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Bears-Seahawks preview: Time for Cutler to polish his social skills


When it comes least looking like he cares little about what’s important many others Jay Cutler doesn’t seem get it.

When it comes to at least looking like he cares a little about what’s important to many others, Jay Cutler doesn’t seem to get it. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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RICK MORRISSEY

21-14 BEARS

Season: 10-6

RICK TELANDER

24-21 BEARS

Season: 11-5

SEAN JENSEN

33-17 BEARS

Season: 14-2

NEIL HAYES

31-20 BEARS

Season: 11-5

MIKE MULLIGAN

31-17 BEARS

Season: 7-9

MARK POTASH

27-10 BEARS

Season: 9-7

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Updated: April 30, 2011 4:46AM



The Bears really need to get Jay Cutler some professional help with his social skills so he can present a better public image when talking to the media.

Not for our sake. For his.

I know, I know. As long as Cutler wins football games, nobody cares that he doesn’t look me in the eye when he tells me he doesn’t have the time to list all the areas of his game that have improved since Week 1. Or that he looks and sounds uninterested whether he’s interested or not. Or that nobody in the Halas Hall press room really knows him. Or that he doesn’t care that nobody in the Halas Hall press room knows him.

If Cutler beats the Seahawks today at Soldier Field, nobody’s going to care what he says or how he says it. And if he wins the Super Bowl, he can be as aloof and distant and prickly with the media as he wants. How many Super Bowls have the media won in this town?

But before you endorse that popular line of thought, you might want to consider this: How many quarterbacks as awkward as Cutler in public forums have won the Super Bowl? How many quarterbacks as overtly disdainful — purposely or inadvertently — of the media process that molds much of his public image as Cutler have sustained success in the NFL?

Just look at Brady, Manning

Is it possible that, as the face of an NFL team, presenting a good public image is a factor of a quarterback’s success? Is it possible that a quarterback helps create a winning dynamic in his locker room by being a ‘‘go-to guy’’ for the media? I don’t think Tom Brady gives a damn about Antonio Cromartie popping off this week or anything Rex Ryan says or does. I think he has better things to do and other things on his mind. But he still spent most of his news conference Wednesday addressing the Cromartie and Ryan issues with substantive answers that at least on paper made it look like he actually cared.

In reality, what Brady cares about is that other people care about it. Not just the reporters asking the questions, but the people who read the newspapers and websites and listen to the radio and watch television. The same ones who buy the tickets and drink Bud Light and eat Doritos and sell stocks on e-trade and drive Volkswagens and ultimately fuel the corporate machine that feeds the NFL and allows Brady to make $6.5 million this season.

I don’t know Brady or Peyton Manning or Cutler any more than I know Rick Reilly. But I’ve seen enough of each of them to know that Brady and Manning get it. And Cutler doesn’t.

You don’t have to be Mr. Wonderful to be a quarterback in the NFL. But most of the miscreants at least are smart enough to know how to play the game when it comes to the media. The ones who aren’t smart enough to conform or suffer from some undiagnosed social dysfunction seem doomed to an unfulfilled career and fade into oblivion.

Ryan Leaf and Manning were 1a-1b on everybody’s draft charts in 1998. Maybe it was just a coincidence that the polished Manning is going to the Hall of Fame and the jerky Leaf was 4-17 as a starter and out of the league at 25. Jeff George. Cade McNown. The ever-prickly Jim McMahon, the ultimate non-conformist, won a Super Bowl (with the help of one of the greatest defenses of all-time) but was all but done by the time he turned 30. Injuries — and recklessness — were the culprit. Just a coincidence, I guess, that the combative Brett Favre stayed healthy and McMahon didn’t.

No clue at Halas Hall

I don’t know if it would help Cutler if he tried to improve the social awkwardness that impacts his public image in Chicago. It couldn’t hurt. But good luck with that at Halas Hall. Not surprisingly, the Bears — an organization built on a foundation of social awkwardness — not only are oblivious to the situation with Cutler, they’re defiant. To them, the Cutler issue is welcome fuel for the us-against-the-world mentality that was dissipating at Halas Hall with the NFC North champion Bears the toast of Chicago and 10-point favorites against the Seahawks.

‘‘I don’t think you can find many people who would say that Jay isn’t fan friendly,’’ coach Lovie Smith said Thursday.

‘‘He’s a great teammate. Great guy. I don’t know what you guys are talking about.’’

Unfortunately, that’s the problem. He doesn’t know what we’re talking about. All I know is that the Bears have a 27-year-old quarterback with elite skills who is playing in his first postseason game since high school. That’s a red flag more than an indictment, but a red flag nonetheless. At least enough to consider that there’s more to a ‘‘winning’’ quarterback than elite skills.

