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Monday, November 23, 2009
Updated: November 29, 11:14 PM ET
The unvarnished truth about Cutler

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Raise your hand if you'd like to be that proverbial fly on the wall when Jay Cutler gets his postseason player evaluation. Raise it higher if you'd like to contribute.

Jay Cutler
While Jay Cutler has a strong arm, it's no good if it's overthrowing receivers.

Surely, judging Cutler's competence as the Bears' quarterback requires a set of instructions and probably depends as much on one's perspective as Cutler's results on the field. Is he still the best thing the Bears have going for their future? A great quarterback being dragged into the sludge of a bad team and a bad season? Or has he been a genuine disappointment, not performing up to expectations and pulling the team down on his own?

There's pressure on every NFL quarterback, to be sure. But it's time to take an unvarnished look at what we thought about Cutler versus what we now know.

He still has more raw talent than any Bears quarterback in recent memory, and a better arm -- and showed in games against Pittsburgh and Seattle, with quarterback ratings of 104.7 and 126.4, and more recently versus Arizona, when he threw for a season-high 369 yards and three touchdowns, that he is capable of big numbers.

OK, but what good is a big arm when it's used to overthrow receivers as he did on three occasions -- all of which were potential touchdowns -- in Sunday night's loss to Philadelphia? And he's reverting back to some bad habits like throwing off his back foot.

"He made good decisions [Sunday] night," said Bears coach Lovie Smith. "He overthrew a few passes. That happens with all quarterbacks. Jay was active throughout. He brought our team back and put us in position to win the game. That's what you judge everything by. You look at the full body of work and he put us in position to win the game. We weren't able to hold on."

Kyle Orton put you in position to win, too. Cutler, assuming he is around for the length of his deal, is being paid $50 million and cost you first-round picks in '09 and 2010 and a third-round pick in '09, not to mention Orton, to win games, not to throw a league-leading 18 interceptions. Not to move the ball well enough to get into the red zone 33 times, but score just 14 times for 38 percent. He was brought here to raise the level of those around him, to take the pressure off the defense and get the ball in the end zone. His full body of work? That would be 4-6.

But Cutler hasn't meshed with Ron Turner's offense. Cutler has no running game and poor pass protection, so he has little time to set up and throw a decent pass downfield. Shouldn't these arguments count for something?

They're all fair points, but when he has the opportunity to make a big play, a game-changing play, he's not capitalizing. Recently Cutler went 90 passes without a touchdown, the second-longest streak of his career, until breaking it with his pass to Kellen Davis. And he has to take some responsibility for the 19 sacks this season. He's not used to being pressured to this extent and it shows.

Greg Olsen
The much-hyped Jay Cutler-Greg Olsen connection hasn't jelled as of yet.

His receivers are young. They have not always been where they are supposed to be and all of his intended targets, tight ends and backs included, have dropped their share of passes.

For a while there, it did appear Cutler was going to make Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox into a legitimate receiving corps, but aside from flashes of potential, their progress as a group has stalled. More importantly, the Cutler-Greg Olsen connection still hasn't coalesced.

He's an All-Pro. You don't throw for 4,526 yards as he did last season if you're not a winner.

Well, he did make a Pro Bowl last season, but he's never proved he's a winner. Despite everything Cutler has proved at the age of 26, he has not yet led a team in college or the pros to an above-.500 record. It's looking more and more like he's going to continue that streak this season and eventually, that becomes sort of a big deal.

Give him a break, it's his first season with a new team and for all the criticism about his body language, wouldn't you rather have a quarterback who is cool and unflappable, even if it comes off as aloof and immature?

Thing is, Cutler doesn't seem cool lately. He is looking lost and shaken by adversity, is 0-4 in prime-time games whatever that's worth, and it's hard to tell sometimes whether he's fighting for his team or showing up his receivers. He is described as a loner around Halas Hall and that's not a good description for a quarterback. He may develop into a team leader but he sure doesn't seem one now. Not yet, anyway.