Chicago Bears

15 on 6: Cutler's playoff debut a great success

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15 on 6: Cutler's playoff debut a great success

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
6:37 PM
By Jim Miller
CSNChicago.com
Ok, I cannot get ahead of myself for next Sunday's historic game against the Green Bay Packers just yet. But the football Gods couldn't have scripted it any better.

First, let's take a look at how Jay Cutler performed in his first postseason game. Going into the game, I thought it was important for Jay to check his emotions. All Bears fans have witnessed Jay get flustered after a bad play with a scowl or pump his fist like today after a huge touchdown toss.

In my experiences whether I was playing in a playoff game or just on the sidelines, you get pretty amped! When I started for the Bears versus Philadelphia back in the 2001 playoffs, I constantly had to calm myself down all week during preparation. It was a good thing because you want to do well, but as the quarterback, everyone is looking to you for leadership and you have to display that confidence and belief into your team. Getting too stoked up for the game can be a bad thing if you do not control it and your teammates sense it.

Jay handled it beautifully as he was locked and loaded into the game plan throughout his playoff debut. Cutler walks away from the Seattle game with two rushing touchdowns (46 rush yards), two passing TDs (274 passing yards), and achieving a QB rating of 111.3.

Only the legendary Otto Graham has performed at such a level in a Divisional playoff game, and I might remind you that Otto won 10 NFL Championships before the Super Bowl ever came into existence. You could argue Otto is the greatest to ever play the position. Jay's in very good company.

Jay was great from the start, hitting Greg Olsen for a 58-yard TD on the third play from scrimmage. He identified Safety Lawyer Milloy was way too close to the line of scrimmage and could make Seattle pay for such a mistake. Man Free coverage proved to be the wrong coverage and a mismatch Jay exposed early to Seattle.

Jay was also very good all day in diagnosing blitzes. Early in the game, Jay had a strong-side play action called but was worried Seattle was about to blitz from the weak side. He did not panic! It was textbook how Jay backed out from center his first two steps then switched mid drop to a traditional drop back and aborted the fake simultaneously. That is terrific, heady football by Jay knowing and ensuring exactly what he was seeing. Very nicely done!

What I was most impressed with today is that Jay acknowledged the Bears still left a lot of offense on the field. I may remind you that the Bears rang up Seattle to the tune of 437 yards, but Jay is correct in his postgame assessment. He knows he missed some throws and understands he has to be even better in the Bears' bid to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLV.

It is imperative Jay does not chase ghosts in his preparation for the Packers. Week 17 brought a lot of different fronts, looks and blitzes from Green Bay that resulted in six sacks. The Bears and Jay must dictate to the Packers what they are going to do offensively, not what blitzes Green Bay is going to do defensively. The fewer the protections, the better, for the Bears offensive line.

Jay needs to put the onus on himself to throw "hot" when needed. This will ensure he controls the punishment he takes during the game, minimizing unnecessary shots. Mike Martz will also have to be on point with play calling. Since the Bears do not have audibles, Martz will have to be special calling run plays, screens and draws away from the blitz and ultimately slow down Clay Matthews and Company.

I can't wait, it's going to be epic!

Jim Miller, an 11-year former NFL quarterback, is a Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst who can be seen each week on U.S. Cellular Bears Postgame Live. Miller, who spent five seasons with the Bears, analyzes current Chicago QB Jay Cutler in his "15 on 6" blog on CSNChicago.com and can be followed on Twitter @15miller.

How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

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USA Today Sports Images

How Charles Leno Jr. isn't thinking about the big picture heading into a contract year

One of John Fox’s favorite sayings is that the best ability is availability. No player exemplified that line more than left tackle Charles Leno Jr. in 2016. 

Leno played all 1,010 of the Bears’ offensive snaps last year. His effectiveness may not have matched his availability — Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth, described Leno as being a “below average” starter. The Bears like Leno, though. But enough to give him another contract?

“He’s pretty reliable and dependable,” Fox said. “But we all have room for improvement so I think he’d tell you the same thing.”

For Leno, there’s no time like the present to make those strides. He’s due to hit free agency after this season, and, unless the Bears sign him to a contract extension, will enter a market that last spring saw five left tackles (Riley Reiff, Matt Kalil, Russell Okung, Andrew Whitworth and Kelvin Beachum) sign contracts each including eight-figure guaranteed money. But Leno, who will be 26 this spring, isn’t doing a lot of thinking about what his future could look like beyond this year. 

