Bears needing next step from Cutler

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Bears needing next step from Cutler

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.

Wake-up Call: Miggy gets the boot; Rodon's rocky debut; More bad news for Cubs?

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

[VIVID SEATS: Get your White Sox tickets here]

The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”