Poise Under Pressure
In Marc Trestman's book "Perseverance" he discusses on numerous occasions the value of staying calm under pressure and embracing adversity. A quote:
"Pressure is a huge part of football, just enormous. How you deal with it, however, is the key to success. Imagine yourself coaching a football game and you have to call a play within 40 second left on the clock, with 60,000 people screaming at you, all believing they can do a better job than you can. Don't forget about the countless millions more who are at home watching you on TV. It can be tough. To stay focused and to be able to think clearly, you have to believe in yourself and trust that all the hard work and preparation you have done will see you through the difficult times. You also have to trust your assistants, and the decisions that you entrusted them to make. The best way I have found to deal with pressure is by selling accountability to everyone involved, because if everyone has done their job properly then no one single person will have to carry the weight of the entire team on their shoulders. This enables me and others to fluidly work through the course of a game, knowing that everybody' work ethic will ultimately take care of the end results."
To that end, we've seen a head coach that has been unflappable through the first two games of the Chicago Bears' 2013 campaign. In both matchups, the Bears executed fourth-quarter comebacks, the likes of which we've rarely seen from Jay Cutler during his four-plus years in the Windy City. In fact, his two fourth-quarter comebacks this year are twice as many as he had all of last season.
It's a testament to Trestman's sideline demeanor and that has rubbed off on Cutler.
"[The players] are going to be as calm as I am," Cutler said after the game. "I try to stay relatively calm out there, especially in the fourth quarter."
Such was the case yesterday afternoon. Chicago's offense inherited the ball on its own 34-yard line down six points with 3:15 left in the game. Cutler proceeded to complete seven of 10 pass attempts, including three on third down.
And the final play was a thing of beauty.
From the Minnesota 16-yard line, the Bears lined up in a four-receiver set with Cutler in shotgun. Martellus Bennett was in the left slot, a few yards inside of Earl Bennett. At the snap, Earl released inside and up the seam. Martellus faded outside toward the front corner of the end zone. The safety cheated inside on Earl, which opened a passing lane near the sideline. Cutler fired a perfect back-shoulder pass in an area the safety could never reach. Martellus swung his body back around, made the great grab and dove into the end zone.
"It was a tremendous back-shoulder throw," Trestman said. "He went to the right guy at the right time. Very well located throw. Martellus was getting bandaged up at halftime. He hurt somewhere in his forearm or shoulder area during the first half, and came back and played and finished the game. An awesome job by him to be able to do that."
There's been a lot of talk about Cutler's late-game heroics the first two games of the year. Yet folks forget he led the league in fourth-quarter QB rating (114.7) last season, so he's no stranger to playing his best when it matters most.
"I have been playing with [Cutler] since he came into the NFL and he had the same skill set back then," Brandon Marshall said. "I remember playing in Seattle and it was our rookie year and this guy brought us back to have a chance to win. Unfortunately they won, but I think we went like 80-something yards. So like I said, I call him ‘Mr. Fourth Quarter.' He's just ice cold man. I really appreciate and I'm grateful to play with him."
Poise Due to Protection
There was a point during the 2011 season when Chicago's offensive line finally figured it out and was giving Cutler time to throw the ball. Not coincidentally, the Bears reeled off five straight wins and analysts were putting Cutler in the MVP conversation. His thumb injury derailed that campaign and the line never got it together last year, so he never returned to form in 2012.
Yet through two games this year, Cutler has shown those same signs, as if he might be on the verge of doing something special. And again, it's all due to the offensive line. Cutler has been sacked just once this season. In the first two contests last year, he was sacked nine times. As a result, he has shown confidence in the pocket, particularly when his team needs him most. He no longer has to worry about getting pummeled every play and can keep his focus down the field.
Due in large part to his front five, Cutler has completed 68.1 percent of his passes, which is 10 points better than each of the past two seasons, and nearly five points above his career high of 63.6 (2007 in Denver). His current QB rating of 95.4 is more than 14 points higher than it was last year (81.3). Obviously Trestman's influence has played a big part in Cutler's improvement so far but don't discount the role the offensive line has played. "We're just going to continue to grind," Jermon Bushrod said. "We're going to continue to play day-in, day-out offensively. There were some mistakes we made out there today, but we're going to enjoy this win for 24 hours and then we're going to get back on the grind."
