Jay Cutler has yet to prove he’s an elite NFL quarterback, despite the efforts of Bears apologists to anoint him as such the last two seasons.
He has shown flashes and offered hints that it could happen, so the arrival of Mike Martz prompted even more optimism.
But considering the state of the Bears’ offensive line, that hope stared down the reality that the Martz system often gets QBs pounded and in the process makes them skittish and destroys their confidence sometimes for years and sometimes for careers.
So where is Cutler now?
One sequence in the second quarter of Sunday’s victory over Buffalo suggests a lot about Cutler’s state of mind these days.
With the Bears ahead 7-0 late in the second quarter and driving on the Buffalo 38, on first down Cutler had Matt Forte wide open on a wheel route for an easy touchdown.
Forte had linebacker Reggie Torbor beat from the moment they hit the line of scrimmage and all Cutler had to do was make a 20-yard throw and let Forte run under the ball.
It was badly underthrown and Torbor knocked it away. Not a tough throw, not one most NFL QBs miss, and certainly not one Cutler would have butchered a few months ago.
Two plays later on third down the blitz collapsed the pocket, but Cutler escaped right and scrambled for an easy first down. It was a smart, safe play, but Cutler was all too eager to get out of trouble before trouble held a team meeting on his head.
A minute later, on a second-and-17, came the play that gives you hope.
Cutler dropped back and looked at Forte on the wheel again, but it wasn’t open and instead of forcing it even though he had given away an easy score moments before he checked down and went for the short throw to Earl Bennett over the middle that gobbled up 14 yards, setting up a third-and-3.
It was a smart choice, a good throw and a classic example of taking what the defense offers.
After two false starts pushed the Bears back to third-and-13, with just under two minutes left in the half came the play that gives you pause.
With a three-man rush and knowing the Bills had eight in coverage, Cutler out of the shotgun felt a little pressure from his right. He moved quickly to get out of harm’s way, and when he stepped forward he could have moved toward the sideline, used his feet to buy time, and waited for someone to shake free.
But he looked like a man who wanted to be rid of the football regardless of consequence. He moved up and while shifting right (and off his back foot) he made a terrible throw into triple coverage at the goal line that should have been intercepted.
Turns out Robbie Gould missed the field goal anyway and the Bills went 68 yards in 11 plays to tie the game just before the half ended.
Nevertheless, Cutler’s throw was the type he made a lot last year. It was the kind that got picked and took away potential points.
So it’s hard to blame Martz for that since we saw the interceptions in 2009, but was the urge to release the ball instead of keeping the play alive greater than it was a year ago?
That would suggest you’ve got a QB in Cutler now who still has the tendency to force it, exacerbated by the beating Martz has given him, and thus the need to get rid of the football.
You can’t blame Cutler for the bad play calls, deep drops, poor protection or mediocre receivers, but ultimately he has the football and the bad decisions rest only with him.
And Martz was supposed to make Cutler better?
At least against a bad Buffalo team the plan was simpler, and while this is cheered in some counties with Martz given a hero’s welcome, it took him 11 games, including four in the preseason, to recognize the problems and give his QB a little help.
Sunday provided a steady diet of short drops, rollouts, screens, slants, shovels, underneath routes and quick passes, an elementary formula for getting the ball out of Cutler’s hands and reducing the opportunity for him to throw picks or get popped.
Above all else there was a consistent attempt to run the football, even when it wasn’t working.
The Bears will never admit it, but you have to wonder if Lovie Smith finally got to Martz and insisted they try to help Cutler.
It’s not pretty and it’s certainly not Martz’s style, but he’s going to have to channel John Shoop’s dump-and-chase offense, hope punter Brad Maynard can work his magic, and let the defense do its thing if the Bears are to stay alive in the playoff race.
It’s the only way to keep Cutler upright and salvage what’s left of the QB.
For five weeks we’ve been wondering if Martz could do it. Now he’s done it once.
Can Martz let it happen again?
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