Coming into this season, Jay Cutler's best stretch as a quarterback for the Chicago Bears came in 2011 between Week 6 and Week 11. The Bears went 5-0 during that timeframe, which included a bye week, and Cutler was being talked about as a potential MVP candidate.
As we all know, a broken finger derailed that campaign but during those five games Cutler, in his second year under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, was playing at an extremely high level. Some folks even felt Cutler was on his way to finally reaching his immense potential.
Yet a year under Mike Tice saw Cutler regress into a skittish passer that was uncomfortable in the pocket and only willing to throw to Brandon Marshall. That was all GM Phil Emery needed to see. Remember, Emery is an NFL executive that understands the value of the quarterback in today's game. He knows the Bears aren't going to win championships with a mediocre offense, which is why he fired Lovie Smith and hired Marc Trestman, a coach with more than 20 years working with some of the greatest quarterbacks in the game.
Emery has put all his eggs into Cutler's basket, believing that if Trestman can develop Jay into the quarterback we all know he can be, the Bears can win another Super Bowl. It appears Emery made the right choice.
Through just six games this season, Cutler has shown rapid development. He's been confident in the pocket and in his reads, showing great comfort in a system that gets the ball quickly out of his hands. And the numbers bear that out. Here are Cutler's numbers in six games this year compared to his five-game stretch in 2011.
|Year||Yards||Completion %||TDs||INTs||QB Rating|
As you can see, Cutler is playing at his highest level since coming to Chicago in 2009. He's thrown zero interception in three of his past four contests and is posting career highs in completion percentage and passer rating. He's also on pace to throw 32 touchdowns, beating by five his former career-high in TDs (27 in 2009). And all of this has happened with a brand new head coach, a new quarterbacks coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new playbook.
If anyone tells you they foresaw before the season Cutler developing this rapidly, they are lying. But the numbers don't lie and neither do the results. Coming into Week 6, the Bears ranked 11th in total offense. During Smith's nine-year tenure as head coach, Chicago never finished better than 16th. The result of the improved offense has been a 4-2 team that could take sole possession of first place in the NFC North if Detroit loses today.
It's painful to consider how many championships the Bears could have won under Smith had he hired Trestman, who interviewed for Chicago's offensive coordinator position in 2004, instead of Terry Shea.
"He's always trying to push the limits," Cutler said. "He's always trying to find different ways to get guys open. He's very sound protection-wise. That's the first thing we do and the last thing we do is make sure we're protected. I think he's done a great job of just managing the team.
"It's hard to be a head coach in the NFL and call the plays. It's a tricky situation of having to make sure offense, defense, special teams and everything is in order during the week and be able to concentrate enough to say, ‘Hey, on third-and-seven we've got to do this; third-and-four we've got to do this.' It's hard. So he's juggling everything quite nicely, I think."
Trestman has instilled in Cutler the confidence he needs to be a special quarterback in the NFL, as demonstrated by his two fourth-quarter comeback wins this year. He has also dramatically improved his fundamentals, to the point where Cutler has almost eliminated his patented back-foot flip tosses and now steps into the vast majority of his throws.
Yet the biggest difference for Cutler has been the offensive line, which features four new starters this year.
"I think those five guys up front have to get the majority of the credit of where we're heading right now," said Cutler. "They're doing a great job protecting, run blocking. We're throwing a lot of stuff at them and I think they've gelled quite nicely so far."
The offensive line hasn't allowed a sack in three of six contests this season. By comparison, Cutler went un-sacked in just five games the previous four years combined. That type of improvement is substantial, the importance of which cannot be overstated.
Cutler's confidence in his front five has given him a comfort level in the pocket he's never before had in Chicago. Instead of scrambling for his life on every snap, Cutler now has time to work through his progressions to find the open receiver.
With quality weapons at his disposal, a solid offensive line in front of him and a competent coach running the offense, Cutler is finally on the path to becoming an elite quarterback. He's as talented as any player in the league and Trestman appears to be the coach that can transfer that talent to the field.
The Green Bay Packers showed in 2010 that if you have a great quarterback and a high-powered passing attack, you can overcome a weak rushing attack, a bad offensive line, a defense that can't stop anyone and countless injuries. Aaron Rodgers singlehandedly carried the Packers to a Super Bowl title – that's how valuable quarterbacks are in today's NFL.
So if Trestman keeps Cutler on his current pace, there's no reason to think that, if the two stay together for years to come, they can't bring at least one more championship to the Windy City.
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.