GLENDALE, Ariz. — John Fox sounds a lot like previous Bears coaches in the early days of their Jay Cutler inheritance.
“I think he’s been outstanding,” Fox said of Cutler on Wednesday during a conference call with Arizona media members. “He works hard. He’s a smart guy. He’s on top of his preparation.
“I’ve seen the guy I think throw, what, two interceptions over those five (including preseason) games. Unless I’m missing somebody that plays quarterback in the National Football League, if you haven’t thrown an interception, you haven’t played. That’s the only history I have with him, and so far I think it’s been a good history.”
There is plenty of time to change that, especially if you subscribe to Cutler’s well-worn reputation as a malcontent, a difficult QB to coach and a guy who can’t lead his team to anything other than dissension and coaching changes.
In nine NFL seasons — three in Denver; six in Chicago — Cutler had led his teams to just one playoff berth and one playoff victory (over the 7-9 Seahawks). He has thrown for 27,974 yards with 184 TDs and a whopping 131 interceptions.
His hangdog sideline expressions are infamous in Chicago, previous teammates have been happy to throw him under the bus, he is the source of all evil in a town obsessed with the Bears and in Adam Gase, he is playing for his fifth offensive coordinator in those six seasons, having worn out Mike Martz, Ron Turner, Mike Tice and Aaron Kromer, who was really just a figurehead coordinator under play-calling head coach Marc Trestman.
Cutler admits that he reacts to the criticism differently than he did when he was younger, but he is never able to fully block it out.
“It’s a very emotional game and I think everyone in the locker room takes a lot of this stuff home with them,” Cutler said. “The older you get, you get some perspective on some things. That doesn’t mean I take it any more lightly than before or it doesn’t bother me, because some things do.
“I think still, to this day, some things bother me, but you can’t control a lot of these things outside. You will hear some things and whether you like it or not, there’s not much you can do about it. I just try to concentrate on what I can control and move forward.”
Cutler signed a seven-year extension last year with a total value of $126.7 million according to overthecap.com. If the Bears were to release him after the 2016 season, however, he would only account for $2 million in dead money and the team would enjoy a $14 million cap savings.
That timing might just be right. If anyone can win with a less-than-elite quarterback it’s Fox. Fox took Jake Delhomme to a Super Bowl in Carolina and won a playoff game with Tim Tebow in Denver. If he can’t fix Cutler after two seasons, maybe nobody can.
“Any time you learn a new offense you kind of have to forget everything you knew before and just buy into the new language and the verbiage and all the nuances that go into it,” Cutler said. “It’s a pretty in-depth process, especially with Adam’s offense. He’s really detailed and he’s got a ton of plays.”
“You saw the productivity he had in Denver with Tebow and Kyle Orton and obviously with Peyton (Manning). I’ve known Adam for a long time, so I knew what kind of coach and system I was getting into. I knew at the end of the day he would take care of the quarterback and try to put us in a good position.”
The problem for Cutler may not be his ability. It may be the ability outsiders expect him to have. He is not Aaron Rodgers or Manning or Tom Brady. On the other hand, an honest assessment by those who want to replace him is that there aren’t 15 quarterbacks better than Cutler in the league. If the Bears cut him loose, things could easily get worse.
Cutler has played with poor offensive lines much of his time in Chicago. The defense has been dreadful the last few years and as a result, Cutler has played from behind a lot. Cutler is 21-7 in games in which he has thrown fewer than 30 passes. He’s 32-41 in games in which he has thrown 30 or more passes. To that end, Fox is trying to have him do less, by using Matt Forte more, even if he won’t admit the change.
“I think they ran the ball extremely well last week and controlled the clock,” said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who will face Cutler and the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. “It put him in a very comfortable situation where he didn’t have to throw the ball 40 to 50 times a game.”
Even so, Cutler’s one interception in that 31-23 loss to the Packers last week came in a critical moment with the Bears driving for the tying score late. That and his completion percentage (50) left doubts as to whether he was benefitting from his latest coordinator.
“It’s a lot easier when you stay in the same system your whole career, but when you go through three or four in four or five years, it’s extremely hard on you,” Arians said. “He’s a very bright guy. It’s a matter of learning the language, all the little scenarios of hots and blitzes and those things, especially if you are changing personnel, which he has had to do.”
Arians got a chance to talk with Cutler when he interviewed for the Bears head-coaching job that eventually went to Trestman, much to the hindsight dismay of the Chicago media and fan base.
“I met a guy that was very passionate about the game, wanted to win and was willing to do whatever it took to win,” Arians said. “I always felt he might be the most misunderstood quarterback in the league.”
Despite all the barbs, Cutler says it would still be fun to win in Chicago — for Chicago.
“We’re going to get it,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction, we have the right head coach, the right coaches around him, we’ve got great schemes offensively and defensively, and we’ve got the right players.
“It’s just a matter of time, going out and experiencing some things, making mistakes, fix them and try not to make them again.”
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