Why Cutler Doesn’t Change Everything for Chicago
Let me start this off by saying I am a Packers fan and have hated the Bears since the first time I saw Brett Favre play. Let me also start this off by saying I hope to one day work in the field of journalism, and the ability to not be bias is a strength and that is what I plan to do in this blog.
Yesterday, the Chicago Bears acquired quarterback Jay Cutler and fifth round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for a first and third round pick in the 2009 draft, a first round pick in the 2010 draft, and quarterback Kyle Orton. Congratulations, Bears fans, and I mean it in all sincerity. It’s been ugly watching the last 21 quarterbacks take snaps from under center since 1990 and you finally have a guy that will do it at an above average rate. Cutler has been very good in his short stint in the NFL and is one of the up-and-coming young quarterbacks in the NFL along with Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Cassel, and Joe Flacco just to name a few. It is true that Cutler has put up very good numbers in his stay with Denver and has been tagged as “the next gunslinger” in the NFL for his risky throws and such, similar (but not even close) to a Brett Favre, but for the sake of it all I’ll compare him.
I like Jay Cutler as a quarterback and if I had to rank the young quarterbacks that I listed above, it would probably go Rodgers, Ryan, and then Cutler. (By the way, come talk to me if you want to take Ryan over Rodgers. I know he was the stud rookie and all, but his stats were not overpowering and he had arguably the best running back in football last year. I’ll argue Rodgers over him and especially Cutler to the death). But getting back on topic, Cutler is going to succeed wherever he goes and will put up good numbers, but this is where the problem comes in. He’s going to a Chicago Bears team that really is not even close in comparison to the Denver Broncos on offense, which is where I will start.
I admit it’s a little unfair to talk about running backs if you aren’t going to include the offensive line, but I will try to. Everyone knows that Denver is the place fantasy owners stay away from at all costs and it’s because of the running backs. While Denver did not even come close to having a 1000 yard rusher, they averaged 4.8 yards per rush, had three players over 300 yards, two more over 200 yards, and three more over 100. To call them a team that goes running back by committee would be an understatement, and despite Mike Shannahan leaving, a lot of the same personnel remains intact and the zone blocking scheme that has been made famous in Denver will stay this year. They had 15 rushing touchdowns which were tied for 14th in the league, tied with the Bears among others. Don’t forget Ryan Torain either, who played in just two games all year in an injury-plagued year.
The Bears have an excellent running back in Matt Forte, who if it weren’t for Chris Johnson, would have been the most highly talked about rookie running back. After that, the Bears have little to nothing as Kevin Jones and Adrian Peterson were the next highest rushers with 109 and 100 yards. If Forte were to go down it would spell doom for the Bears and they can not afford that. Forte is excellent out of the backfield and was the Bears’ leading receiver last year.
Overall last year, the running backs in Denver are all around better than the running backs in Chicago. Forte is clearly the best back of the bunch, but it is hard to argue with the success that Denver puts out every year and I would give the slight edge to the Broncos.
Last year, Denver touted one of the best receiving duos in the whole league in Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. With 104 and 91 catches, they were excellent all year and the reason for Denver’s success on offense. Sure, Cutler was probably the reason for a little bit of their success, but don’t think that both of these player’s skill sets were all Cutler. Marshall is an athletic freak at 6’4″ 230 lbs. and Royal is a speedster at 5’10″. Tight end Tony Scheffler caught 40 balls for 645 yards and was a great redzone target, scoring three times on the year. Brandon Stokley had 49 catches in a more than serviceable role as the third receiver.
For the Bears, it gets very ugly in this category. Their leading receivers coming back to the team are Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, and Greg Olsen. Hester has established himself as a deep ball threat, but his lack of focus makes him susceptible to the dropped pass or running wrong routes. He is clearly not a number one receiver and is being asked to do so, something I can not see him performing well in. Davis is under rated but not really starting worthy and will be asked to do a lot. Earl Bennett is a name that is talked about around Cutler because they played together, but he hasn’t done anything since he arrived in Chicago and I don’t know why an old quarterback is suddenly going to make him Superman. Olsen was great last year and had a great connection with Kyle Orton last year that he should use next year to hook up with Cutler.
The Bears are going to need to add a receiver via free agency or the draft or Cutler will not succeed at all. Cutler was able to use Marshall and Royal the same way they used him, and the lack of receivers on this team could make things frustrating. The best bet for the Bears is to go and get Torry Holt. I do not think Plaxico Burress or Marvin Harrison are the answers due to their legal troubles and Harrison being way past his prime, but if they can land someone serviceable it will go a long way for Cutler.
On the other hand, Denver sports one of the best offensive lines in football. Tom Nalen hadn’t missed a start in four years before going down for the year with a biceps injury for an offensive line that had given up just four sacks in the first five games. After Nalen’s injury, the team gave up 28 sacks in what was a completely different atmosphere. One of the other bright spots was Ryan Clady, the left tackle from Boise State who was outstanding as a rookie. Ryan Harris at right tackle is another outstanding tackle and the guards inside of Ben Hamilton and Chris Kuper are the reasons for Denver’s success in the run game.
This is kind of the position that no one is talking about in regards to the trade. Chicago’s line is solid and with the addition of Orlando Pace they are looking better. Still, they lost both of their tackles from last year and second year Chris Williams is an injury concern and far from a certain thing. Also, as Orlando Pace has aged his durability is a question mark, missing 24 games due to injury in the last three years. Kruetz is fine and Roberto Garza is average for a right guard, but the Bears averaged less than four yards per carry on the ground. Whether you want to say it was because of the lack of a passing game or poor offensive line production, facts are facts and this offensive line struggled.
Chicago is trying to improve their offensive line and will sport at least two new faces next year with Pace and Williams. They will need to stay healthy and contribute to make sure Cutler has time in the pocket or he will face a lot of pressure against just four man rushes.
Breaking It All Down
What does this all mean? It means that Jay Cutler is not going to throw for over 4,500 yards with 25 touchdowns. It means that he is going to a team that is not as strong as Denver was, but will undoubtedly produce because of the overall talent that he has. He will need to become more of a leader, something he was criticized for and never really did in Denver and will need to lose the prima donna attitude, something that surely will not fly in Brian Urlacher’s locker room. Jay Cutler: Improvement? Yes. Difference Maker? We’ll see.