Matt Trowbridge: Mobility key to Cutler’s turnaround game, future
A good friend calls Pittsburgh’s two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback “Worthlessberger.” He contends Big Ben can’t read NFL defenses.
For most NFL quarterbacks, reading defenses means reading the coverage before the ball is snapped. Fifteen years ago, when Erik Kramer quarterbacked the Bears, Chicago lost after a short Kramer fourth-down pass was batted down. The pass was accurate; the receiver simply wasn’t open. So I asked Kramer, who wasn’t pressured on the play, why he threw it.
He said because the receiver had one-on-one coverage so he should be open.
But he wasn’t open. Doesn’t matter, Kramer said, he has to get open.
But he didn’t.
“He has to.”
Only the most special NFL quarterbacks can see what’s actually there, not just what’s expected to be there. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees live off their vision. Other quarterbacks can close that vision gap by living off their feet.
Ben Roethlisberger has had a passer rating above 98 in four of his six seasons and ranks No. 4 all time in yards per pass, the passing stat most directly correlated with winning (the top four, Otto Graham, Sid Luckman, Norm Van Brocklin and Roethlisberger, have won 11 NFL titles, and No. 5 Kurt Warner has played in three Super Bowls). Big Ben makes big plays by scrambling and throwing on the run, the same way Brett Favre won three MVPs and Joe Montana won three Super Bowls.
That’s the only way Jay Cutler will be even close to great in Chicago.
He’s always going to throw interceptions. He leads the NFL with 26 this year and ranked sixth in interception rate with Denver last year. The more he stays in the pocket, the more picks he throws.
But the more he rolls out, runs bootlegs or simply scrambles, the more big plays he makes.
“When a quarterback has the ability to extend a play, that can’t be minimized. It’s a tremendous asset,” general manager Jerry Angelo said on the day the Bears traded for Cutler.
Yet the Bears have squandered that asset during a wasted season (6-9). The Bears finally put Cutler on the move Monday night. The result: Cutler tied his career-high with four TD passes, had his second-highest yards-per-pass average of the season and the Bears beat the 11-4 Vikings 36-30 in overtime.
“That’s something we could have done more of throughout this year,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner admitted. “It’s something he does really well and we need to continue to build on.”
Not calling bootlegs earlier is one reason Turner deserves to be fired. But it’s not all his fault. Lovie Smith insisted earlier this year that mobile quarterbacks were better off staying in the pocket because that way they could run to either side.
And some of it is Cutler’s fault. He hasn’t looked to run himself. Several times this year, he has thrown interceptions – as he almost did on his first pass Monday – forcing passes into a crowd when a huge running lane loomed in front of him.
But once Cutler scrambled and hit Desmond Clark for a 26-yard gain on his fourth pass of the night Monday, he kept moving his feet, scrambling sometimes, throwing on the run others, or rolling out on bootlegs. That helped Cutler average 7.8 yards per pass after being below 6.0 in five of his last six games.
The Bears don’t do this mobile quarterback thing well. Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt tried to tether Jim Harbaugh to the pocket and turn him into a dink-and-dunk thrower. Two years after he left Chicago, Harbaugh spent the entire season on the run for the Colts and led the NFL in passer rating and yards-per-pass and came within a dropped Hail Mary of taking Indianapolis to the Super Bowl.
Lovie Smith was right in saying Monday’s win was all about the future. But Chicago’s future won’t improve if the Bears don’t change from their past ways.
That means moving Jay Cutler around in the pocket. And it means Jay Cutler moving himself.
If it doesn’t mean that, neither the Bears nor Cutler are going anywhere.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 email@example.com.