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Bears have given QB Jay Cutler little to work with

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler sets pass during Chicago Bears 34-29 wover CarolinPanthers Sunday October 2 2011 Soldier Field. | Tom

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler sets to pass during the Chicago Bears 34-29 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday October 2, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 11:52AM

Can somebody tell me what Jay Cutler is?

I know what the Bears say he is: an extremely talented quarterback. A franchise player. A star.

But how would anybody possibly know that? Even for those of us who are skeptical that he’s an elite quarterback, what have the Bears done to put him in the best position to succeed?

Whatever success Cutler has had in his limited time in Chicago has come in spite of what the team has given him, talent-wise.

It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad. You trade your starting quarterback and two first-round picks to get Cutler from Denver. Everything about that deal says you finally are serious about this peculiar thing called the “forward pass.”

And then, nothing. You sit back and hope for something to happen, like moviegoers waiting for the projector to be fixed.

The offensive lines the Bears have put on the field since Cutler arrived seem intent on making sure he doesn’t live to see his 30th birthday. The wide receivers they have given him are, as a group, mediocre. In the offseason, the big free-agent signing was Roy Williams, who has looked like the disappointing receiver he was in Dallas for three years rather than the star he was in Detroit for one season.

The idea that Cutler would suddenly make everyone around him better does not describe a quarterback. It describes another J.C. who lived about 2,000 years ago. So a team and a city wait for Cutler to do something. It doesn’t get any more bizarre than that for the Bears, who have done plenty of bizarre things over the years.

Bringing all of this to a head is their game Monday night in Detroit, where they will face a Lions team that can boast of a young, talented quarterback and a great wide receiver.

If you want to know why the Lions are 4-0 and the Bears are 2-2, start with those two positions.

Matthew Stafford is in his third season in the NFL and has seen his share of injuries, but he looks leaps and bounds beyond Cutler. Stafford’s quarterback rating is 100.3. Going into Sunday’s games, 25 quarterbacks had a better rating than Cutler’s 77.8.

The Lions have a receiver who can go up and get the ball. The Bears don’t. Calvin Johnson is better than any receiver the Bears have, but more important, he’s better than any defensive back they have.

Heading into Week 5, the Lions’ 33.8 points per game were tied for second in the NFL — with the Patriots. Stafford has been sacked five times in four games. Cutler has been sacked 15 times.

The Bears smile and say everything is going to be OK. It’s like dealing with a house’s structural problems by painting it.

You can blame it on poor drafting, a reluctance to spend money on quality receivers, an offensive system that doesn’t help the quarterback’s chances of survival and the team’s habit of falling in love with its own players — players who aren’t deserving of that kind of ardor.

Ultimately, this falls on the shoulders of general manager Jerry Angelo. Nineteen games into Cutler’s tenure in Chicago, we’re still talking about the same things we were talking about one game in: a maddening lack of talent around him. Meanwhile, the lowly Lions seem to realize it takes more than a quarterback to make an offense go.

I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that the Bears are $18.1 million under the salary cap.

Cutler might light up Ford Field on Monday night, as he has in the past. But it won’t change the fact that no one will have any idea what he’ll do the following week. It’s hard to show sustained excellence when you’re under constant pressure and your receivers aren’t reliable. Tom Brady couldn’t succeed regularly with this offense.

Is Cutler great? I have no idea. He holds on to the ball too long at times. He has accuracy issues. But he has an arm, he’s athletic and he’s tough, exactly the attributes you want in a quarterback.

It sure would be nice to find out if he’s as good as the Bears say he is.

If they’re right, if Cutler is a star, then what we’re witnessing is a crying shame.

Linebacker Lance Briggs calls Monday night’s game a “must have.’’ It might not have come to that if Cutler had had more help in the first four games.

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