By Adam Hoge-
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) Ballsy.
That’s how the quarterback described his new head coach and play-caller after the Bears’ 24-21 season-opening win over the Bengals Sunday.
“Ballsy play call,” Jay Cutler said. “That’s what’s Trest is about. He’s going to roll the dice.”
That’s right. Marc Trestman already has a nickname and a reputation after just one game in Chicago.
But Cutler’s analysis of the decision to go for it on fourth down at the Bengals’ 27-yard line with 8:32 left in the game is spot on. It wasn’t just that the Bears went for it (they needed less than a yard) it was that the play called for a Matt Forte run to the right side — the side with two rookies making their first NFL start.
“(Trestman) believes in us on offense,” Cutler said. “The way those two guys were playing up front — really all five of those guys — we could have called pretty much anything we wanted.”
Right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills got the job done. Forte patiently waited for the blocks and then bounced to the outside, gaining eight yards on the play.
On the very next snap, Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for a 19-yard game-winning touchdown, giving the Bears their first win under their new head coach.
Trestman said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer actually came up with the play selection on fourth down, but it’s still the head coach that makes the call and relays it to Cutler.
“It was the best play at the time,” Trestman said. “A game-defining moment — that fourth down — no doubt about it.”
No doubt, the defining moment of Trestman’s first game as the Bears’ head coach. And a glimpse of what’s to come.
But if you’ve been paying close attention to the way Trestman handles the roster Phil Emery has given him, the gutsiest call in the biggest moment Sunday wasn’t all that surprising. This is the guy who bounced J’Marcus Webb off the first team immediately upon witnessing what everyone else in Chicago had seen for over three years. And he had no problem sticking with the two rookies on the right side when they proved to be the best guys at those positions despite the inexperience.
Those were quick, unwavering decisions backed up Sunday by trusting those rookies when it mattered most.
What may be of greater importance though, is how the players — specifically Jay Cutler — reflected the steadiness of their head coach when they were down 21-10 in the third quarter. Trestman didn’t panic by getting pass-happy like so many Bears offensive coordinators before him. He patiently stuck with the run and called high-percentage pass plays to keep the ball moving. The offensive line stayed steady and kept their quarterback upright, which in turn led to Cutler being able to use his mobility to his advantage and complete a 30-yard pass to Martellus Bennett and a 24-yard pass to Matt Forte on the run. He also took advantage of an open hole right up the middle, running for an 18-yard gain on 2nd-and-20, which set up the “ballsy” play call on 4th down.
“We were a little stalled and they were playing a little two-man there,” Cutler said. “The line was giving me time and there were gaps in there for me to run.”
In the end, Cutler, who finished with a passer rating of 93.2, was never sacked Sunday and there were no pre-snap penalties.
“You got to give those guys up front a heck of a lot of credit for this victory,” he added.
And when’s the last time you heard Cutler have so much praise for the five big guys who line up in front of him?
There is, of course, room for improvement on offense. The Bears only had 97 yards of offense in the first half, but part of that was due to an early conservative game plan that Trestman said was designed to keep Cutler comfortable.
“I just wanted him to feel like we can get through the first quarter with this young line,” Trestman said. “Whatever happens, at least we know what we’ve got.”
What the Bears “got” is an offensive line that is capable of giving Cutler a chance to take all that potential and turn it into production. The quarterback’s only major blemish was an interception that came as a result of his arm getting knocked as he threw the ball, and it was a play in which he made the right read and had Martellus Bennett open. Meanwhile, he completed a tough first half touchdown throw to Bennett in the back of the end zone and hit Brandon Marshall in the fourth quarter on an absolute perfect laser down the sideline for a 38-yard gain to help setup the game-winning touchdown.
And, by the way, on that game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass, Marshall was the third-option. Cutler chose not to force a pass to Bennett down the middle and saw that the check down to Alshon Jeffery was jumped, but he had time to recognize that the corner blitzed, leaving Marshall one-on-one with the safety.
“I didn’t understand it,” Marshall said. “Fourth quarter, with a safety on me one-on-one, I can only ask for that and dream about that.”
But those are the kind of mismatches that come with multiple weapons like Marshall, Jeffery and Martellus Bennett on the field. Of course, it’s up the quarterback to make the right read and the offensive line to give the quarterback the time to make his progressions.
And it starts with the coaching staff putting together a smart game plan and calling the right plays — something that, until Sunday, was a rarity in Chicago.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.