It starts and ends with Jay Cutler. Cutler’s play will dictate how the entire 2013 season goes for the Chicago Bears. Ever since Phil Emery arrived in 2011, the basis of his offseason and draft strategies were to mold his team around the quarterback and to put Cutler in a system where he could thrive, surrounding him with the type of players he needed to succeed.
Emery has put Cutler in a system he is more suited to play and paired him with an offensive-minded head coach, who has a proven ability to help quarterbacks succeed. Trestman then went on to hire offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who was one of the top offensive line coaches in the league with New Orleans.
And now, it’s all up to Cutler.
He certainly has the ability to put up large numbers. 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns en route to a playoff berth is an attainable goal off Cutler’s raw talent alone. But poor decision making, poor play-calling, and a lack of consistent play from his offensive line and receivers have held him back. With the options and talent at his disposal in 2013, Cutler should be able to excel.
Let’s start with the offensive line: The 2012 line has been replaced by a more proven and talented group of players. Roberto Garza will still man the middle, but there will be no familiar faces anywhere else. Emery’s first couple moves this offseason showed just what his priorities were …
Jermon Bushrod was signed to be the starting left tackle in free agency, followed by Matt Slauson, who signed a few days later to fill in the vacancy at left guard. Those moves were followed by the drafting of Kyle Long in the first round and Jordan Mills in the fifth round. Now, both rookie offensive linemen will be starting Week-1 against the Bengals.
By all accounts, the Bears should have a more physical and athletic line this season, and that changes the entire dynamic of the offense. On average, Cutler needed an extra second to go through most of his reads and progressions in 2012, but constant pressure in the pocket led to him forcing out to his first read, which most of the time was Brandon Marshall.
On top of what should be better pass protection, the Bears’ new West Coast offense will stress getting the ball out of Cutler’s hands quickly with short passing downs. Trestman’s system should benefit Cutler maybe more than any other player on the roster, but the one player who will likely come close is running back Matt Forte.
Forte’s style is a perfect fit for Trestman’s offense. He has never been a bruising-between-the-tackles runner, even though the Bears tried to make him one at times. Forte has always been more dangerous in the open field, off screens and with blockers out in front. The West Coast offense puts running backs in positions to receive touches in those situations.
If the Bears commit to Forte, he will have success, and that success will make Cutler's life easier, not only by giving him a back to rely on but by opening up passing lanes. One concept of Trestman’s system is to keep defenses guessing by spreading the ball around, and that eventually leads to matchups the Bears can exploit for big gains.
The X and Z receivers, Marshall and Jeffery, will benefit from those mismatches and open passing lanes. Earl Bennett is the starter in the slot Y position right now, although that could change by the end of the season. And either Devin Hester or Eric Weems could potentially see snaps at WR. Additionally, Marquess Wilson could find a way to move up the depth chart.
The emphasis of the receiving core starts with Brandon Marshall. He had a team-high 194 targets last season, while the next highest was Matt Forte with 60. Marshall had a team record and the Bears’ first 1,000+ yard receiving season (1,508) since Marty Booker did it in 2002.
He was the single most dominant player in the offense last season, and it essentially ran through him. If he struggled, Cutler struggled. Now it’s the job of Cutler to get the rest of the wideouts involved. He can't be so dependent on Brandon Marshall — the ball being spread around will benefit him greatly in more ways than one.
Second-year receiver Alshon Jeffrey has to be better this season. His 367 yards in 2012 made Cutler so resilient in throwing to Marshall on almost every passing down. The Bears and Cutler believe Jeffery will take a huge leap forward this season, as he came into camp more prepared than just about anyone, and it showed with his play on the field throughout the preseason.
Jeffrey can be one of the bigger surprises this season with Marshall demanding attention from the defense, and the Bears could have one of the more lethal receiving duos in the league. But once again that all depends on Jay Cutler.
The Bears also added tight end Martellus Bennett to Cutler’s options in the passing game. Kellen Davis only caught 43% of the passes thrown his way last year, meaning Cutler could never rely on him as a viable option. Bennett opens up the offense as more of a playmaker and a more reliable target.
Cutler feeds off the middle of the field in the red zone, and his tight ends will get lots of targets in that area because of it. The Bears, who have struggled in recent years in the red zone, have all the weapons to be one of the more efficient teams in that area this season.
Add to the Bennett signing Steve Maneri and Dante Rosario and the Bears have a group of tight ends who can add more to the passing game but also be more effective in pass protection. The tight end position was an area Chicago needed to improve upon, and it would appear they’ve done that.
Jay Cutler is in a contract year, and he hasn’t established himself as the player his talent has always suggested he can be. And that situation draws a unique parallel to one Joe Flacco, the 2012 Super Bowl MVP …
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