Breaking Down the Jay Cutler Roller Coaster & What Bears Fans Should Now Expect
Maybe there was some naivety to the idea that Marc Trestman could suddenly transform a 30-year-old Jay Cutler into an invulnerable, safe-guarding quarterback that was detached from a checkered past.
Or maybe, more simply, the head coach that can keep Cutler from riding mountainous highs and cavernous lows on a week-to-week, series-to-series basis just doesn't exist.
After two come-from-behind wins and a 3-0 start, Cutler appeared to be ascending towards bigger and better things under Trestman, a noted quarterback guru hired this offseason to "fix" the gunslinger. But Sunday in Detroit was a free fall of sorts, as Cutler had four turnovers and looked every bit the same player he was over his first four roller-coaster-riddled seasons in Chicago.
Former Bears linebacker and teammate Hunter Hillenmeyer couldn't have put the Cutler experience in more perfect terms:
Wow, no QB in the league with wider variance between his ceiling and floor. Makes today hard to watch. #Bears— Hunter Hillenmeyer (@hthill) September 29, 2013
This might be the conclusion that will best fit Cutler's past, present and future.
For all his quarterbacking experience and wisdom, Trestman couldn't prevent Cutler from eventually reverting back to the player he's always been.
That isn't to say Trestman hasn't done wonders with Cutler, because he has. During the first three weeks, Cutler bought into becoming a more tame but efficient quarterback. The mistakes were limited and never came in bunches, and Cutler's mastery of the the fourth quarter became the tangible difference between 3-0 and 0-3.
There was a growing sense that Cutler had turned a corner.
Just last week, Dan Pompei wrote a telling and fascinating piece at Sports on Earth on the "maturation" of Cutler. The Bears quarterback has not only grown up personally—in large part due to the blossoming of his immediate family—but also as an NFL quarterback. The easy answer why? The presence of Trestman, a 57-year-old head coach who has nearly 20 years of experience teaching the position.
"No doubt, it's Marc's influence," Bears back Josh McCown said, when asked what the difference in Cutler has been this season. "Marc has had an influence on his will to learn."
Cutler quickly applied his education to three different Sunday tests.
He threw three interceptions against the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers combined, but he also finished with three passer ratings above 90.0 and a completion percentage nearing 68. A new, quicker trigger handcuffed pressure, and he took just three sacks. More importantly, the Bengals and Vikings were both beat when Cutler threw touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers were put to rest when he once again delivered a clutch score in the final period.
Everything about Cutler the quarterback under Trestman the coach appeared to be trending up.
But then Sunday's meltdown in Detroit happened, and now it's safe to wonder if Cutler is exactly who we originally thought he was, albeit now in a less significant dose.
He mostly forced his first two interceptions, despite the fact that his opening pick gave Alshon Jeffery a chance to make a play. Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas jumped Jeffery's crossing route after Cutler tried to fit a third-down throw into a tight window. While fault here doesn't fall all on the quarterback, the result was still an interception.
Fellow safety Glover Quin got into the action later in the half when Cutler floated an awful attempt to Brandon Marshall against some initial pressure. He threw off his back foot and the ball was woefully underthrown, and Quin returned the interception inside Chicago's 5-yard line.
In the second half, Cutler airmailed Jeffery on another third down throw and took a strip-sack that resulted in a Lions defensive touchdown.
His four turnovers resulted in 17 points for Detroit, who won by only eight after the Bears offense finally came to life late in the contest. But it's simply too difficult to win under those circumstances.
Since 2009—Cutler's first season in Chicago—the Bears are just 3-10 when turning the football over four or more times. Overall, NFL teams with four or more giveaways in a game are a combined 23-179 (.114) during that same stretch.
These were the type of turnover-crazy games Trestman was brought in to curtail. Unlike so many other quarterbacks of his overall talent level (and there aren't many), Cutler has always allowed mistakes to snowball into game-changing performances. One bad turnover early has so often ruptured into games where Cutler finishes with three, four or five turnovers.
The Bears lose those games as a result. In fact, Chicago has never won a game in which Cutler has thrown more than two interceptions (0-7).
Was Jay Cutler the primary reason for the Bears losing in Detroit on Sunday?
After three weeks of avoiding that fate, Cutler went back to the same worn-out script against the Lions.
Mistakes compounded mistakes. During a four-possession stretch in the second quarter, Cutler threw his second pick (which led to a touchdown) and captained a trio of three-and-outs that altogether totaled minus-10 yards. In the meantime, the Lions turned a 10-6 Bears lead into a 30-10 Detroit romp with 24 straight points.
“It just boils down to my turnovers,” Cutler said postgame, via Adam Hoge of CBS Chicago.
During a season otherwise overflowing with new highs and obvious evidence of progression, Sunday provided Cutler with his 2013 low point. And his performance in Detroit also highlighted that while Trestman's steadying hand may ensure that the lows are fewer and far between, Cutler is still capable of producing these mind-numbing lows regardless of the coach in his ear.
The version of Jay Cutler presented to the world from Weeks 1 to 3 is clearly capable of taking the Bears as high as they can reach. Given the circumstances, few quarterbacks were better in the first three weeks than Cutler.
But even Trestman can't keep Cutler from occasionally hitting rock bottom, and when he does, days like Sunday are sure to follow.
Cutler will bounce back. But the question now becomes when his next free fall will accompany it.
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