Jay Cutler just might need the freedom to call his own plays
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org October 13, 2012 7:55PM
Jay Cutler, D'Anthony Smith
OCT. 22 Lions, 7:30, ESPN
OCT. 28 Panthers, Noon, Fox-32
NOV. 4 at Titans, Noon, Fox-32
NOV. 11 Texans, 7:20, Ch. 5
NOV. 19 at 49ers, 7:30, Ch. 26, ESPN
NOV. 25 Vikings, Noon, Fox-32
DEC. 2 Seahawks, Noon, Fox-32
DEC. 9 at Vikings, Noon, Fox-32
DEC. 16 Packers, Noon, Fox-32
DEC. 23 at Cardinals, 3:25, Fox-32
DEC. 30 at Lions, Noon, Fox-32
Updated: November 15, 2012 6:42AM
NFL quarterbacks no longer call their own plays like they did in the 1960s and ’70s, mainly because offensive and defensive coordinators have spent the last four decades engaged in a game of Spy vs. Spy — trying to outsmart each other by overthinking a sport literally based on X’s and O’s. They’ve turned a game of checkers into three-dimensional chess.
Terry Bradshaw used to call his own plays. But Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t? I rest my case.
Few quarterbacks in recent years have been allowed to call their own plays, and almost none of them have been given that luxury until they are on a fast track to Canton.
The Bears’ Jay Cutler isn’t headed to the football Hall of Fame yet (though his arm might get there without even having to wait five years after Cutler’s retirement). But Cutler might be a rare exception who would benefit by operating an NFL offense that gives him as much latitiude as possible in today’s game to do his own thing.
As talented as Cutler is, he thrives more than most on being in rhythm and being in charge. He doesn’t suffer fools — or anybody or anything — gladly. Don’t forget, the only reason he’s here in the first place is because he was miffed that Josh McDaniels was interested in Matt Cassel.
The complicated nature of play-calling in the NFL that prevents Cutler from calling his own plays also causes its own problems. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice, a first-year play-caller, relays his call to quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who gives the play to Cutler. If it gets there too late, it’s a problem. How many times have we seen an irritated Cutler walking back to the sideline after calling timeout because the play clock was running down?
‘‘If we don’t have enough time to operate the line of scrimmage, it does hurt us in some instances,’’ Tice said. ‘‘We’re getting better at it.’’
The more Cutler can cut out the middle men, the better. The more Cutler can exist in his own little world, the better.
And as nonsensical as it might be to ask a quarterback to call his own plays today, Tice gave an indication he sees merit in the idea of at least heading in that direction.
Asked why quarterbacks no longer call their own plays, Tice said, ‘‘Because they don’t sit in meetings on Monday and Tuesday night and put the game plan in.’’ But without hesitating, he added, ‘‘We did have some no-huddle [against Jacksonville] where we gave Jay some really, really good chances to do ‘either/or,’ and I thought he did a great job with the no-huddle. It was the most extensive that we had. It was another drive that stalled when we had something going, but we’re going to do more of that. We like him managing the no-huddle.’’
The Bears have invested so much already in Cutler. At last count, it’s two first-round draft picks, more than $30 million through 2013, the acquisition of Brandon Marshall, the firing of Mike Martz, the hiring of Jeremy Bates and the promotion of Tice. They’ve gone this far. It might pay off to go one step further.
The Bears would rather have their bye week closer to the middle of the season. But having the bye in Week 6 doesn’t necessarily make their road to the playoffs harder.
The four teams in last season’s conference championship games all had their byes in Week 7 or earlier — the Giants (Week 7), Patriots (Week 7), 49ers (Week 7) and Ravens (Week 5).
Three of the last four Super Bowl winners have had their bye in Week 7 or earlier — the Giants in 2012, the Saints in 2010 (Week 5) and the Steelers in 2008 (Week 6).
Of the 20 teams in the conference championship games over the last five seasons, 14 had their bye in Week 7 or earlier.
The Bears already have negotiated a schedule that has included three road games and two prime-time games. They play six of their next nine games at Soldier Field.
But the second half of their schedule appears loaded: the Texans (5-0), Vikings (4-1), Seahawks (3-2) and Packers (2-3) at home and the 49ers (4-1), Vikings (4-1), Cardinals (4-1) and Lions (1-3) on the road.
WOOTTON DISCOVERING FAST TRACK
Corey Wootton had perhaps the toughest chore of any unestablished Bears player coming into this season. He was injured most of last season. He wasn’t a favorite of the coaching staff. And the Bears targeted his position with their first-round draft pick.
But Wootton has helped give the Bears an even better rotation on the defensive line than they probably thought they would get this season. Wootton, who was injured early in training camp in 2010 and played in seven games, already has three sacks, including one against the Jaguars last week that forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered.
On that play and at least one other, he ‘‘got off the snap’’ so quickly, he looked like he was offsides. He’s either getting faster or smarter.
‘‘I think it’s a little bit of everything,’’ the third-year pro from Northwestern said. ‘‘I definitely get faster every week. I’m watching film of [Olympic sprinter] Usain Bolt, trying to get off [the line].’’
The more he plays, the better he gets. The Bears insist they have rookie Shea McClellin pegged as an every-down defensive end. But if Wootton keeps up that pace of development, he could give the Bears room to transition McClellin into more of a stand-up role and eventually a linebacker.
Brian Urlacher isn’t done yet. But barring a sudden rejuvenation at 34 with a bum knee, the day when the Bears need an upgrade at middle linebacker appears sooner rather than later.
The Bears’ defense is sixth in the NFL in total yards allowed (291 per game), fourth in yards allowed per play (4.7), second in rushing yards allowed (66), first in interceptions (13), seventh in sacks per pass play and fourth in third-down efficiency (29 percent).
Last season at this time, they ranked 29th, 30th, 28th, 24th, 28th and 13th in those respective categories.
But the defense’s most impressive statistic is the one that counts the most — points allowed. The Bears are second in the NFL in overall points allowed (71), but the defense has allowed only 54 (the Colts scored a touchdown on an interception return; the Packers scored on a fake field goal). That leads the NFL.
And with 35 points scored on five touchdowns on interception returns, the Bears have allowed a net of 22 points in five games (4.4 per game). The next best in net points allowed are the Ravens (10.6), 49ers (10.8) and Texans (10.8).