Commentary

Who is the real Jay Cutler?

With a more efficient offense and a gifted playcaller, we're going to find out

Updated: August 16, 2013, 2:55 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- It was just a singular bad throw. It was just a preseason interception.

But it was a Jay Cutler interception, a repudiation of another defensive gift laid at his cleats, a pick that causes Twitter riots and eye rolls and lost jobs. A Jay Cutler interception contains multitudes.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler showed us the good -- and the bad -- of his game in a quarter of play Thursday.
Forgive me. It was just the second preseason game against the lousy San Diego Chargers. But in a town lousy with last-place baseball teams, it was the biggest sporting event in the city since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals back in June. Cutler's first home interception of the season deserves a two-hour radio show.

As the offense continued a multiyear journey for an identity, the Bears' first-team defense wreaked havoc against San Diego, the special teams looked solid and the Bears held on to win 33-28.

New Bears, meet the old Bears.

In four series, Cutler got sacked twice -- one his fault -- and targeted Brandon Marshall with every pass, including one touchdown and that one newsworthy interception.

To quote the former Chicago City News Bureau cub reporter Kurt Vonnegut, "So it goes."

In Cutler's home debut of this make-or-break, this-time-we-mean-it season, QB6 was uniquely himself -- 4-for-5 for 38 yards. Good Jay and Bad Jay.

His 5-yard touchdown pass came after Matt Forte rumbled for 58 yards. His interception negated a Bears interception.

Because it's Jay Cutler, we focus on the bad before the good. That's just how it goes.

Every one of Cutler's passes targeted Marshall, who led the NFL by being targeted 40 percent of the time last season in a half-dimensional offense. That wasn't a good thing.

The Cutler-Marshall throwmance was cool at first last season, but it quickly became evidence that Cutler and then-offensive coordinator Mike Tice were at odds and Jay was playing his own game, perhaps out of pure survival instincts.

New tight end Martellus Bennett will let Jay know if he's being ignored. No one puts Marty in the corner, Jay.

Cutler

I was in the last offense [in Denver] for three years. In Year 3, I think all of us had a great grasp of it. We don't have that luxury right now. Weve got to get it done in three preseason games.

-- Jay Cutler
New coach Marc Trestman, who is doing the play calling, won't get treated like Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Tice.

That interception to Marshall short-circuited the team's third possession, which came after safety Chris Conte picked off Philip Rivers at the San Diego 34.

On the next play, Cutler fired at a double-covered Marshall in the middle of the field at the San Diego 6-yard line. Linebacker Donald Butler caught it with ease.

Trestman said he takes "accountability" for that play, which was a new one, noting he "could do a better job of coaching it and putting [Cutler] in a better position to succeed on that play."

For his part, Cutler said he forced the pass.

"I didn't misread. I knew what I was doing," he said. "Kind of got clipped and let it go. Those are the ones you want to check down and keep the drive alive."

But Trestman also said, in nice enough words, that it was the wrong throw, which we all knew but wanted to hear from a head coach who actually has power over his quarterback.

"There are times he's taken chances that would be more relevant than that one was," Trestman said. "That was not a play we needed to take a chance on. It was zone coverage. It wasn't a man-to-man type coverage where you could throw it up there and get a contested throw. It was a coverage a lot of people defensively were watching him make that throw."

You can't sweat a preseason interception, but we are all defined by our past. Cutler more than others.

Trestman will caution he doesn't know enough about the old Jay to judge him on throws like that, the ones we feel like we've seen on a loop for four seasons.

The Jay he knows doesn't make that mistake twice. Note: Trestman doesn't know Jay that well.

"He's shown me he's not going to make the same mistake twice on any play that we've been running throughout the camp," Trestman said.

Camp is over.

With that in mind, I'd caution everyone, from the fans in the nosebleeds to the head coach in the horn-rimmed glasses and Lululemon practice pants, that no one should expect Cutler to be anything other than himself.

The offense will be different, the play calls more efficient and the blocking hopefully better. But Jay will be Jay, for good and bad.

Cutler will still throw into double- and triple-coverage when he's locked into Marshall. He will still take sacks while trying to wait for his receivers to get separation.

Cutler isn't perfect. He isn't above criticism. He will get better. He will occasionally look worse.

Every player who has served time in this offense carries scars, none more than the 30-year-old Cutler. But that's not to say the future is defined by the past.

As he and Trestman get more comfortable, the offense will hopefully evolve. For both of their sakes, it better happen quickly.

"I was in the last offense [in Denver] for three years," Cutler said. "In Year 3, I think all of us had a great grasp of it. We don't have that luxury right now. We've got to get it done in three preseason games."

I guess that makes next week's game in Oakland pretty important.

"Who is Jay Cutler?" is a question we've asked many times in four seasons. Is he the guy who makes the same mistake over and over, or the guy who never makes the same mistake twice?

I think we're about to find out. I can't wait for the answer.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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