Bates-Cutler reunion doesn't guarantee good things for Bears

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Bates-Cutler reunion doesn't guarantee good things for Bears

When Mike Martz was hired in 2010 as Bears offensive coordinator, the euphoria was palpable in some quarters. This was going to be the great leap forward for Jay Cutler and the Chicago offense.

It didnt prove to be entirely the case. The Bears were the No. 6 scoring offense when Cutler went down with his broken thumb. But the greatest leaps forward over the past two seasons followed when coach Lovie Smith gave then-OL coach Mike Tice a greater voice in the game planning.

Tice was elevated to coordinator and Jeremy Bates brought in as quarterbacks coach, without the designation of passing-game coordinator. The positive buzz began again because Bates coached Cutler with the Denver Broncos in the quarterbacks first three NFL seasons.

Its a big advantage for us, coach Lovie Smith said during last weekend's rookie minicamp. When I was looking at filling the position, I took all of that into consideration. Jeremy has a background, has a history.

But not all the Bates history is good. The rejoicing that some accorded the hiring of Martz and what it would mean for Cutlers development was premature. Any celebration of Bates arrival simply because he was in Cutlers ear during the 2006-08 seasons should be put on hold as well.

Reality check

This is not to say that Bates, a position coach, cannot emerge as a major positive force in a passing game built around and on Cutler.

But the stark reality is that Bates needs to produce better results than he has at any previous time in his NFL career. Otherwise his addition to the staff may end up in the MartzTurnerHamilton file.

Since becoming a position coach with Tampa Bay in 2004, Bates has coached on only one winning NFL team (the 9-7 Denver team in 2006, Cutlers rookie season). That team did not reach the playoffs despite being 7-4 when Cutler replaced Jake Plummer as the starter.

Notably perhaps, that Denver offense was the most balanced, with a near 50-50 split between run and pass. The next two years saw Denver tilt increasingly toward throwing, at 56 percent in 2007 and 38 percent in 2008 when Bates was the chief play caller.

The 2008 team stood at 8-5 but lost the final three in a row with Cutler throwing 2 touchdown passes vs. 4 interceptions and posting three consecutive sub-75 ratings in that span.

Given Tices commitment to offensive balance and Bates relationship with Cutler, Bates buy-in to that philosophy looms as a pivotal mindset for 2012.

The only NFL team to make the playoffs was the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, which went 7-9 and fired Bates after the season ended with a playoff loss to the Bears. Bates, like Martz after his failed 2008 season with San Francisco, was out of football the following season.

We lost in the 10 playoffs, and Im just very fortunate to be with a great Bears staff and great ownership and some good players, Bates said.

Bates Cutler management

Bates role in molding Cutler warrants some particular scrutiny. Cutlers fundamentals were a target of Martz from the beginning and of critics within the NFL community who saw throws off the back foot and other flaws.

Not all of those could be blamed on Cutlers one year with Ron Turner and Pep Hamilton, since he didnt particularly listen to them anyway.

The operating principle now is that Cutler will listen to Bates.

We were together in Denver for three years, Bates said. I think hes got great talent. Hes a Pro Bowl quarterback. And Im excited to be with him.

The Bates-Cutler yarn ball is difficult to unravel and shouldnt be taken as an automatic positive any more than Cutlers seeming early endorsement of Martz was.

Cutler went to the Pro Bowl off his 2008 season. But Pro Bowl selections are questionable indicators, voted-on awards with fan input counting for one-third, not anything won on the field.

Indeed, Cutler was selected to the Pro Bowl despite a passer rating of 86.0. That rating, which measures passing, not winning or quarterbacking, was second only to Brett Favres 81.0 for the New York Jets that same year as the lowest for a Pro Bowl quarterback over the last six seasons.

The only Bowl that matters

The term of last six seasons was used only because that extends back through the 2006 season -- when the Bears went to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman, who was hardly a Pro Bowl quarterback with his 73.9 rating but at least owns an NFC Championship ring. Cutler does not.

(Best guess is that given the choice of Bowl to make, Cutler chooses Super over Pro. If not, the Bears have a bigger problem.)

Hes still the same quarterback, Bates said. Has a great arm. I think the experience of any profession, or anything you do, the more times you do it you grow with it, both good and bad.

Hes definitely matured as a player, because hes had good games and bad games, and you get better every game. So the more experience and the more snaps, youre always going to get better at your craft.

For the Bears purposes, that needs to apply to both quarterback and coach.

Hes a good football coach, Smith said. I knew that before and I believe it even more now from seeing him work with our players. I think our guys will talk to you the same way about what hes brought to the table. So, pretty excited about that. He should help us.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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