For all of the worries about the run defense, speed of the Philadelphia offense and Lance Briggs’ shoulder, Bears success comes increasingly down to one individual and one element of his game: Jay Cutler and his accuracy.
The Eagles have won only once in the five games when the opposing quarterback completed more than 62 percent of his passes. And the Bears rank sixth in the NFL with a 65.1 combined completion percentage with Cutler and Josh McCown.
The Bears are 5-1 when Cutler throws more touchdown passes than interceptions, the only loss coming against the New Orleans Saints. Last year they were 7-1 when Cutler put up a positive TD/INT ratio. If they achieve that this season, they will be in the playoffs.
Cutler’s rust from the time off with his ankle injury factored into his two early interceptions against the Cleveland Browns. Two of his first 13 passes were intercepted, then from that point on he completed 14 of 18 passes with zero interceptions and three touchdowns.
What that spoke to was a settling in for a quarterback who admitted afterwards to a touch of nerves.
“Last week was a tough week with everything surrounding it, the implications of the game, if we did lose the game, having to walk into the media room and deal with you [media] guys if we did lose,” Cutler said. “All those things weigh on you. So being able to move on from that I think this week is a tougher week game plan-wise for us, but we should be up for the challenge Sunday.”
The challenge from posed by the Philadelphia Eagles, who are a dismal 31st in passing yardage allowed and 31st in sack percentage, allowing an average opposing passer rating of 84.7.
The Eagles are the seventh 3-4 defense the Bears will face this season but one of the more active in forcing quarterback decisions and reads. And those can lead to interceptions, an area in which Cutler has improved incrementally but needs to rise to another level.
“The whole [Philadelphia] defense is difficult to get a grasp on,” Cutler said. “It takes some time to really get a feeling for what they’re doing and you still don’t really know exactly what they’re doing. They’re moving around a lot, lot of different front structures, lot of different coverages, a lot of blitzes coming from different places so it’s challenging for us so far.”
What to look for: Cutler’s completion percentage (63.9) is at a career high but his interception rate is still at 3.4 percent, too high for a playoff team. No team reached the 2012 playoffs behind a quarterback with a pick rate above 3.0 percent and no quarterback on a team with any real shot at this year’s playoffs has a higher interception rate than Cutler’s. Carson Palmer for 9-5 Arizona also is at 3.4 percent, but the Cardinals are a game behind Carolina and San Francisco for a wild card.