Amid the success of the No. 1 offense through the 15 plays and first quarter in the Bears’ 33-28 win over the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night were concerning trend lines, concerning because they involve old bad patterns with the centerpiece of the offense.
Coaches have worked throughout this offseason on changing some of Jay Cutler’s tendencies, in both techniques and thought processes. Simple repetition to develop muscle memory, do it the right way over and over and it’ll become second-nature.
A couple of critical things have not, however.
Brandon Marshall was the target of all five passes thrown by Jay Cutler. All five were caught, four by Marshall and one by a Charger linebacker.
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If Marshall were in fact the primary receiver in the play designs as sent in by coaches, then the over-reliance on one receiver would be on someone other than Cutler. His reconnection with Bronco-teammate Marshall last season produced record catches (118) for the wideout but also contributed to a predictable, one-dimensional offense that was among the league’s worst.
But Marshall was not the target player for whom all five of those pass plays were designed.
“No,” he said, “they just left me open so Jay came to me. He went through his progressions and I was the guy who got the ball tonight.”
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Meaning: Cutler went through his progressions until he got to Marshall, with whom he has history and familiarity. The Chargers actually didn’t necessarily leave Marshall open and Cutler still made him the guy who got the ball.
A significantly worrisome element lies in Cutler’s insistence that the throw into double coverage was not a misread and that “I knew what I was doing.”
Meaning: Cutler, who has always noted the importance of finding the receivers facing single coverage and their need to win one-on-one battles, knowingly elected to throw into double coverage. Because it was Marshall.
Cutler was sacked twice in the Bears’ first three plays. One of those was a simple blocking disaster by tight end Martellus Bennett.
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But the second was Cutler shuffling around in the pocket until he eventually came into the grasp of a San Diego defensive lineman.
The Trestman offense demands getting the ball off on time. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer declared that to be the No. 1 objective, even before he mentioned anything to do with the offensive line. Conceptually, a reasonable question right now is whether Cutler, among the NFL’s worst last season at holding the ball in the pocket, has bought into the need for quick-release. Or is he rooted in a problem mindset of just patting the ball and waiting for Marshall to work open?
Against the Carolina Panthers, Cutler broke several huddles with running plays called for Matt Forte. When the Panthers showed a run-stuff alignment, Cutler switched to pass plays and threw to five different receivers in the span of eight passes.
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Cutler and coach Marc Trestman cited field position, working on a “short” field, as some of the reason the entire Cutler passing offense went through Marshall. But Marshall’s comments suggested otherwise. Those five passes represented one-third of all the plays run by Cutler and the No. 1 offense.
The point is not picking at Cutler. The point is that the problems were not with the new system of Trestman, but with old habits of Cutler’s. It may or may not take three years to fully get an offense, as Cutler has said. But how long, if at all, will it take Cutler to un-learn patterns which he clearly believes are part of his success over seven seasons?