I’m sure Cutler is a great guy and a great teammate. The Bears might want to consider the possibility that it takes more than that for an NFL quarterback to be as good as he can be.

SEAHAWKS AT BEARS

Time: Noon today. TV: Fox-32 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa).

Radio: 780-AM. • Line: Bears by 10.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

The Bears were begging to get beat when they gave Matt Forte (8 carries, 11 yards) and Chester Taylor (4-31) a combined 12 carries against the Seahawks in October, forcing Jay Cutler to drop back 47 times two weeks after a concussion. With an improved offensive line that was missing RG Roberto Garza the last time, Forte is averaging 5.8 yards per carry in his last six games (87-502, 2 TDs). The Seahawks were 21st in the NFL in run defense (15th in yards per attempt). Seattle MLB Lofa Tatupu, tied for second on the team with 88 tackles in the regular season, suffered a concussion against the Saints last week, returned to practie on a limited basis Friday and is questionable for today’s game.

IN THE AIR

Cutler figures to improve from his first game against the Seahawks (17-for-39, 290 yards, 0 TDs,0 INTs). Cutler had four 100-plus passer ratings in five games (11 TDs, 4 INTs) prior to Week 17, but his subpar performance vs. the Packers — when he was noticeably off-target on short and long passes — left room for doubt. The return of WR Earl Bennett, who didn’t play vs. the Packers, should help. WR Johnny Knox, who had 5 catches for 120 yards vs. Seattle at Soldier Field, did not catch a pass against the Pack and has been shaky in cold weather. Seattle was 27th in pass defense, allowing 31 TDs with 12 INTs, an 89.7 rating. Drew Brees threw for 404 yards against the Seahawks last week.

KEY MATCHUP

This is Cutler’s first postseason game since high school, when he threw 3 INTs but caught a TD pass on a trick play in OT to win the 2000 state title. Milloy, a 15-year vet who has been in two Super Bowls, is well versed in postseason play. He had two of Seattle’s six sacks of Cutler in its 23-20 win at Soldier Field in October.

WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

Marshawn Lynch’s magnificent 67-yard TD run vs. the Saints is being compared to Walter Payton’s run vs. the Chiefs in 1977 as one of the best in NFL history. But before that, Lynch averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 13 games with the Seahawks (181-620, 6 TDs) since being acquired from the Bills prior to facing the Bears in October. Lynch and Justin Forsett combined for 111 yards on 27 carries vs. the Bears at Soldier Field. The Bears ranked No. 2 vs. the run but have been prone to poor tackling — allowing 4.3 yards per rush in a five-game stretch prior to Week 17. Lynch’s run should get their attention, a reminder of Jahvid Best’s 45-yard run late in the first half against Detroit.

IN THE AIR

The Bears don’t have to be told how dangerous Matt Hasselbeck can be; they found out the hard way when Hasselbeck beat them with a virtuoso performance at Soldier Field — escaping the rush, keeping the Bears off-balance, using multiple targets and taking advantage of mismatches with 6-5 Mike Williams (10-123). He did it again last week against the Saints, with 4 TDs,1 INT and a 113.0 rating. The key for the Bears is not allowing Hasselbeck to get into his comfort zone. When the Saints finally turned on the heat early after falling behind 31-20 early in the third quarter last week, Hasselbeck was 5-for-12 for 28 yards and a sack (a 49.3 rating) the rest of the way.

KEY MATCHUP

Peppers didn’t just fail to dominate the rookie, who was coming off an injury, he was all but invisible — shut out of impact plays for the only time this season. Okung is better now than then, but will be playing in his first playoff game. Peppers at least needs to cause enough havoc to allow others to make big plays.

X-FACTOR

The Seahawks turned a Bears strength into a weakness in October by dominating field position. The Bears’ average drive start was their 18; the Seahawks’ was their 33. The Bears led the NFL in drives starting at midfield or in opposition territory with 43 but had only 1 vs. Seattle and started 10 of 13 drives inside the 21. With an offense that had 4 TD drives of 10-plus plays in 2010, Cutler & Co. need all the help they can get.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Yet another area where the Bears need to turn things around from the first meeting. Despite Devin Hester’s 89-yard punt return, the Seahawks outplayed the Bears on special teams. Leon Washington had a 42-yard KO return; Jon Ryan had six punts inside the 20; Robbie Gould had a 50-yard FG try blocked, and Danieal Manning’s 89-yard KO return was nullified by a penalty. Home-field advantage could come into play.



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