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Friday, December 18, 2009
Have at it: Cutler's prognosis

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

As I was putting together this week’s Have at It, I wondered if Chicago’s enraged fan base would direct its ire toward quarterback Jay Cutler or the larger picture around him. For the most part, it was the latter.

Jay Cutler and Jeff George
Is Jay Cutler turning out to be Jeff George -- a strong-armed quarterback who doesn't win?
Spurred by some new comparisons between Cutler and former NFL quarterback Jeff George, we asked if you thought Cutler would make it in Chicago. A few of you have seen enough to conclude he will not, but anecdotally, it appeared the majority remain hopeful he will -- if the Bears can find a way to better support him.

Jimead01 suggested that “we should allow Chicago to build an offense around him before we start making Jeff George comparisons. … So far, Cutler's era in Chicago feels like square peg meets round hole.”

Surething-6 acknowledged that, based on statistics alone, “he’s definitely struggling.” But: “If you look outside of that, he has had no running game to set up the play-action pass, and a pretty bad defense in Denver last year and the same is true this year in Chicago. Also having young but talented receivers has hurt him too.”

Titiritero83 wrote of the importance to “contextualize Cutler's performance through his career thus far.” (Note for the future: Anyone who uses the word “contextualize” receives an automatic inclusion in Have at It.) Continued Titiritero83: “Cutler has been on teams the past two seasons that have had horrible defensive efforts and no running game. I think there aren't too many quarterbacks in the league who are going to have success if there is no possibility of keeping a defense honest with play action.”

Of course, no one found Cutler blameless in his plight. A few of you pointed to some of the worrisome on-field character trends that have helped spur the George comparisons. Wrote Andylet445: “I can’t recall the last time I saw a quarterback calling for a penalty in the process of being sacked like this week vs. the Packers instead of protecting his body.”

Cutler is too “thin-skinned and immature,” wrote BlutosPackers. When considering the whole package, wrote machinemanske, it’s hard to believe Cutler will make it:

“He may have a strong arm, but couple that with poor mechanics, questionable decision-making and non-existent leadership skills and the arm won't get the job done. Now pile on the facts that the Bears have no way to effectively build their team through the upcoming draft, [Brian] Urlacher has got to be nearing the end of his career and there HAS to be some coaching/coordinator changes in the next few years. Cutler fails, and it's only partially his fault.”

My take? To start, I think the Jeff George comparisons are too dramatic at this point. From a physical standpoint, Cutler is much more than a strong arm. His mobility is far superior in terms of evading the rush. George was a pocket statue relative to Cutler.

If you look at a comparison between George and Cutler in their first 50 games, it’s not even a contest. George was sacked 146 times over that stretch. Cutler has been sacked 80 times. If you’re interested, Cutler also had a touchdown-interception ratio of 73-59. George’s was 41-46.

From a maturity standpoint, you’re dealing with two different issues. I recognize Cutler has exhibited some warning signs. But at his worst, George undercut his team’s authority figures during games. To date, I haven’t seen any evidence of that with Cutler.

I do think Cutler needs to do some serious soul-searching this offseason. His public persona -- in interviews and during games -- is absolutely and without question too dour for optimum success. Some people thrive off the perceived slights of others, but in Cutler’s case it doesn’t appear to benefit him on the field. If anything, it leaves him focused too much on officiating and trash talk than it does on making good decisions.

With that said, I believe the Bears did Cutler a disservice by dropping him into an offense ill-equipped for his arrival. Before deciding whether Cutler is Jeff George -- a strong-armed quarterback who doesn’t win games -- I would like to see how he would perform with some experienced receivers, a line that inspires his confidence and with play calling that emphasizes his strengths.

Good quarterbacks are supposed to cover up for some inefficiencies, and few ever experience the ideal scenario we’re describing. But the Bears need to move closer to that ideal before we make any final judgments.