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.

Bears In-Foe: Since last meeting, Lions roar restored

Bears In-Foe: Since last meeting, Lions roar restored

What a difference two months makes. 

Matthew Stafford had his worst game of the season Oct. 2 at Soldier Field (23-of-36, 213 yards, no touchdowns, and two of the five interceptions the Bears have managed all year) in a 17-14 loss that left both teams 1-3. That was the last week the Bears weren't in last place in the NFC North by themselves.

Detroit has won seven of eight since, and is now in the division driver's seat, with a two-game lead over Green Bay and Minnesota (but it's really 2 1/2 over the Vikings after sweeping the season series). The Lions will either have a long memory from the first meeting, or look where the Bears have gone since, as they look forward to a difficult three-game finish if they're to hold on for the first division crown since 1993 (at New York Giants, at Dallas, host Green Bay).

Sunday's win in New Orleans was the first time the Lions hadn't trailed in the fourth quarter all season, with a start-to-finish 28-13 victory. While they had to settle for field goals on four of their trips to the red zone, they also answered the bell in a hostile environment.

The Saints had just scored to get to within 19-13 early in the fourth quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-10 from their own 34, Golden Tate got open for a 66-yard catch and score to quiet the Superdome. Yes, that's the same Tate who was benched during a one-catch-for-one-yard afternoon on the lakefront opposite Tracy Porter. 

The Golden Domer, admittedly dwelling on numbers following the retirement of Calvin Johnson, got the message. He's had 165- and 145-yard games (Sunday's was the latter) since, and seems back to his former self, up to 65 catches while ranking third among receivers in yards-after-catch. That's come as Marvin Jones has been hobbled by injuries since entering the first meeting with 118- and 205-yard efforts.

Ageless Anquan Boldin has caught six of Stafford's 21 touchdown passes, while Theo Riddick has five in ranking third among running backs with 53 receptions. While his 3.9-yard average fronts a 29th-ranked run game that's churning out just 81 yards per contest after the early loss of Ameer Abdullah, it's part of what's made this turnaround all the more impressive if you're into stats.

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The Lions are just 18th in points per game (22.9), entered Monday night 21st in yards (337.3), and middle-of-the-pack in red-zone touchdown percentage (55.9). Yet they're finding ways to win to make head coach Jim Caldwell's seat considerably cooler after a turnover in management. 

Speaking of turnover, even though he gave it up twice in Week 4 to the Bears, Stafford's been intercepted just 10 times over his last 23 games (with 47 touchdown passes). He set a franchise record by completing 13 straight passes Sunday. He ranks eighth in the NFL in completion percentage (67.2) this season, sixth in passer rating (100.5) and 10th in passing yards (3,224). 

After an injury-plagued first couple of seasons in which he was a Jay Cutler-like gunslinger, he's truly, finally, evolved into the franchise quarterback the Lions envisioned when they used the top pick in the 2009 draft on him, especially after Jim Bob Cooter took over play-calling duties midway through last season. His knack for comebacks (as noted this year above), keeps his team in games, and he's done it all along with shaky, at best, offensive lines.

The current makeup finds first-round pick Taylor Decker protecting his blind side, third-round rookie Graham Glasgow (from Marmion Military Academy) at left guard (supplanting struggling 2015 top pick Laken Tomlinson out of Lane Tech). 

Third-year third-rounder Travis Swanson continues holding down center, flanked on his right by 2013 third-rounder Larry Warford. Riley Rieff was once thought to be the left tackle of the future, but the 2012 first-rounder's been switched to the right edge in what may be his last season in Motown. 

Physically-gifted top 2014 choice Eric Ebron has been slow to blossom at tight end in an injury-plagued start to his pro career. He missed three games after the first meeting with foot and ankle woes, had a pair of seven-catch games upon his return, but has cooled down some since, while not scoring since the season opener.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Bears getting better?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Bears getting better?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times) plus former Bears Jason McKie and Patrick Mannelly join Kap on the panel. The Bears win but are they getting better or did they just crush an awful team?

Rajon Rondo gets suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team. Will he be suspended again?

Plus CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes has the latest on the Chris Sale watch and does Big Ten Champion Penn State have a legitmate gripe about not making the playoffs?

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: