In 2008, Jay Cutler was selected to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Denver Broncos after throwing for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns with an 86.0 quarterback rating and a completion percentage of 62.3.
It was not an illusion. It was not smoke and mirrors. It was an honor rightfully earned by a talented quarterback surrounded by a talented offensive supporting cast.
That year, Cutler had one of the top offensive lines in the league that allowed him to be sacked an astoundingly-low 11 times. He had two solid wide receivers in Brandon Marshall (104 catches, 1265 yards) and Eddie Royal (91 catches, 980 yards). He also had a pass-catching tight end in Tony Scheffler (40 catches, 645 yards). And on top of it all, he had an innovative offensive-minded head coach in Mike Shanahan. The Broncos were the No. 3 passing offense that year and, although they didn’t have one featured back, they were No. 12 in rushing offense.
These are indisputable facts that I will continue to turn to for as long as there are Cutler critics out there. One thing I cannot dispute is that Cutler makes poor decisions with the football. Absolutely. And perhaps Cutler doesn’t possess the “elite” head game to match his “elite” physical tools to be considered that franchise quarterback. But until Cutler is given what a quarterback needs to succeed, I’m not going to label him “average” or even worse.
Other than Marshall this year, which of the above personnel did Cutler have in his first three seasons with the Bears?
Did he have an offensive-minded head coach? No.
Did he have a pass-catching tight end? Briefly, in Greg Olsen.
Did he have one — let alone two — good wide receivers? No.
Did he have a respectable offensive line — let alone one of the best in the league? Heck no!
But with new general manager Phil Emery calling the shots, the Bears are finally making strides toward getting Cutler what he needs to succeed.
Here’s a look at where the Bears now stand in comparison with Cutler’s Pro Bowl season.
|Criteria||2008 Broncos||Complete?||2013 Bears|
|Offensive head coach||Mike Shanahan
Shanahan has an innovative offensive mind and he knew how to maximize Cutler’s skillset.
There is no guarantee Trestman will succeed like Shanahan has, but at least he has an offensive mind and is credited for adapting his scheme to his personnel.
|Good offensive line||The Broncos O-line allowed just 11 sacks of Cutler, one of the lowest totals in the league.||The Bears clearly have work to do in this area as Cutler has been sacked 148 times in his four seasons with the Bears.|
|Two playmaking receivers||Marshall and Royal combined for 195 receptions and 2,245 yards.||The Bears moved up to draft Alshon Jeffery in the 2nd round of last year’s draft and he looks like he’ll be a good player.|
|Pass-catching tight end||Scheffler was a sure-handed receiving tight end for the Broncos and Cutler has spoken glowingly of him since 2008.||Kellen Davis has been disappointing for the Bears and hasn’t given Cutler the target he needs over the middle to spread defenses.|
|Complementary run game||The Broncos finished 12th in the league in 2008 in rushing and did it with a committee approach in the backfield.||Matt Forte is one of the top backs in the league and provides versatility to the offense.|