Forte on Record-Setting Pace
Matt Forte had a career low in receptions (44) last year. It was gross misconduct by former coordinator Mike Tice, as Forte is one of the most dependable pass-catching backs in the league. With Trestman in charge, we all knew Forte's receptions would increase. In 2002, with Trestman running the Oakland Raiders' offense, Charlie Garner caught 90 passes, which is a ton of receptions for a running back. Yet Forte is on pace to not only eclipse Garner's catch total but also the franchise's all-time single-season reception total.
Forte has 15 catches through two games. Extrapolate that to 16 games and he'll end the year with 120 catches, which is two more than Brandon Marshall's record-breaking campaign last year.
Money Well Spent
Remember when Lovie Smith touted Kellen Davis as having the potential to be one of the best tight ends in the league?
Back to reality.
The reality is that Martellus Bennett could go down as the best all-around tight end that has ever played in the Windy City. He has graded well as both a pass and run blocker through two weeks. The value of that cannot be overstated, as he's played a crucial role in keeping Cutler upright.
And on top of his blocking, he's also a capable pass catcher. In Sunday's win, he caught seven passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with time running out on the clock.
"We ran the play earlier in the game, and I was wide open down the sideline, and Cutty missed me," Bennett said. "So, after the play, me and Cutty got together and we talked. And, we were like, ‘If he covers me like this, just throw it back shoulder and I'll go up and make the catch because if he's over the top that way we won't force it.' So, that's two weeks in a row where it shows the communication between me and Cutty showed up in the red zone. That's what we've been working on. It's a jump-ball area down there. These guys do a great job covering but I think we are fortunate enough to have three or four long guys that can go up and get the ball."
Through two games, Bennett has 10 catches for 125 yards and 3 TDs, putting him on pace for 80 catches, 1,000 yards and 24 TDs. Last year, Chicago's tight ends combined for 29 catches, 297 yards and 3 TDs.
"It's hard to judge [Bennett] because he is such a great blocker that sometimes you get caught up in, ‘Hey, we can get three out,'" Cutler said. "He can lock down a defensive end. He's great at run blocking. Then you see him run routes and you're like, man, we've got to throw him the ball. You kind of have to use him on both avenues there and use him enough in the passing game as a blocker to keep them off balance and then get him his touches. Some games are going to go different than others. The last two, he's gotten a lot of balls and whenever he's gotten opportunities to make plays, he's made some big ones for us."
The Bears have just two sacks through two games. The defensive line, and the entire pass rush in general, has been anemic to say the least. As a result, the Bears have given up 504 passing yards this year, which is currently 17th in the league (pending the Monday Night final). Chicago's pass defense finished 8th in the NFL last year, so that drop off is considerable.
The two All Pro corners have been creating turnovers, which has mitigated the lack of pressure to a certain extent, but the Bears can't rely on Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman to carry them every week. At some point the front four have to start getting pressure. Chicago's defense is allowing 25.5 points per game, 22nd in the league. Last season, they were fifth best at 17.3 points allowed per contest. Defensive and special teams scores by the Vikings skew those number but overall, the Bears' defense under Mel Tucker has not played to the caliber of its predecessor, and that's concerning.
So Fresh, So Clean
The decision to remove Devin Hester from his duties on offense proved to be a smart one yesterday. Hester appeared to be very fresh throughout the campaign, reeling off kick returns of 76 and 80 yards. For the game, he had 249 return yards, which is a franchise record.
"[Hester] was huge," said Cutler. "He was there all day long on punt returns, kickoff returns. He was averaging 50 yards a kickoff return."
Technically, he averaged just 49.8 yards per return, but you get the point. Now that Hester is out of the picture on offense, the 30-year-old may have one more Pro Bowl season left in him.
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.