Jay Cutler has never been in better position to succeed
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter July 20, 2014 7:26PM
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 15: Jay Cutler #6 and Alshon Jeffery #17 of the Chicago Bears celebrate the game-winning extra point against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on September 15, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Vikings 31-30. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Updated: July 21, 2014 1:36PM
There are all sorts of reasons Jay Cutler has won only one playoff game in eight seasons in the NFL, the last five with the Bears. And let the record show most of them aren’t his fault:
1. Bad protection.
2. Poorly conceived offense.
3. Bad defense.
4. No go-to receiver.
5. Not enough go-to receivers.
6. Bad rapport with his offensive coordinator.
7. Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
8. ‘‘We’re in the first year of the offense.’’
9. Untimely injury.
10. Wrong place at the wrong time.
And that’s just off the top of my head.
But in the last two-plus years, the Bears have addressed and rectified nearly every one of those maladies. From president Ted Phillips hiring general manager Phil Emery; to Emery hiring coach Marc Trestman, trading for receiver Brandon Marshall, drafting receiver Alshon Jeffery and rebuilding the offensive line; to Trestman hiring offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and providing offensive production and stability, the Bears have given Cutler the comfort zone he needs to win big.
‘‘For sure, for sure,’’ Cutler said when asked if he felt more comfortable than ever heading into this camp. ‘‘With all the guys around me, with coach Trestman and the rest of the coaches and everybody in place
from last year, there’s definitely a comfort there. Not only me but the rest of the guys, as well.’’
† The Bears solved Capers, scoring 27 and 28 offensive points in two games against the Packers after averaging 13 in their previous nine games against them.
† The 6-4 Marshall and 6-3 Jeffery combined for 189 receptions, 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns.
† With all five offensive linemen starting all 16 games, the Bears were fourth in the NFL in sacks allowed.
† Being in the first season of Trestman’s offense didn’t seem to matter much, with the Bears finishing second in points and eighth in yards.
† The Bears even thrived at quarterback after Cutler suffered two injuries.
But in Cutler’s star-crossed career, there always has been something. The Bears’ embarrassingly poor defense was the culprit in 2013. The Bears ranked 30th among 32 teams in total defense, last in yards per play and last in rushing yards per game and rushing yards per attempt.
It will be better this season — and not just because it can’t get worse. Though it’s only July, it’s a pretty good bet that Emery’s rebuilding of the line — starting with the monumental acquisition of end Jared Allen — sufficiently has fortified the defense. It might not be back to Lovie Smith-era levels, but it’s good enough to give the Bears a chance to beat anybody on their schedule, given their offense.
The rest is up to Cutler, who will be in the second season of an offense for only the second time during his tenure with the Bears. Super Bowl or bust? We should know by now that’s not Cutler’s style.
‘‘We did OK last year for the first year [in the offense],’’ Cutler said last month at minicamp. ‘‘We have the same guys we had last year, which is always good. Talentwise, it’s hard to top our O-line and some of the guys we have on the outside and [running back] Matt Forte, who is hugely underrated.
‘‘Talentwise and being in the system two years and the way the guys work, all that adds up. Hopefully we can stay healthy and see where this thing goes.’’
We’ll see about that. Trestman’s magic with Josh McCown notwithstanding, Cutler’s durability is an issue heading into the season. He was injured twice last season, missing one game with a torn groin muscle and four with a high ankle sprain. He started 53 consecutive games through 2009, his first season with the Bears. Since then, he has missed 13 games in the last four seasons.
‘‘For a while, it was a hit parade back there,’’ Cutler said, referring to poor protection, including 52 sacks in 2010. ‘‘It takes its toll from time to time. With the offensive line we’ve got here, the guys are doing everything possible. Last year was last year, kind of two freak injuries. I don’t really foresee that happening again.’’
Nobody ever does, of course. That’s why No. 10 on the Cutler list looms largest of all this season. With so many of the pieces in place — ominous phrasing, I know — Cutler has to hope against hope he can avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If fate moves its huge hands, there’s nothing Emery or Trestman can do about it.