15 on 6: Cutler was Catalyst for Bears on Sunday

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15 on 6: Cutler was Catalyst for Bears on Sunday

Monday, October 5th
CSNChicago.com
Jay Cutler proved to be the catalyst on Sunday as the Chicago Bears played down to the level of their opponent during week 4. Many times, as a player, you sense your team is just not "feeling it" on gameday. You build upall week preparing mentally and physically for Sunday. I have been through great weeks of practice where your confident everyone is "locked in" as a team, only to go out andlay an egg. Other times, practices were so wretched you worried of the embarrassment along with the wrath of coaches that would soon follow a poor performanceonly to besurprised when the team put forth one of its best efforts. Normally, a player steps up and stops the bleeding in the later scenario which Jay Cutler did today.

I couldalways tell in the huddle if we were going through the motions.Asthe startingquarterback, you are in charge of the group. You have to do something to get the blood flowing in the offense. It could be changing the tempo with snap count, the inflection of your voice calling plays to create a sense of urgency, or it could be flat out making a play. Jay infused not only the offense, buthisentire team. The excitement from asell out crowd was his bonus. Three times with great plays, Jay stopped the bleeding for the Bears in the first half. Otherwise, it could have been a long day.

1. Look at the reactionfrom Bear teammates whenJay leaped into the end zone for the Bears first score. Heearned more trust displaying he willsacrifice his bodyfor his team when called upon. When you have a chance to score in the NFL, YOU DO IT! Too many things can go wrong on any play. Just look at the 3rd downand goal situation early third quarter as reference. Jaytried to hand offa power play to Matt Forte but was stepped on by pullingRG Roberto Garza thus,the Bears had to settle for a field goal by Robbie Gould.You must seize the opportunity when you have it and Jay knowing the moment cashed in withunselfishness and great effort on his touchdown run.

2. I originally thoughthis second big play was a double post, but after seeing the replay, it was a deep dig route (in cut)toEarl Bennett. Hester was in the slot with Bennett on his outside. Jay faked the play action to his left, which is tough actionfor a right handed thrower. The reason is your eyes come off the safeties as you drop to fake and your back is to the defense. Also, you are dropping opposite of what you need to set your feetto deliver the football. You need to make your fake a good onetofreeze thedefender over the slot and the middle linebacker who could potentially drop into the lane of the throw. Once you reel around you better locate that backside safety quickly because he is your key. If the safety bites on the dig route, Jay may have potentially hitHester down the middle who was influencing by clearing him deep. Lions safety Ko Simpsonwas threatened enough by Hester's speed for Jay to pull the trigger for a 25 yard gain to Bennett, which set up the two yard TD pass to TE KellenDavis.

3.Touchdown number one when Jay called his own number influenced touchdown number three to Greg Olsen in the second quarter. Offensive Coordinator Ron Turner wanted to put the ball in the hot hand of Jay at this point. It was a 4th down and goal call. Give Jay the run pass option. The Lions already witnessed Jay running for a score. They immediately reacted when Jay bootlegged out to prevent him from doing it again. It became an easy touchdown toss to Greg Olsen in the back of the end zone to put the Bears ahead 21 to 14.

This is why the NFL is a QB driven league. A quarterback like Jay Cutler can elevate everyone's play. It's what franchise QB's do. You can't tell me the Indianapolis Colts defense is better than the Bears. Why are the Coltsundefeated? When the offensive line is notup to snuff, Manning makes a play!WhenJosephAddai got hurt last year, Manning made plays! When soonto be Hall of Fame WR Marvin Harrison retired, the offense has not missed a beat! Be thankful for Jay Cutler. Ron Turner is! His play calling just got a hell of a lot easier this year. The last three weeks have proved it withso-called nowide receivers and an offense that supposedly can't run the ball.

Cautionary quarterback tales for Bears as playoffs move along

Cautionary quarterback tales for Bears as playoffs move along

Watching the playoffs from a safe distance since the Bears aren’t in them, you see things that make you think… .

