’s offensive plans and philosophies, the kinds of talks Cutler has had with four previous Bears coordinators after his beginnings with Mike Shanahan in Denver.
One Cutler reaction was noteworthy:
“He's worked with a couple different guys; the good thing is, he's heard a few things that I say,” Gase said last weekend. “He'll look at me and kind of, 'That's a little Martz’ist right there’.”
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“Martz’ist” – recalling former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz from 2010-2011 – may be a very good thing for a quarterback still seeking the level of performance he and the NFL expected from a No. 11 pick of the 2006 draft. And it provides an interesting early impression of what Gase may have planned for his quarterbacks and offense.
For all of Martz’s sometimes-out-of-step approaches – seven-step drops, vertical routes, no-help protections, pass-first game plans, strict play calling – Cutler had the most successful stretch of his NFL career under Martz.
The Bears were 10-5 plus 1-1 in the playoffs in Cutler starts in 2010. With the 7-3 start in 2011 before Cutler’s broken thumb against the San Diego Chargers Cutler’s interception rate under Martz was 3.0 percent, nearly identical with his rate in his Pro Bowl 2008 season and all three seasons under Shanahan, and the best of his time in Chicago. For purposes of perspective, no quarterback other than Cincinnati's Andy Dalton got his team into the playoffs with an INT rate higher than Cam Newton's 2.7, and Dalton's Bengals future is tenuous after his 1:6 TD-to-INT ratio in four straight first-round playoff losses.
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Since Cutler apparently did not run screaming from the room at hearing “Martz’ist” notions, one conclusion is that Gase does not plan dropping Cutler seven steps deep and in constantly in harm’s way.
More likely is that Gase will simplify Cutler’s options the way Martz did. Martz’s limitations may have had Cutler chafing but some of that was due to Martz’s unwillingness to move Cutler and the pocket. And Cutler’s decision-making has been more suspect than his talent.
“What were you thinking?”
One of the overarching problems the most recent coaching staff had with Cutler was understanding how the Bears quarterback thought. Decisions ranging from play calls to target selections confirmed one of the opinions held in some quarters of the NFL, that Cutler is simply not an accomplished decision-maker, particularly under pressure. One sure way to negate or subvert talent is to aim it in the wrong direction, and that happened too often over the past couple of seasons, sources explained.
Film-room questions such as “What were you seeing on that one?” didn’t always elicit clear answers or ones that made sense in the particular circumstances.
Gase solicited insights from a number of Cutler’s former coaches (who were not universally down on their sometimes-wayward quarterback, sources said), will curtail Cutler’s options by way of audibles, for instance.
Gase had met Cutler earlier in their careers and noticed immediate differences in the quarterback.
“He’s lost weight,” Gase said, laughing. “He looks good. He’s so mature now compared to what he probably was then. When you get married and you got two kids right now, you change over time and between the good and bad things that happen over your career. I think this is his 10th year. I mean, a lot of ups and downs.
“I think he’s ready for a fresh start.”
His fifth, and presumably last (start, not necessarily season), in Chicago.