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updated: 1/2/2013 7:58 PM

Bears looking to maximize Cutler's skills

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  • Jay Cutler is definitely a franchise quarterback, according to Bears GM Phil Emery.

      Jay Cutler is definitely a franchise quarterback, according to Bears GM Phil Emery.
    Associated Press

 
 

Three offensive coordinators and one head coach have lost their jobs waiting for Jay Cutler to develop into the franchise quarterback the Bears thought they were getting four years ago.

Not that it's all Cutler's fault, but some people are just saying

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Bears general manager Phil Emery isn't among those blaming Cutler. He insists he still believes Cutler is the answer at quarterback, and says Cutler needs a better supporting cast to play like a franchise quarterback.

Cutler was 20th in the NFL this season with an 81.3 passer rating, the second-lowest mark of his seven-year career. Only his first season with the Bears in 2009 (76.8) was worse.

"I see Jay as a franchise quarterback," Emery said. "We've got to build around him. That's been the goal from the beginning, to build around Jay and to build our team toward championships."

According to Emery, the next head coach in Chicago will be someone who can get more out the offense, and that starts with getting more out of Cutler.

"Jay being our quarterback, and that being a franchise position in terms of importance, it's very important that that person, either himself or staff wise, has the right person to help Jay develop," Emery said. "But it's also very important that they help everyone develop."

To that end, the Bears have asked for and received permission to interview Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements for their vacant head-coaching position.

Two other offensive coordinators -- the Denver Broncos' Mike McCoy and the Tampa Bay Bucs' Mike Sullivan -- already are in the interview mix, along with special-teams coordinators Keith Armstrong (Atlanta Falcons) and Joe DeCamillis (Dallas Cowboys).

The winning candidate will be someone Emery believes can improve Cutler, or he will have someone on his staff who can.

Asked if the Bears can be consistently successful with Cutler playing at the level he has for the past four seasons, Emery hedged.

"Jay has won a lot of games," the Bears GM said. "The important thing is that we continue to build around him."

The Bears are 34-22 when Cutler starts and 2-6 when he doesn't. But Cutler is 1-6 against the Packers; 1-7 if you include the 2010 NFC title game. He's 9-8 in December and January, including 1-1 in the 2010 postseason.

Emery contends all those numbers would be better with an improved offensive line and better players at the skill positions.

While the Bears added the most productive receiver in franchise history last off-season in Brandon Marshall, the passing game dropped from 26th to 28th in the NFL.

Asked about the offensive line, Emery responded with a 1,401-word reply. The gist was that the O-line needs to get better, but it wasn't a complete disaster and it might not have been the biggest factor in the offense's failures.

According to Emery, STATS Inc. rated the Bears 26th in pass protection, and there were three playoffs teams lower. The 49ers were just .1 percent better than the Bears.

The Bears also were 22nd in dropped passes.

"Are sacks and drops a factor?" Emery said. "Yes, but it doesn't look like they are the ultimate determining factor. I still think it comes down to how many playmakers do you have as opposed to the team you're playing. And are they making plays that are game-changing in the moment of truth?"

Emery highlighted offensive areas he believes must improve under the Bears' next coach. The common thread is play-calling and use of personnel, although he said he wasn't looking to blame offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

"We've got to get better at making plays in the middle of the field," Emery said. "Matt (Forte) was brought back, and I was excited about his signing (four years for $30.4 million) because a big part of that is him as a pass receiver. For whatever reason we didn't fully utilize Matt."

Forte's 44 catches and 340 receiving yards were career lows, although he did rush for 1,094 yards.

For the second straight season, the Bears had fewer catches from tight ends than any team in the league. Possession receiver Earl Bennett saw his receiving yards drop for the third straight season.

"We need to get more consistent in that midfield area to provide midfield targets for our quarterback," Emery said. "Because in the NFL today you're going to get pressure on the quarterback.

"You have to give him reliable targets in all field areas if you're going to solve that situation."

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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