“It’s in the back of your mind, but at the end of the day I’m trying to go out there and just perfect my craft,” Leno said. “That’s really what I’m trying to do. I’ve been doing that the last two and a half years now. It’s the same routine every day. Just trying to go out there and perfect my craft, things will take care of itself. If I do what I need to do out there, everything will follow.”

For Leno, perfecting his craft means perfecting the basics of being a left tackle. What he rattled off: Placement of hands, base in pass set, staying square, not opening up too early. Being consistent in those areas is what Leno sees as that next step in his development. 

“I think Charles Leno does a really great job focusing attention to detail within his set,” left guard Kyle Long said. “Whether it’s a set angle, his hands or his strike, he always has a plan and he’s somebody that’s athletic enough to recover if he ever does get in a bad situation. It’s a really difficult position to play out there but I think Charles Leno is one of the most athletic guys that’s been around here.” 

Practice has provided an ideal opportunity for Leno to work on all those things, given the array of pass rushers he’s facing from his own defense. 

“I got a very fast guy (Leonard Floyd), I got a very tall, long guy (Willie Young), and I got a short, powerful guy (Lamarr Houston). I mean, what more do I need on a practice field? I got the best guys in the world to go against every day.”

But the point remains: Leno does have room for growth. A fully healthy Bears’ offensive line, with a more consistent Leno, can be one of the best units in the NFL on which the team’s level of production can be based. 

And if that’s the case, Leno can expect a significant payday next spring, either from the Bears or another team. 

“I never expected I would be in this situation, absolutely not,” Leno said. “I’m very blessed, I’m thankful for the opportunity that I’ve got into. But also, it’s a testament to the work I’ve been putting in for myself and I just don’t ever want that to stop. I don’t ever want the work ethic that I have to ever go down because I’ve got some money or because I’m in a contract year. I want to keep improving whether I have the money or not.” 

Could Mitch Trubisky have already shown the Bears he’s ready to start?

Could Mitch Trubisky have already shown the Bears he’s ready to start?

Could the Bears have already seen something in Mitch Trubisky that gives the front office and coaching staff a reason to believe he can start right away?

The short answer: It doesn’t sound like that’s happened yet from everything that’s been said publicly in Bourbonnais, Chicago and Lake Forest. But the longer answer, and a reason to ask this question, involves what happened with the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago.

Last year’s No. 2 pick didn’t show much, statistically, in his first (and only) preseason game. But Carson Wentz still was the Eagles’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2016 season.

Wentz completed 12 of 24 passes for 89 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in his NFL preseason debut last August, and also suffered a hairline rib fracture in that game that kept him out of the final three weeks of preseason play. All that added up doesn’t exactly scream “Week 1 rookie starter.”

But through practices and workouts over the course of August, the Eagles came to believe they could trust Wentz with the starting job, ultimately shipping Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings in an early September blockbuster.

The Eagles, as it turned out, saw something in Wentz that may not have shown up on his preseason stat line. Trubisky, on the other hand, had an outstanding preseason debut.

Trubisky showed last week he’s more than capable of making all the throws expected out of an NFL quarterback — his third-and-long completion to Deonte Thompson stands out — and put his pure talent on display throughout his two-plus quarters of play. Teammates complimented how Trubisky commanded the huddle, though his plays were coming off a call sheet he was able to study before the game.

The Bears (and Trubisky) have framed his excellent showing against the Denver Broncos as a small step in the right direction, with still plenty on which the North Carolina product can improve. Once again, Trubisky will be the third Bears quarterback to take the field Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals.

Consider how the Eagles opened training camp last year: Bradford was the No. 1, a veteran (Chase Daniel) was No. 2 and the rookie (Wentz) was No. 3. Sounds familiar, right? Then consider what coach Doug Pederson said about Wentz as training camp began:

“You want (Wentz) to be in a position where if there’s an injury or somebody goes down, you plug him in and you don’t have any worries,” Pederson said. “You’re fully confident in his ability to take over. Because backup quarterbacks need to be ready to go in an instant.”

The Bears’ brass hasn’t said anything along those lines regarding Trubisky, at least not yet. But there has been a scenario — albeit, not one completely congruous to what the Bears have, given the draft picks involved — where a No. 2 pick convinces a coaching staff and front office that he’s ready to start instead of a more experienced veteran. And it was seemingly based on a lot less than what we saw from Trubisky last week.