By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — One win. Seven losses. Eight touchdowns. Seventeen interceptions.
Those are Jay Cutler’s numbers in eight games against the Green Bay Packers during his five seasons as the Bears’ quarterback.
So, how do you explain them?
“We weren’t as good on offense,” Cutler said Thursday.
Some will read into that comment and accuse the quarterback of blaming others instead of himself. Fine. But it happens to be true.
The Bears weren’t as good on offense in those eight other games. That’s why they changed head coaches and upgraded the talent around their quarterback.
But this is also true: The Bears are good enough on offense now.
Fans on both sides of the Bears-Packers rivalry were robbed in Week 9 when the two teams met at Lambeau Field. Cutler missed the game with a torn groin and Aaron Rodgers fractured his collarbone on the Packers’ first offensive series of the game.
What was supposed to be a measuring stick of the progress under first-year head coach Marc Trestman quickly turned into a prime time dud, with Josh McCown besting Seneca Wallace 27-20 on Monday Night Football. The win ended the Bears’ six-game losing streak to the Packers, but it failed to provide any definitive clues as to how Trestman’s team will stack up against Mike McCarthy’s squad in the future.
That’s what this week is for.
With McCarthy’s announcement that Rodgers will return, Sunday’s NFC North title game at Soldier Field is now a fair measuring stick of where the Trestman-Cutler tandem stands in relationship to the McCarthy-Rodgers tandem. Yes, of course, there are plenty of other variables in Sunday’s game (including the Bears’ struggling defense), but as an organization, this is exactly the type of scenario you want to evaluate where your team stands.
“The pressure to win is there every week,” Cutler said. “We can’t make this game more than it is.”
Here’s what it isn’t: A final test to see if Jay Cutler should continue to be the Bears’ starting quarterback.
Sunday’s game is merely another piece of the overall evaluation. But it is fair to separate Cutler’s numbers against the Packers. If the head coach is going to be judged by his record against the Packers, then the starting quarterback can be too.
But Cutler is right when he says the offense wasn’t as good in his eight previous games against Green Bay. You may hate it, but it’s a valid excuse. Sure, his 53.6 completion percentage against the Packers is not good, but the 30 sacks he has taken in those games tells you all you need to know.
Those numbers aren’t an excuse anymore though. By his own admission, Cutler has the offense around him now. He has the offensive line, he has the receivers, and, most importantly, he has the play caller.
“(Trestman) calls a play and it works,” Cutler said Thursday. “He’s hitting the coverages on the head. If we’ve got a Cover 3 play, we’re getting Cover 3. If we’ve got a man play, we’re getting man. He’s not calling Cover-2 beaters and we’re catching man, or vice versa. He’s got a good feel for defenses and he’s making sure we have answers.”
And less excuses.
“I think that the quarterback is the focal point of the football team,” Trestman said. “He’s the guy who really flies the plane. It’s not on autopilot. He’s got to fly it in all different kinds of weather. That’s what the quarterback has to do, so it’s extremely important that he plays efficiently from a standpoint of all 11, 10 other guys. He’s got to put those guys in position to succeed, and they’ve got to help him to do that as well.”
Bears general manager Phil Emery has spent the last two years putting Cutler in position to succeed. The additions of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, and — most importantly — Marc Trestman prove as much.
And it was all done with one thing in mind.
“We want to develop a program that competes for championships, and we’re in a position on Sunday to compete for a championship.”
That quote came from Trestman on Thursday, but it’s right out of the Phil Emery handbook. Every decision at Halas Hall is being made with the common goal of winning a championship in mind.
The next big decision will be about the starting quarterback. That decision will not be determined because of one game, but it would be naive to think that Trestman and Cutler’s first game together against the Packers will not be judged closely.
A head coach is expected to win his division. A quarterback is expected to play well in the biggest games.
Trestman was brought to Chicago to get the most out of his quarterback and close the offensive gap between the Bears and Packers. Fifteen games of evidence show that the gap should be closed Sunday when the two teams meet at Soldier Field to decide the NFC North.
Theoretically, Trestman should be expected to beat a 7-7-1 Packers team at home with the division on the line. An unreliable defense might make it hard to judge the head coach negatively should the Bears lose, but what happens on offense against the Packers matters in the big picture.
For Trestman, it’s a measuring stick of his first year as head coach. For Cutler, it’s at least a game that is bound to be brought up at the negotiating table — either for or against him.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.