'State of Jay Cutler' still a question for Bears going into Week 2


'State of Jay Cutler' still a question for Bears going into Week 2

It rarely serves to spend excessive energy or time looking at the past (“cowards and losers” notwithstanding). But sometimes the past indeed holds foreshadowings of what’s to come.

So it may be with Jay Cutler, whose bosses have changed far more and more often than he has over the past six seasons as a Bear and the three before that in Denver. Improvements have occurred, but almost unfailingly have been followed by regressions to the mean. Meaning: Cutler has returned to his base course of excessive reliance on supposed physical talents, innate aggressiveness and, unfortunately shaking decision-making under pressure.

When Bears coordinator Adam Gase arrived, much background-checking was done to ascertain what made Cutler tick, or stop ticking. The result was a strategy, not of truncating game plans or plays, but what Cutler was going to be needed to do, beyond the obvious No. 1 of making winning plays the way a $126-million quarterback is required to do.

[MORE BEARS: Bears forming an identity, but what exactly is it?]

Against that backdrop came the first game for Cutler under the new scheme – and mindset – for the offense, and for him. With time to assess, the overall reveals some major progress in the development of Cutler, yet at the same time a sign of steps still needed to be taken.

The case study:

Gase stepped forward and took responsibility for the play call made last Sunday that resulted in the interception of Cutler by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

“The interception, that was a bad call into that defense,” Gase said on Thursday. “[Cutler] did what was asked of him and Clay made a good play.”

The only question would be whether the “bad call” was Cutler’s going to the Plan B he’d been given if the original play wasn’t there. But Gase was not ostensibly pointing the finger at his quarterback, who took his own responsibility for not seeing the back-side coverage coming in the person of Matthews.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Gase did not mention absolving Cutler of that mistake, nor of perhaps not getting the football out of his hands sooner. A Cutler fault-line over his career has a tendency to wait for receivers to be fully open before making throws. If it is Brandon Marshall in the open field against defensive backs, that’s one thing; trying to jam the football through traffic to Martellus Bennett, and not seeing the traffic (Matthews), is something else.

One thought is that Cutler is still thinking through all situations and has not reached the requisite instant-reaction point.

“I would say we're still thinking a little bit,” Cutler acknowledged. “I don't think it would be fair to say that all 11 guys including myself have everything hammered completely home. So we're still thinking a little bit.

“I think Adam does a great job during the week of really going through the plays that we like and going through everything that for the most part we're going to call. There's a few things that we'll talk about on the sideline that he does a good job with, if we do want to mix it up, of talking on the sideline and making sure everyone is on board.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.


Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.