Commentary

Following the blueprint

Cutler, Bears follow Trestman's formula in landing coach's first NFL win

Updated: September 8, 2013, 8:32 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler is just like you.

Sure, he's better-dressed, filthy rich and has the most scrutinized job in the city, but like most of Chicago, he too was curious to see how the New Bears Offense would perform in its debut.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler wasn't sacked once Sunday as Marc Trestman's goal of keeping his quarterback clean was achieved.
And he's the guy running it. After four years of unfulfilled promises, three offensive coordinators and enough sideline spats for a "30 for 30" special, I wouldn't blame him for being nervous.

This is a contract year for Cutler and perhaps his last chance of making good on the promise of a special career.

"I think there was a little bit of nerves throughout the locker room, including me," he said after the Bears' 24-21 season-opening comeback victory over Cincinnati. "There's a lot of question marks. How are we going to do on offense? What plays are going to work? Are we going to be able to block? Am I going to be able to complete balls? It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't going to be. We made plays when we had to make plays."

That they did. Like on third-and-3, fourth-and-1 and first-and-10. Those are good times to make plays, especially when they come on the same pivotal drive in the fourth quarter.

The Bears showed something in the fourth quarter.

It was on that game-winning drive, with the Bears trailing talented but undisciplined Cincinnati 21-17, those nerves Cutler talked about turned into nervy plays.

On third-and-3 from the Chicago 26, Cutler had plenty of time to find his buddy Brandon Marshall streaking down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain. Nothing new there, except Cutler admitted the star wideout wasn't the first option on the play. He wasn't the second either.

"We wanted to try and get Marty [Bennett] down the middle again, they covered that up," Cutler said. "We had a checkdown to Alshon [Jeffery] in the left flat, they covered that. B was kind of the third, late read there. It got to him a click late, but he still made a great play on it." That's how an offense is supposed to work.

After a Bennett holding call made it second-and-20 -- shades of Kellen Davis -- Cutler found all his receivers covered, saw a hole in the middle of the defense and ran 18 yards.

That's when a quarterback is supposed to run.

Two plays later, on fourth-and-1 from the Bengals' 27, with 8 1/2 minutes left in the game, Trestman made the easy call to go for it instead of kick the field goal.

Because that's when you run the ball behind two rookie linemen in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills.

Wait, what?

The call was unconventional as Forte took the fourth-down handoff wide to the right side, where the rookie linemen roam. Forte bounced outside for eight yards.

"[Gutsy] play call," Cutler said. "That's what Tres is about. He's going to roll the dice. He believes in us and the offense. The way those two guys are playing up front, really all five of those guys, we could've pretty much called anything we wanted." On the next play, first-and-10 from the Bengals' 19, Cutler found Marshall in the front right corner of the end zone, matched up one on one with a safety. Marshall made a tough catch for the score and a 24-21 lead.

"I didn't understand it," Marshall said. "Fourth quarter, put a safety on me one on one. You can only ask for that and dream about it." Dream a little dream for the fans too, Brandon.

Soldier Field erupted when it was clear Marshall had the catch. The Bears closed out the win with a three-and-out by the defense and a 6½-minute drive against the timeout-less Bengals.

Cutler completed 21-of-33 passes for 242 yards and two scores. He wasn't sacked and threw one interception.

Marshall had eight catches for 104 yards in a more democratic offense.

Forte had 50 yards on 19 carries, including a one-yard score, and caught four passes for 41 yards.

Martellus Bennett dropped his first chance -- "I bet everyone was like, 'Here we go again,'" he said -- but caught three passes for 49 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown catch.

Long and Mills stood out by not standing out playing in their first real NFL game.

It took a half to get there, not to mention the turbulent past four years. We've seen mirages before -- the first game last year, a 41-21 win over Indianapolis comes to mind -- and then we've seen the reality later, such as Marshall crying, Cutler pouting and Lovie Smith getting canned.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall, who described Marc Trestman as a "special" coach, was glad to share the receiving wealth Sunday.
With a new coach, who came by way of the Canadian Football League after a life of bouncing around assistant jobs in the NFL, and the cloudy past of Cutler, the Bears are an afterthought nationally. That's fair. To me, that makes this team dangerous.

The Bears didn't look formidable in the first half. It took four three-and-out drives and five punts to see the potential in the Trestman offense in the second half.

"Things started clicking a little bit," Cutler said of the second half. "We weren't really happy early on. Our tempo was a little off-kilter." Trestman said the slow start was partly by design as they wanted to put Long and Mills, the rookie right guard and right tackle, respectively, in positions to succeed with heavy blocking. If they're blocking well, then Cutler is upright and happy. And when Cutler is upright and happy, everyone is happy.

"The goal in the first half was to find out a little bit more about ourselves, let our young guys get settled and try to keep [Cutler] clean," Trestman said. "That was the No. 1. Whatever the score is, if he's clean in the first quarter and he feels like he can step up and throw, there is a chance we can be throwing the ball later in the game."

It worked. Cutler got hit a couple times, but he wasn't sacked all game.

Still, this isn't the preseason, where you work on things and build confidence. The Bears get judged by results, and the first game counts the same as the rest. Chicago trailed 14-10 at halftime, thanks to Bennett's nifty first-quarter touchdown and Robbie Gould's franchise-record 58-yard field goal with 11 seconds left.

The Bengals took a 21-10 lead on with a long drive to start the third quarter.

After so many false starts, metaphorical and otherwise, the past four seasons, it was OK to wonder at that point if the New Offense was like New Coke.

But what happened in the next drive, the Bears' only one of the third quarter, is also key in understanding the promise with this team.

Cutler completed passes to three different players, including a scramble and flick to tight end Bennett, who turned it into a 30-yard gain, and Forte scored from the goal line out of the shotgun to cut their deficit to 21-17.

Marshall was more than happy to share the wealth. While he was targeted a team-high 10 times (he caught eight passes for 104 yards), Jeffery was targeted eight times and Forte and Bennett six apiece.

"I think you guys heard me say it time and time again last year, I may even have had some tears in my eyes last year about it," Marshall said. "Get other guys the ball. Because when it happens, they have to play true. They really can't double me as much." Sure enough, on that game-winning drive, Marshall made two huge plays with single coverage.

Trestman didn't want to take any credit or draw any attention to his first win as an NFL head coach.

"Sundays are for players," he said.

But the players gave him the game ball and, with a wide smile, Marshall called Trestman a "special guy," noting there's a "science" to this offense that demands accountability and precision.

"His hands stay steady," Marshall said. "There's no ups and downs. He's special, man." It's too early to call this a special offense. But in that second half, you could see why the Bears hired Trestman and what he can do with this maligned unit. I saw the promise there and they did too.

"There's a lot of positives," Cutler said. "There's some stuff to build on. But it's out of the way and we can get the rest of the season underway."

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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