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Ron Jaworski does about-face on Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler celebrates after throwing touchdown pass Earl Bennett Monday night against Eagles. | Nick Laham~Getty Images

Jay Cutler celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to Earl Bennett on Monday night against the Eagles. | Nick Laham~Getty Images

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SAFETY DANCE

Jay Cutler is pumped about the Bears’ improved pass protection.

3.4

sacks per game through the first five games (2-3)

1.0

sacks per game over the last three games (3-0)

Updated: February 26, 2012 6:43PM



When he turned on the film of the Eagles-Bears game Tuesday, ESPN Monday Night Football ­analyst Ron Jaworski marveled at Jay Cutler’s confidence and command.

“That comes from success,” Jaworski told the Sun-Times on Wednesday. “Jay has been outstanding, but it starts with the ­offensive line.

“I don’t know what Mike Tice is putting in their Gatorade, but they are playing very well.”

What a difference a month makes.

Before the Bears played the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Oct. 10, Jaworski expressed concern about the cumulative effect of the punishment Cutler was enduring because of his sketchy pass protection. At the time, through four games, Cutler had been sacked 15 times — second-most in the NFL — and he was terrorized by the Lions.

“It’s a trust factor, and the only one who can feel that is Jay,” Jaworski said before that game. “But in his movement, he doesn’t trust his offensive line, and he doesn’t trust his receivers.”

The Bears lost that game, 24-13, but Cutler’s turnaround started that night, according to Jaworski. Despite being under constant duress, Cutler completed passes with a high degree of difficulty.

“What makes him special is, he can make throws from different platforms,” Jaworski said, noting how Cutler can throw off-balance, when needed. “Quite honesty, he’s had to learn to throw that way, because the offensive line hadn’t protected him the way they should have.”

Now, though, Jaworski sees a balanced offense, with a versatile running back who can run inside, outside and catch the ball from anywhere.

“The weapons are starting to show up,” Jaworski said of the Bears offensive players. “It’s clearly a balanced offense and that’s what you’d like to have in this league.”

Jaworski, though, noted that the return of Earl Bennett was considerable. He pointed to a third-and-16 play in the second quarter.

“Your quarterback needs time; the O-line gives him time,” Jaworski said. “Bennett works the route, and Cutler trusts him.

“A few of those situations, you don’t move the chains unless it’s Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett on the football field together. Three weeks ago, you don’t get that conversion.”

Since the loss to the Lions, the Bears have strung together three victories, with the offense showing the sort of consistency it did late last season. Cutler told reporters Wednesday at his news conference that they are “starting to get into midseason form.”

But during an appearance on ESPN 1000’s Waddle & Silvy show, Cutler heaped praise on offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

“Mike’s doing a good job of protecting those guys, and being careful when we take some shots down field,” Cutler said.

Asked about wanting things to change, Cutler paused then said, “Things can get a little dicey sometimes.

“You have to be careful how you go about it. The message was clear: we both agreed what direction we need to go,” he said. “Mike’s done an unbelievable job of adapting to what we’re capable of doing and kind of changing his train of thought, which isn’t easy to do.”

Earlier in the season, Cutler didn’t mask his desire to get the ball out of his hand quicker, and he ­certainly wasn’t singing the praises of his offensive line. But the unit has settled, with the same five preparing for a fourth consecutive start. In fact, halfway through Monday’s game in Philadelphia, Cutler was thinking how nice it was that he hadn’t been sacked.

“ ‘Let’s not jinx this yet,’ ” he recalled thinking.

Cutler wasn’t sacked, ending a streak of 29 regular-season games that he’d been sacked at least once.

Jaworski said when Cutler sets his feet, “he throws [the ball] as well as anybody.” But Jaworski added that Cutler has to be more judicious in his decision-making and more trusting of his arm.

“I love the gunslinger mentality,” Jaworski said. “But he had a couple of throws in that Eagles game that could have been picked off.

“I know they don’t show up as ­interceptions. But there seems to be a couple throws each game, where he gives the other team a chance to make a play.”

Cutler acknowledged that ­challenge.

“You just have to be careful,” he said. “But sometimes you have a feel and you just let it fly.”

Cutler noted that completion percentage is one of the most important measures of a quarterback. His completion percentage is 58.7, tied for 24th in the NFL, way behind league-leader Aaron Rodgers (72.5). But Cutler’s receivers have dropped 19 passes, tied for second-most in the NFL. If his receivers would have limited that number to 10, Cutler’s completion percentage would be 62.5, which would be tied for 10th.

“Jay throws great balls,” Bennett said. “Anytime you give him time to sit back there, he’ll pick a defense apart.”



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