Watching the Atlanta Falcons demolish the Seattle Seahawks might have raised a gee-what-if moment, as in what if Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the presumptive first choice of GM Ryan Pace to succeed Marc Trestman, had ended up directing the Bears instead?

Don’t spend a lot of time on that one. This isn’t quite GM Phil Emery deciding on Trestman over Bruce Arians, which earns some richly deserved second-guess time. And it’s not quite accurate to declare that John Fox wasn’t Pace’s first choice, because Fox did become that first choice when he somewhat unexpectedly came free from the Denver Broncos.

More to the relevant point, however, is that Quinn inherited Matt Ryan (not Jay Cutler) as his quarterback effected something of a breakthrough for the Falcons because of what he did having little to do directly with Ryan.

Ryan became “great” this season because Quinn, who has a deep defensive pedigree that included two distinguished stints with Seattle, turned the Atlanta defense into something ferocious. Ryan was 1-4 in playoff games before Saturday in very large part because the Falcons had given up 28, 28, 24, 48 and 30 points in Ryan’s five postseason games. Ryan didn’t have to throw-throw-throw this year because his teams weren’t behind; his total attempts this season (534) were the fewest of his last seven seasons.

So would the Bears have been better off with Quinn than Fox? Only if Quinn brought Russell Wilson with him from Seattle.

Jimmy Garoppolo the answer to the Bears’ quarterback quest? Consider carefully because those who do not learn from the mistakes in history are condemned to repeat them.

Ryan Pace is obviously right in placing the code-red priority on addressing his quarterback situation. And it increasingly difficult to envision a workable scenario other than Brian Hoyer signed as a veteran starter (more on that another time), Connor Shaw or Matt Barkley (probably not) as a No. 2, and a draft choice.

One reason was on display Saturday in New England, and a cautionary reason at that. Call it an object lesson.

The Texans cast their lot with Brock Osweiler to the tune of $72 million, their thinking being that he was a franchise answer based on his resume consisting of precisely seven starts (one against the Bears) with a really good Denver team in 2015. But Osweiler, who’d already been benched for a late-season week, was further exposed in the double-digit loss Saturday to New England, a game in which Osweiler threw 3 interceptions to dig a fatal hole for the Texans and a defense among the NFL’s elite even without J.J. Watt.

Like the Bears were with Jay Cutler’s contract in 2015 and 2016, the Texans are stuck for massive ($19 million for Osweiler) guaranteed money before next season even gets here. The cries for Houston to eat the deal have already started.

But the overriding lesson lies in expecting a backup, even a basically OK one, to somehow be more than he was with his previous team.

Notably, Brady proved what he was in 2001 when Bledsoe was injured and Brady guided the Patriots into the postseason, so effectively that Bill Belichick made the decision, as Jason Garrett did in Dallas between Dak Prescott and Tony Romo, to stay the course with the No. 2. He knew exactly what he had in Brady.

Others were victims of false hope/hype.

And the constant seems to be a mysterious assumption that if the guy is No. 2 to a pretty good quarterback, then HE must be a really good quarterback.

Scott Mitchell (behind Dan Marino), Matt Cassel (behind Brady), Matt Flynn (behind Aaron Rodgers), Kevin Kolb (behind Donovan McNabb), Chad Henne (behind Chad Pennington), Ryan Mallett (behind Brady), Osweiler (behind Peyton Manning) – all backups who gave enough of a tantalizing tease for some hopeful team to gamble – and lose, big.

Probably just a coincidence here, but Cassel, Mallett and now Garoppolo all back/backed up…yeah, THAT guy.

One epic exception is Drew Brees, whom the New Orleans Saints acquired as a free agent after the San Diego Chargers decided their future lay with Philip Rivers. But Brees is memorable for precisely that reason, that No. 2’s going on to greatness are easy to remember because they are so rare.

Pace was on the pro personnel scouting side of things with New Orleans when the Saints made the Brees move. Unlikely he would be a knee-jerk follower of something he was involved with that worked once.

But stranger, and worse, things have happened in the NFL.

Devin Hester: From busting returns to a bust in Canton

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AP

Devin Hester: From busting returns to a bust in Canton

Difference makers. Playmakers.  Game changers.

