Fixing Jay Cutler is likely the main reason the Chicago Bears hired Marc Trestman as head coach. The noted quarterback guru must unlock Cutler's potential by improving some of his basic technique, including footwork.
Trestman's knowledge of the West Coast offense will help Cutler, as will a renewed commitment to finally bolstering an abysmal offensive line and developing a more expansive role for multipurpose runner Matt Forte.
Starting with improving Cutler's protection first, Trestman must stress more sensible blocking schemes. A play from Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers is a prime example of Chicago's failings up front in 2012.
The Packers are in a simple 2-4-5 nickel, and Clay Matthews will rush the edge of the protection. Matthews is Green Bay's most dangerous pass-rusher and should command the most attention.
Yet bizarrely, he is allowed to rush one-on-one against woefully over-matched left tackle J'Marcus Webb. A failure in the Bears' blocking schemes helps create this obvious mismatch.
Notice how Forte (22) has released into a pass-pattern on Matthews' side, instead of staying in to chip the premier pass-rusher. Worse still, the Bears have willingly positioned a tight end, Kellen Davis (87), on the opposite side.
With a choice between double-teaming Matthews or Erik Walden, the Bears chose to pay Walden extra attention. Not too surprisingly, Matthews claimed one of the Packers' seven sacks on the night.
The Bears have to get smarter about how they design protections around Cutler. Trestman should start by sliding his blocking toward an opponent's biggest pass-rush threat.
The Bears have committed to fixing their issues up front this offseason. They added Jermon Bushrod in free agency to play left tackle and used their top pick on guard Kyle Long.
However, it is new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer who could prove to be the most important acquisition. He worked wonders with the New Orleans Saints offensive line.
As a former line coach, Kromer will build his scheme around a strong foundation up front. In truth, that's just what the Bears were hoping for from Mike Tice.
But spending years designing blocking schemes to successfully protect Drew Brees means Kromer is a better bet to deliver.
He knows that superior blocking schemes will be the key to Cutler making Trestman's West Coast system work. According to Adam Hoge of CBS Chicago, Kromer has indicated the protection designs will be more varied than in previous seasons:
I think you create plays that ask him to get rid of the ball quicker. When you ask him all the time, time after time, to throw the ball down the field without changing the protection scheme, he’s going to hold onto the ball at times.
Consistent breakdowns in protection, combined with Cutler's own rash instincts, have made the quarterback increasingly error-prone.
Another play from the Week 2 clash in Green Bay shows how Trestman must work on Cutler's decision-making.
Cutler is planning to target wideout Brandon Marshall on a post-corner route against the Packers' base 3-4 look. The play calls for Marshall to attack the gap behind the cornerback and in front of the deep safety.
As soon as the ball is snapped, the Packers double cover Marshall. Cornerback Tramon Williams trails his route underneath, in front of Marshall.
With a cornerback underneath and a safety hovering over the top, the Packers have the perfect bracket around Marshall.
That should be an obvious signal to Cutler to avoid Marshall. Instead, standing in a collapsing pocket, Cutler brazenly trusts his arm to get the ball into the smallest of gaps.
Not too surprisingly, he was intercepted on this play, one of four interceptions he threw in this game.
Cutler's reckless approach and cavalier faith in his own arm strength can be modified in a more disciplined system. The West Coast, with its timing patterns, short drops and varied underneath options, is the ideal scheme for Cutler.
He produced his best football with the Denver Broncos in 2007 and 2008. Then he played for Mike Shanahan in a version of the West Coast offense.
One of the central tenants of the scheme is a prolific pass-catching running back. The Bears already have that in Matt Forte.
But Forte was underused in 2012. Trestman must make him more of a feature of the offense and clearly plans to, according to Twincities.com, citing Dan Pompei of The Chicago Tribune:
Forte subsequently is learning new positions. He said he is studying to play H-Back as well as "F," which also is called the "move" tight end. And he is preparing to be split out as a receiver. The Bears coaches know Forte in space is a good thing.
Trestman has a fine history of featuring running backs as prominent weapons in the passing game, just as he once did with Charlie Garner for the Oakland Raiders. As Pompei points out, "In 2002, when Trestman was the Raiders' offensive coordinator and Aaron Kromer the offensive line coach, Garner caught 91 passes for 941 yards, and had 1,903 all purpose yards."
Featuring Forte more often as a receiver will give Cutler an invaluable underneath target. This safety valve will also encourage the quarterback to spread the ball around more and not focus on Marshall.
That will improve Cutler's 81.3 rating from 2012. However, as much as refining some of Cutler's gung-ho instincts is important, Trestman must strike the right balance.
Cutler should be afforded the freedom to attack on occasion. His arm strength is a major asset when used correctly, as this play from Week 14 against the Minnesota Vikings indicates.
Cutler will target Alshon Jeffery on the outside. He will attempt to beat the deep safety help.
This is where footwork, something Cutler still struggles with, is so important. As he surveys the field notice how stable his feet are.
His back foot is planted firmly. This gives him the ideal platform to step into and launch his deep throw.
From the defensive side, it is easy to see Cutler's back foot planted firmly. That helps him quickly and smoothly shift his front foot in the direction of the throw.
These near-flawless mechanics lead to a perfect long pass that drops right over Jeffery's head and beats the safety help for a simple score.
Working on quicker drops and more precise and consistent foot placement will improve both Cutler's accuracy and reduce the number of sacks he takes.
Again, this is where the West Coast system will make a huge difference to Cutler. Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com once noted the scheme's emphasis on short pass-drops:
The initial Walsh concept was for a standard pro-set offense -- two backs in split alignment, two wide receivers and a tight end -- designed to get the ball quickly from the quarterback to the skill-position players. The idea was to release all five of the eligible receivers at the same time, relying on three- and five-step drops by the quarterback to compensate for most blocking breakdowns, and to throw the ball crisply and on the break.
Trestman must combine these quicker mechanics with Cutler's potential for the big play. He can rely on an essential West Coast staple to help him do it.
Going back to the Shanahan offense, Cutler should be well-versed in the play-action game. That can be used to attack defenses with Hi-Lo concepts.
The Redskins are facing 1st-and-15 and will attempt to free wideout Aldrick Robinson on a deep-crossing route. Fellow receiver Leonard Hankerson will occupy coverage underneath.
Once the ball is snapped, Robinson attacks vertically and Hankerson works the intermediate zones.
As the play develops, the Redskins have their Hi-Lo concept set.
The play action draws up the linebackers. This splits the second and third levels of the defense.
Robinson is left wide open and completes a 68-yard scoring play.
Trestman can work in these same play-action, Hi-Lo combination concepts. Cutler will be familiar will them from his days with Shanahan, and they should create more big plays through the air.
Trestman has the right scheme and weapons in place to quickly fix Cutler. The shorter pass-drops of the West Coast and more varied protection designs will reduce the number of sacks he takes.
Working Forte back into the passing game more often will encourage Cutler to spread the ball around more often. Playing in a more disciplined scheme will help refine Cutler's technique and eliminate his penchant for turnovers.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Network, Fox Sports and NFL.com