As Bears' O-line steps up, so does Cutler
So this is what Jay Cutler looks like when he gets excellent protection.
The Bears' quarterback has performed like one of the league's elite while posting back-to-back passer ratings of 93.2 and 97.2 to start the new year.
It's no coincidence that he has been sacked just once.
On only two other occasions since he came to the Bears before the 2009 season, has Cutler had back-to-back complete games in which he was sacked once or not at all.
And since 2010, when Cutler is not sacked more than once in a game he has thrown 25 touchdown passes and just 7 interceptions and has an 11-1 record. His combined passer rating is 100.6 in those games, and he has been at or above 86.5 in all but one of them.
As a Bear, Cutler has an 82.4 passer rating, and his career mark is 84.2.
Clearly an unsacked Cutler is an exceptional Cutler.
The same could be said about most quarterbacks, although no one has been sacked more than Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers over the previous four years, and yet he still puts up incredible numbers.
Rodgers was sacked 168 times from 2009-12 but still managed to post passer ratings of 103.2, 101.2, 122.5 and 108.0. He is the exception to the rule.
As well as Cutler has played in the first two games, there still is room for improvement.
Both interceptions against Minnesota on Sunday could have been avoided with better decisions by the quarterback.
The deep throw to Brandon Marshall down the sideline on the first play of the fourth quarter allowed too much time for free safety Harrison Smith to come over and pick it. The second-quarter ricochet shot in the end zone that wound up in the arms of defensive tackle Kevin Williams would have been better going elsewhere or thrown away.
"I think if you asked Jay he'd want to have that one back," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "Probably would have thrown the ball away, and we would have had three (more) downs to score.
"That's how I think he would see it. We want to come out of there with (either) it's a clean touchdown or we'll throw it away."
Trestman wanted to see proof in the first half of the season opener that the offensive line would provide a clean pocket for his quarterback before he allowed Cutler to open it up against the Cincinnati Bengals.
With rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills exceeding expectations, the line has earned the trust of Trestman and Cutler.
But that group can get better as well. Free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, has been the Bears' lowest-rated offensive lineman in both games, according to Pro Football Focus.
To be fair, Bushrod had the toughest assignment Sunday, going against Jared Allen, the NFL's active sack leader. Bushrod was called for holding twice, and he allowed the sack that led to the Cutler fumble that Brian Robison returned for a 61-yard touchdown.
But, on the game-winning touchdown drive, Cutler had more than enough time and space to operate at peak efficiency.
"It all goes back to the protection," Trestman said. "He had time to drop back; he had a dish to work with to step up, and he was very cool."
If the protection holds up, it could be a very cool season for the Bears' quarterback.
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