It's more of what the present-day Bears are trying to stock their roster with and develop the potential ones that might already be there. The Bears of the mid- and late-2000s either inherited, drafted, or signed enough of them on the defensive side to remain a contender that too often fell short. A big reason for that was their inability to do the same on the offensive side of the ball.

But general manager Jerry Angelo made a boom-or-bust roll of the dice in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft on a kid from Miami. He was definitely special and could be a difference makear, but didn't really have a position.

If Devin Hester did indeed play the final game of his career Saturday in Atlanta, the 11-year pro gave us a quick flashback at age 34, if only wearing the navy, white and neon green of the Seahawks instead of the navy, white and orange of the Bears.

An 80-yard punt return was nullified due to a holding call. But he had five kick returns for 194 yards. Had he produced like that more consistently in recent years with the Falcons, or this season with the Ravens before signing a pre-playoff deal with Seattle, he wouldn't be retiring, as he says he now will.

Those Bears teams with the frustrating, inconsistent offenses that fell short of the mostly-high defensive standard set during Lovie Smith's years needed something extra. That was Hester.

When you pore through the hits and misses of Angelo Era drafts, this gamble was a thumbs up, even if the desire to further implement Hester's natural gifts fell short (and confirmed by Atlanta's short-lived attempts to do the same once the Bears let him go three years ago).

The Brian Mitchells and Eric Metcalfs and Dante Halls and Leon Washingtons and Joe Cribbses who preceded him set a certain standard in the return game. Hester blew them away. Had Gale Sayers never suffered his knee injuries, perhaps that would have been the standard Hester chased, and could still be chasing.

But the combined 14 punt return touchdowns (first all-time), five kickoff return touchdowns and one missed field goal return should push Canton's door open for the first time for a return specialist. Whether it's five years from now, or if the wait needs to be a little longer, it's deserved.

The biggest stage, the one in Super Bowl XLI when Hester opened the game with his 92-yard scoring return, turned into one of just six losses the Bears suffered when he returned a kick for a score. Hester's weaponry capped a perfect special teams storm that picked up slack in those years when the offense lagged. He was the cherry on top of Dave Toub's group that rarely seemed a concern on gameday when the likes of Patrick Mannelly, Brendan Ayanbadejo, Jason McKie, Robbie Gould, Nick Roach, among many others, found often-overlooked ways to make a subtle impact.

And that rainy night in Miami was the highlight and, unfortunately, the exception to what was often common in games Devin would do his "ridiculous" thing.  His magic helped them to 12 wins, while most of the other five losses were ones in which the Bears fell short by 10 or fewer points.

B.H. ("Before Hester") was the time we'd get up in the press box, or watching at home, to take a bathroom break or go on a snack run as opposing teams set up to punt or kickoff. He changed that. By the time the NFL determined in 2011 that kickoffs should come from the 35-yard line instead of the 30, most of Hester's serious damage to opponents had been done.

Plus, the league was concerned about the growing number of injuries on kickoffs. But that likely took away a few more opportunities to add to Hester's record. Touchbacks went from 16 percent in 2010 to 52 percent in 2015. Then this past year, the league got even "safer" by giving offenses five more yards (to the 25) on touchbacks (a rule which will revisited this off-season).

Toub has the newest return sensation in Kansas City in Tyreek Hill, whose game so far seems more versatile offensively than what Hester was ever able to provide. Time will tell about his staying power.

But between rule changes, impact on games and opponents' strategy, the record, plus a don't-turn-your-back now change of mindset, it wasn't just us in Chicago who realized Devin Hester was a game changer. It's fun to listen to and watch smile when his former teammates relate the charge of energy that burst through the team whenever Hester took one to the house.

The second-most memorable, of course, was the one that capped the Monday night comeback in Arizona his rookie season. He was an impactful addition, just as he should eventually be the first of his kind in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Because he was one of a kind.

Sandberg in Cooperstown. Jordan in Springfield. Here's to another Chicago No. 23 in the Hall.