Chicago Bears: Breaking Down Jay Cutler's Game-Winning Drive vs the Panthers

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2012

We talked earlier today about Jay Cutler stepping up and playing well when the Bears needed him to, despite three quarters of pretty mediocre play.

Cutler was sacked often, held onto the ball too long and missed many receivers not named Brandon Marshall.

When it counted—when the team was down in the final three minutes of the game—Cutler put them on his back and got them in field-goal range and in position to win.

It was the second impressive drive in the fourth quarter, the first a seven-play, 38-yard effort which ended in a Kellen Davis touchdown and more than halved the Panthers’ lead.

The Bears defense then get the team ahead with a Tim Jennings interception, returned for a touchdown, but then failed to stop Cam Newton and the Panthers offense from kicking a go-ahead field goal.

So it fell to Cutler again to drive down the field and win the game.

Let’s see how he did it.

1-10-CHI 22 (2:20) (Shotgun) J.Cutler pass short middle to M.Forte to CHI 26 for 4 yards (L.Kuechly)

Cutler gets very good protection here but doesn’t abuse it or get greedy. He knows they have a lot of field to cover in a short amount of time and can’t afford mistakes. Of course, there is no All-22 for this game yet, but I’m guessing the downfield receivers are well covered.

Forte doesn’t get much beyond the initial catch, but that’s fine. It’s a good, conservative play which puts them in very good position on second and third down.

2-6-CHI 26 (2:02) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Cutler pass short left to B.Marshall to CHI 34 for 8 yards (J.Norman)

The Bears go no-huddle here and I love it. It does several things which are very much to Chicago’s advantage.

First, it severely limits how and who Carolina can sub. As it’s the end of the game, every iota of energy counts, and if they can gas the Panthers’ D, it will help them on this drive.

Second, it firmly puts the game in Cutler’s hands. Yes, he’ll get calls from the sidelines, but he has to make a lot of big decisions in rapid succession. He can do this and be a very effective quarterback. I’d actually like to see him in charge down to down much more frequently, but that’s another discussion.

Finally, it’s hard for the defense to make adjustments to what the offense is doing, especially in terms of protection and countering the pass rush.

On the play, Brandon Marshall runs a quick, short slant while Earl Bennett runs another short slant in from the slot, in order to clear some coverage out. On the other side, Devin Hester and Kellen Davis just run straight ahead.

It’s another quick pass which allows the defense no time to react, and because Panther cornerback Josh Norman is playing so far off, Marshall has all the room in the world to run his route and get the first down.

Marshall does a great job of running to where the first down is on his route, by the way. Too often, receivers run their routes short—sometimes by design but often because they don’t seem to take the time to figure out where they need to go.

Marshall advances the ball, gets the first down and takes the team to the two-minute warning, another reason that the hurry-up offense a good idea.

1-10-CHI 34 (1:58) (Shotgun) J.Cutler pass short left to E.Bennett to CHI 46 for 12 yards (C.Munnerlyn)

Like Marshall, Earl Bennett does a great job getting to the first-down marker here on his route, so when Cutler delivers the ball, he had already gained the first down.

Bennett then fights for more yards until what appears to be the entire Panthers defense swarms him. It never gets him down though, and the whistle blows the play dead.

Bennett wasn’t used in the first half at all, but did become a factor at the end of the third quarter. Of his three catches (on four targets) all of them went for first downs.

1-10-CHI 46 (1:33) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Cutler pass short left to B.Marshall to CAR 47 for 7 yards (L.Kuechly)

This is a virtual duplication of the play from the second play of the drive, though Bennett runs straight on a Go or Fly route instead of a short slant.

Marshall turns and tries to gain a few more yards but is swarmed by defenders.

The Bears go back to no-huddle again, and again, it makes a difference as the Panthers don’t adjust to the offense quick enough. They’re perfectly willing at this point to give a shorter gain.

2-3-CAR 47 (1:09) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Cutler pass incomplete short left to E.Bennett.

On this play, Cutler throws the ball high and Bennett can’t get to it, but the play itself was otherwise well executed.

Again, three of the four receivers go long, with the furthermost left receiver (in this case Marshall) cutting out towards the sideline.

Cutler is under a little more pressure than on the last four plays, and rushes his throw a little, though not much. It just sails a bit high.

This stops the clock and the Bears take a moment to regroup and huddle.

3-3-CAR 47 (1:04) (Shotgun) J.Cutler pass short middle to B.Marshall to CAR 36 for 11 yards (C.Munnerlyn).

The Bears are without Bennett who leaves the field limping. On this play, Marshall runs a short slant inwards and makes a nice catch. The pass is a little ahead of him, but he does a good job of reaching out and snagging it, then securing it against the hit he knows is coming.

Again, the offense gains an important first down, and while not in great field-goal range, are within striking difference.

1-10-CAR 36 (:44) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Cutler pass short left to B.Marshall to CAR 26 for 10 yards (J.Norman).

The team goes back into no-huddle, keeping the clock running but also maximizing their use of it and again, keeping the defense from adjusting or substituting.

One more time for the now familiar Marshall short slant. Cutler delivers a strike and Marshall makes another good catch under duress.

He even turns upfield and fights for the first down. He doesn’t need it, so much as he needs the extra yards to help make Robbie Gould’s kick easier.

1-10-CAR 26 (:18) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Forte right guard to CAR 23 for 3 yards (C.Johnson).

Not willing to stop the clock or risk an interception, Matt Forte gets the call for one more run. The line opens up a good running lane and Forte is able to gain three yards while burning the clock.

The Bears allow the clock to run down to four seconds and set up for the winning kick.

Cutler does a fantastic job of managing the clock, making smart passes and keeping the ball protected.

When the game is on the line, Cutler stands in the spotlight and does not shrink, nor does he fold. He is able to withstand the pressure and put his team on his back to give them a chance to win.

This is the Cutler the Bears traded for, and he finally has the weapons to be successful with drives like this.

He will probably need to do it again, with the schedule the Bears face as we head towards the playoffs.

This is proof he can.

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