The Importance of Being Jay Cutler

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In 2013, the Chicago Bears fielded their best offense in decades.

Matt Forte was at the top of his health and his game, Chicago’s pass-catchers were literally unstoppable, and Jay Cutler was on track to a career year, when inevitably, injury once again cut the much-maligned quarterback’s season short. Cutler has not played a full 16-game season since 2009—his first season as a Bear.

NFL analysts will say that it is imperative for Cutler to stay healthy if the Bears are finally going to make the playoffs (something Chicago hasn’t done since 2010, when Cutler was injured in a loss against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game), but the truth is, one cannot rightfully blame Chicago’s recent failures on Jay Cutler’s inability to stay healthy.

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In fact, the Bears offense improved when Cutler went down a season ago.

Cutler’s injury issues began in week seven against Washington, and then resurfaced against Detroit three weeks later. Before that, Cutler was 4-4 as the Bears’ starter.

He had thrown 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. In half as many games, replacement Josh McCown equaled Cutler’s touchdown total, and threw just one interception. Cutler returned to the lineup in week 15—amid a quarterback controversy—and threw a 6-to-4 TD-to-interception ratio. More importantly, Cutler was unable to win either of Chicago’s final two games, and the Bears “bear”ly missed the playoffs yet again, with Cutler the easy scapegoat.

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Before 2013, Cutler was very much part of the problem, but with the emergence of Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, Cutler has improved significantly as a quarterback—he just needed some weaponry. Now, the problem is defense.

The Bears defense gave up almost 400 total yards and 30 points per game in 2013. Sure, Jay Cutler may not be Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers, but he is a good enough quarterback to get Chicago in the playoffs.

He just needs all the pieces to come together at once. Before 2013, the defense was great; the problem was a lack of firepower on offense; now, it is the opposite.

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Chicago, with the arguable exception of Denver, has the NFL’s most explosive receiving corps, with Brandon Marshall, and the aforementioned Jeffery and Bennett.

Matt Forte has returned to the pinnacle of his professional career, and Jay Cutler, per all reports, has only gotten better. He has looked fantastic in the preseason, completing 16 of 22 passes for 160 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks. The defense still needs to get better, as it was manhandled by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in the second exhibition game, but Cutler can at least get this team close in 2014.

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Cutler staying healthy is obviously “Plan A” for the Bears, but if he misses time again, don’t be surprised if backup Jimmy Clausen has success similar to that of Josh McCown a season ago. Clausen has shown well in preseason and training camp, and, honestly, the Bears’ stellar wideouts could probably make Tim Tebow look like a decent quarterback.

Let’s stick with “Plan A.”

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