Throughout this offseason and into training camp, Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has discussed his desire to build an offensive system that can help quarterback Jay Cutler succeed. Cutler, a Pro Bowl signal caller in 2008 with the Broncos, has yet to play to his potential since coming to the Windy City. In fact, Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and a host of other coaches and players lost their jobs as a result of Cutler's inconsistency on the pitch.
There have been countless excuses offered for Cutler's mediocre play in Chicago. First it was a porous offensive, then it was a lack of capable receivers, then it was the offensive coordinator, then it was the run game, and finally, in 2012, it was Kellen Davis.
As a result, GM Phil Emery has made nearly every single personnel decision the past two seasons with Cutler in mind. He brought in a new offensive-minded head coach, changed up the entire offensive staff, traded for one of the best receivers in the game, drafted a second-round wideout and a first-round offensive linemen, and signed a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle and a dual-threat tight end.
It's cliché, but there really are no more excuses for Cutler.
We're only two weeks into the preseason, so it's far too early to make any sweeping proclamations about Chicago's signal caller but one thing is for sure: if he doesn't stop forcing passes to Brandon Marshall, Trestman or no Trestman, the Bears' passing offense, which finished 29th in the NFL last year, will stagnate.
Cutler played three series in the first preseason contest last week, completing six of eight passes for 54 yards. He spread the ball around as Trestman dictated, hitting five different receivers with his six completions. Yet Brandon Marshall did not play against Carolina.
When Marshall returned last night, things weren't as balanced. In fact, all five of Cutler's pass attempts against the Chargers were directed at Marshall. Four of them were completed, including a 5-yard touchdown pass. So on the surface, one could say the strategy worked. But that's short-term thinking. Marshall shattered numerous Bears franchise receiving records in 2012, yet the passing offense was one of the worst in the league and the team missed the playoffs.
Cutler never looked to his other receivers last night, ignoring guys like Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery, who could uses some quality reps with their limited snaps. Marshall was even covered on the touchdown pass. Cutler pumped, realized Marshall was covered, then said 'screw it, I'm throwing it anyway.' Marshall is such a beast that he ended up making the play but it's his amazing ability as a receiver, particularly in 1-on-1 situations, that has Cutler enamored to a fault. If Marshall gets single coverage, he's going to win that battle the vast majority of the time. Cutler knows that, which is why he feels comfortable lobbing the ball to his favorite receiver no matter how many defenders are surrounding him.
Case in point: Cutler's interception last night. Immediately following a defensive turnover, the Bears' offense inherited the ball on the Chargers' 34-yard line. Cutler dropped back to pass, with Marshall running a skinny post off the right hash. San Diego bracketed Marshall with a linebacker underneath and a safety over the top. Again, Cutler threw caution to the wind and fired a completion, to Chargers linebacker Donald Butler.
"I didn't misread [the play]," Cutler said after the game. "I knew what I was doing. I kind of got clipped and let it go. Those are the ones you want to check down and keep the drive alive."
Trestman also felt Cutler should have looked elsewhere on the play.
"I think we all are [disappointed in the interception]. I think he would tell you, if he had to do it over again he probably would have kicked the ball out," said Trestman. "I think that there's times he's taken chances that would be more relevant then that one was. That one was not a play that he needed to take a chance on. It was his own coverage and it wasn't a man-to-man type of coverage where he could throw it up there and get a contested throw. It was a coverage that a lot of people defensively were watching him make that throw. He could have made a better decision."
This is more constructive criticism toward a quarterback than we ever heard during Lovie Smith's nine years combined in Chicago, which is a good sign as far as Trestman's tolerance toward nonsensical turnovers. And at the same time, Trestman even put some of the blame on himself.
"That's a play that I want to accept accountability for as well," he said. "We haven't run that play a lot. I can do a better job of coaching it and put him in a better position to succeed in that play because he was in a position to do that and we just didn't get it done. I'm telling you that I can do a better job coaching it and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Trestman hasn't been in Chicago the past four years, so this was his first chance to see Cutler's bad tendencies up close. Yet he said he still has faith in his quarterback.
"He's shown me he's not going to make the same mistake twice on any play that we've been running throughout camp," Trestman said. "So I'm encouraged that the play will continue to run and we've just got to do a better job of it."
After last night's game, it's obvious Trestman has a lot of work ahead of him. Many of Cutler's bad habits are so engrained, it could take well beyond this season to fully correct them. But first and foremost, Trestman must get it through to Cutler that forcing balls to Marshall, particularly into double coverage in the red zone, is a surefire way to lose football games. Until that ends, the offense will never take a substantial step forward.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.