Bears needing next step from Cutler

Bears needing next step from Cutler
October 28, 2012, 4:31 am
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A mantra of the Bears is their focus on cleaning some things up, whether assignments, procedures, techniques or whatever.

With the offense, some things have been reasonably clean or at least getting cleaner. The line has settled since Chilo Rachal took over at left guard. The five sacks and six penalties vs. Detroit notwithstanding, the group has allowed no more than two sacks in four of six games.

Brandon Marshall is seventh in the NFL in receptions (41) and receiving yardage (577).

Setting aside Jay Cutler's rushing yardage because his scrambles are basically broken plays, running backs combined are averaging 135 rushing yards the past three games and Matt Forte is averaging 100-plus on the ground the past two games.

The area that has not taken a true performance step forward so far is the most important one: quarterback.

Cutler is not playing to the level he was last season when he injured his thumb in game 10. Through the first six games last season he had eight TD passes vs. four interceptions. This year, hes again got eight but has thrown seven interceptions.

His passer rating is 78.3. Last year, without Marshall and with a struggling JMarcus Webb guarding his left edge, it was 85.7.

Cutler has improved to become the NFLs top-ranked passer in the fourth quarter. ESPN places him among the top quarterbacks in fourth-quarter situations of a touchdown difference or less.

But the Bears have never trailed in a fourth quarter other than at Green Bay the one time this season they needed him to direct a come-from-behind performance. With the Bears trailing 13-3 in that fourth quarter, he threw two interceptions and was sacked four times, not all the fault of his line.

After his display of resiliency following the Ndamukong Suh hit last Monday, Cutler has earned the respect of his coordinator.

For him to come back and suck it up, you could tell he was a little sore, but Im very, very proud of him, Mike Tice said. I thought he played well.

Carolina on his mind

Still, Cutler may be learning to win without being great and this may be the ultimate tipping point in his career. He didnt win anything in his first four years relying on his magic arm.

Of his seven interceptions, four were at Green Bay, legitimately classing that game as perhaps an aberration. Defenses like Houstons and San Franciscos will be better indicators.

The Bears are 23-9 since the start of 2010 with him as their starter. They crushed the Carolina Panthers in 2010 with him missing a game with a concussion and won 34-29 last year with him. He has shown signs of being more of a student of the game, something that channels talent rather than simply relying on it alone.

I have a lot of respect for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, Cutler said. I played him when he was here and down in San Diego. Theyre going to be well-prepared.