Aaron Rodgers isn’t likely to be all that rusty when he returns as Green Bay’s starter after seven weeks down with a broken collarbone. This looms as very important vis-á-vis Cutler.
“(Rodgers has) been in the same offense for a long time, so I expect Aaron to come back and play pretty sharply,” Cutler said. “He’s been doing this for a long time with Mike (McCarthy), so he’s going to be pretty familiar with what’s going on out there. I wouldn’t expect much of a drop-off from him by any means.”
Why this matters so much is that the Bears have gotten off to dismal starts in three of their last four games, the last two with Cutler back as starter with some admitted rust. In Cleveland the first five possessions ended with two punts, two interceptions and one field goal. That wasn’t fatal against a team 27th in scoring.
But in the first seven offensive possessions at Philadelphia, the Bears punted five times, kicked one field goal and took a safety, after which they were down 26-3.
If the Bears start that way against Green Bay and Rodgers as expected is not rusty, the Bears will be watching the playoffs on TV rather than from a sideline.
“Every game is a different story,” Cutler said. “We don’t know how it’s going to turn out. We could go out there and have to punt the first couple drives and then get it going. We could start out hot. We’ve just got to stay in it for all four quarters, offense, defense, special teams all doing their jobs.”
Ironically, a fast start by the Chicago offense is perhaps the biggest help the Chicago defense can receive. The Dallas Cowboys ran the ball reasonably well against the Bears’ defense in the first half (DeMarco Murray had 13 carries and 99 yards), but the Bears kept scoring every time they had the ball. Dallas couldn’t, and the Cowboys had to abandon the run in order to try speeding up scoring.
The week before he was injured against the Bears, Rodgers guided the Packers to touchdown-field goal-touchdown in their first three possessions. He and the offense produced TD-TD-punt-FG in the first four against Cleveland before that.
Cutler started poorly at Cleveland but recovered for a spectacular fourth quarter and the Bears won. He started poorly in Philadelphia and didn’t recover; neither did the Bears.
“I think that the quarterback is the focal point of the football team,” coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s the guy who really flies the plane. It’s not on autopilot. He’s got to fly it in all different kinds of weather.
“That’s what the quarterback has to do, so it’s extremely important that he plays efficiently from a standpoint of all 10 other guys. He’s got to put those guys in position to succeed, and they’ve got to help him to do that as well. It’s a team game, but it is a quarterback-run game. The quarterback is always going to be the focal point, and that’s because he has more to do and more responsibility on his shoulders because of all that’s involved in the position.”
What to look for: Cutler is not by nature or disposition a game manager, but his ability to manage this one might be the difference between the Bears playing more than their regularly scheduled 16 games this season.
The Bears are 6-2 in games where they have held an edge in time of possession. That includes the first Green Bay game, in which Eddie Lacy and the Packers ran for 199 yards but the Bears ran for 171 of their own and, most important, did not turn the ball over once. Cutler’s ability to let his playmakers work and avoid mistakes, rather than him forcing attempts at big plays, is the Bears’ best answer to Aaron Rodgers.