Before his groin injury against Washington, Jay Cutler appeared to finally be getting it.
Cutler was playing at a career-best level before he suffered the groin tear against Washington. Before that he had been averaging 272 passing yards and two touchdowns per game, against one interception per game, which itself was slightly better than his career average. In three of the four games before Washington, he had thrown zero interceptions and was at a rating of 95.2 for the season.
His next two games involved the groin and ankle injuries and he has played little. The first question hanging over him on Sunday in Cleveland will be whether he kept learning while he wasn’t playing, or if he will revert to the kinds of things responsible for what only can be termed career under-achievement.
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But Cutler worked with McCown and sounded this week like he was paying attention to what is happening around the quarterback position in the Marc Trestman offense.
“Just watching Josh’s game, just kind of seeing what he has done, and seeing how good our offensive line is playing and seeing how many weapons we have on the outside and just seeing how easy it has been to manage the game and those guys on the outside made plays,” Cutler said summarizing what, if anything, he learned as a sideline observer. “Just giving them an opportunity, getting the ball to Matt [Forte] on check downs, letting him run the ball.”
Indeed, the issue with Cutler will be whether he actually puts those lessons into action. A prime directive with the coaching staff coming in was to get Cutler throwing the ball more on time. He was doing that, and the focus in Cleveland will be less on what the Browns do than on what Cutler does in an offense that was producing at least gaudy yardage totals (and points vs. Dallas) under a supposedly lesser quarterback.
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“I think that our line has had a chance to be together longer,” Trestman said. “We’ve had a chance to get to know what our players can do well and things we need to focus on, I think our coaching staff has done a good job of that, and our players are becoming more familiar with the things that we’re asking them to do.
“Because we’ve been fortunate enough to be reasonably healthy with our other 10 guys, we’ve had a chance to grow and learn more about each other.”
The “other 10 guys” have been learning in Cutler’s absence. Now he gets his own pop quiz to assess how close he was paying attention.
What to look for: Cutler has played very little since he tore his groin in the Washington game back on Oct. 20. He did play into the fourth quarter of the Detroit game before the ankle injury but that is very little live action over the past two months. The Browns are ninth in the NFL with 37 sacks and have edge rushers capable of dangerous pressure.
Coaches and players said they are not expecting Cutler to have problems with rust. Best guess is that the Browns will test that, stack the box to stifle Matt Forte on early downs, then bring pressure to force Cutler into hurry-up decisions, wrong reads and resulting turnovers.