Cutler is ugly good in win

BY Alex Marvez • November 7, 2011

Jay Cutler displayed terrible quarterbacking fundamentals Monday night.

His mechanics in the pocket were atrocious. It’s fair to question whether any coaches are even working with him in practice on fixing such flaws.

Don’t take my word for it. This first-half critique came directly from Boomer Esiason during his call of Chicago’s 30-24 road victory over Philadelphia on Westwood One Radio.

As one of the NFL’s most storied passers during his heyday, Esiason knows what he’s talking about. When it comes to style points, Cutler’s technique was a far cry from that displayed by division rival Aaron Rodgers.

For two quarters, Cutler was jittery in the pocket. He eschewed the chance to scramble for a significant third-quarter gain by unsuccessfully throwing deep to a well-covered Roy Williams. Cutler sometimes failed to properly set his feet before throwing. He had to fall on a fumbled snap. He overthrew open receivers, even grabbing his facemask in frustration after firing a third-down pass above running back Matt Forte just before halftime.

At least this week, none of these flaws mattered.

Cutler has three positive traits — a strong arm, unflappable confidence and a will to succeed — that kept him from becoming fazed by an uneven start. When shielded from Philadelphia’s pass rush by his rapidly improving offensive line, Cutler settled down to complete 8 of 12 second-half passes for 106 yards and the go-ahead touchdown to wide receiver Earl Bennett early in the fourth quarter. He also didn’t throw an interception for the third time in four games.

“It starts up front,” said Cutler, who wasn’t sacked for the first time since a game against San Francisco on Nov. 12, 2009. “When the line keeps me clean and I’ve got a good pocket and I can see what’s happening downfield, we’ll probably have a good day. As the game progressed, that started happening.”

The Bears wouldn’t have won without the effort of Cutler, who finished 18 of 32 for 208 yards and two TDs. Forte, who hadn’t fumbled in his past 347 touches, lost the football twice. One of those turnovers was returned 22 yards for a touchdown by Eagles rookie linebacker Brian Rolle. Led by running back LeSean McCoy (117 all-purpose yards), Philadelphia scored 14 consecutive points to take a seven-point lead midway through the third quarter.

A combination of factors — notably suspect play calling and poor blocking — kept Chicago’s offense from getting its act together in early-season road losses to New Orleans, Green Bay and Detroit. Those Bears would have fallen apart amid the raucous atmosphere of Lincoln Financial Field on Monday.

Cutler, though, silenced the Eagles faithful by leading three consecutive scoring drives that produced the game’s final 13 points. A 28-yard completion to Bennett on third-and-8 with 3:35 to play in the third quarter kept alive a possession that ended with a Robbie Gould field goal, paring Philadelphia’s lead to 24-20.

Cutler and Bennett struck again early in the fourth quarter. Sensing that the original second-and-goal play call wouldn’t work, the duo communicated through football telepathy. Bennett ran the fade route that Cutler wanted; Cutler lofted the pass over Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel for the 5-yard score.

“I’ve played with him for a long time,” Cutler said, referring to the days when he and Bennett were teammates at Vanderbilt. “We’ve got a connection where he knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking. It worked out.”

On their end, the Eagles couldn’t complete the two throws that mattered most. Chas Henry proved why he’s a punter and not a quarterback when badly botching a fourth-quarter fake, his pass bouncing in front of an open receiver. Michael Vick also misfired on his final pass, throwing too high as receiver Jeremy Maclin ran a crossing route on fourth-and-10 from the Bears 39 with 1:56 remaining in the game. Maclin jumped to catch the pass but slipped and was stopped a yard short of a first down.

Vick finished 21 of 38 for 213 yards with an interception and no TDs.

Now 3-5, the heavily hyped Eagles have become a playoff long shot. Chicago (5-3) also faces a tough road, especially being in the same division as Green Bay (8-0) and Detroit (6-2). But as they prepare to host the Lions on Sunday (4:15 p.m. ET on FOX), the Bears will bring momentum and a modicum of respect that head coach Lovie Smith felt was lacking before the Eagles game.

“When you go on the road, the Chicago Bears shouldn’t be eight-point underdogs,” Smith said. “I think our guys took notice of that.”

Cutler said he didn’t. But considering the physical beating he has taken again this season (21 sacks, after 52 last season), Cutler entered the Eagles game with far bigger concerns. Among them: Would he have enough time to effectively run a Mike Martz scheme that depends upon quarterback protection so routes can unfold downfield?

Cutler believes what unfolded Monday night shows what his unit can accomplish on a consistent basis.

“We can do whatever we want,” he said. “We can throw downfield. We can throw quick. We can roll out. It’s an array of things that we have in this offense. When that front five is comfortable and picking things up and the pocket is clean, it’s going to be hard to stop us.”

Unless, of course, Cutler stops himself with sloppiness.

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