Jay Cutler warns: Bears can’t get ahead of themselves
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter July 23, 2014 9:27PM
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Updated: August 25, 2014 5:54PM
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Jay Cutler has taken more than his share of grief as the most over-analyzed athlete in recent Chicago sports history. His facial expressions. His body language. His attitude. It seems like no matter what he says or doesn’t say and how he says or doesn’t say it, the conclusion — my conclusion, anyway — is often the same: This guy doesn’t get it.
But not this time. Cutler’s response to the excitement and anticipation of a “Greatest Show on Turf” offensive juggernaut this season was pitch perfect. Let’t not get too carried away too soon. This offense has a long way to go.
“We’re glad they’re excited,” Cutler said Wednesday after arriving at Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. “We try not to let it affect us. But obviously being out in the city and being around people you can tell how excited they are, now ready they are for this season.
“We can’t let that seep into our mindset. We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve got to take this camp seriously and get out of it as much as we can.”
Marc Trestman’s offense was a revelation to Bears fans last season. The Bears set franchise records for total net yards (6,109), passing yards (4,281), passing touchdowns (32), first downs (344) and passer rating (96.9) and were second in points scored (445, behind only the 1985 Super Bowl team).
But despite that production, there were few points in the season where the Bears’ offense looked like an unstoppable machine that could score at will. They scored 30 or more points six times, but none came against a playoff team. And only the Steelers (a 40-23 victory) and Lions (a 40-32 loss) ranked in the upper half of the NFL in total defense, and just barely (the Steelers were 14th, the Lions 15th).
The Bears were great at scoring with the wind at their back. But when times were tough they looked like a work-in-progress. When the defense and special teams fell apart against the Eagles in Week 16 in Philly — with a chance to clinch the NFC North — the offense was caught in the undertow, gaining 257 feeble yards in 54-11 loss.
So Cutler typically — and accurately — downplayed the notion of guarding against overconfidence heading into 2014.
“We haven’t had a lot of success, so I don’t think it’s that hard,” Cutler said. “It’s not like we’re coming off a monster season after monster season. I still think this is a hungry group. There’s a lot left that we want to prove.”
Cutler, in fact, wasn’t even buying into the notion of being just plain confident heading into this season.
“I think you’ve got to be careful with that,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Every one in the NFL is confident right now. Everyone likes what they have on paper. That includes us. But that doesn’t guarantee us anything. We’ve still got to go out there and perform. We’ve got to get better each day.”
Cutler acknowledged the benefit of being in the same offense with the same coaching staff and most of the same players. It’s only the second time in his six seasons with the Bears he’s run the same offense in consecutive seasons.
“It should be fun,” he said. “We have a lot of guys back — a lot of consistency and rollover from last year. It’s going to make things easier. Adjustments should [take] less time, getting into camp and getting rolling.”
The Bears’ offense is opening training camp in the right frame of mind — with the idea that their success in 2013 earned them nothing. They’re starting from scratch — but with much better idea of what they’re building. That’s how an offense grows.
“There’s a lot of teams around this league that have studied our offense, too,” Trestman said. “They’re getting ready for us. And for us to get ready for them, we’ve got to go to work every day and … essentially start over. What we did is not necessarily indicative of where we’re going. It gives us an idea of what we can become. But it starts with work and focusing and keeping our feet on the ground and not getting ahead of ourselves. It’s not just something I’m saying to them. I hear them say it to each other — and that’s a really good sign.”
It all starts with Cutler, whose penchant for downplaying expectations for himself and the offense — previously a red flag — seems like the right note for an offense that is not yet as good as the numbers indicate.
“We go into the season feeling optimistic. A lot of things have got to happen,” Cutler said. “You’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to have a few breaks along the way. I don’t think we ever say, ‘Hey, this is our year,’ or “We have all the right pieces.’ You just never know.
“It doesn’t say it couldn’t be our year. It just means we can’t think about that. We’ve got to take it one practice at a time, one game at a time and in Week 16 we’ll see where we’re at.”