The two best chefs in the world stand in separate kitchens. Both are tasked with making a chocolate souffle, something both chefs have done with ease on a regular basis. One chef works with his regular staff, a group of specialist chefs who have been trained to carry out specific roles and have worked under the same head chef for years. The other chef is in a training kitchen where students and former waiters are trying to hone their crafts.
The first chef is given all the necessary ingredients upfront: flour, butter, milk, eggs, sugar, chocolate etc etc. The second chef is given a cow, a chicken, cocoa beans and cocoa butter, that is all.
Both are world class chefs individually, but obviously the first chef is able to produce a beautiful chocolate souffle, while the second chef disappoints his customers with his finished product. Is that the chef’s fault? Or is that chef simply being held back by his supporting cast and surroundings?
Being a chef is a bit like being an NFL quarterback. In the above example, a guy like Aaron Rodgers is the first chef. Rodgers is a great, the best in the league by all accounts, but Mike McCarthy and his staff provide an excellent support staff and his teammates are finely prepared ingredients. There is no better example of the second chef’s situation in the NFL than Jay Cutler.
Since being traded to the Chicago Bears from the Denver Broncos in 2009, Cutler’s stock has somewhat plummeted amongst NFL fans. He has unfairly received a reputation of being a soft quarterback after sitting out the majority of a playoff game in 2010, despite enduring more physical punishment than anyone during that year’s regular season.
This is the kind of player Cutler is. His off the field personality earns him a lot of negative publicity, while his on field play is rarely truly appreciated through context. Over the past few years, Cutler has been playing in a system that simply did not suit him with an offensive depth chart devout of NFL worthy talent. Instead of focusing on that, most people point out his disregard for the media and his demeanor on the sideline.
The way players carry themselves on and off-the-field is often overblown and misinterpreted. When Eli Manning proclaimed himself an elite quarterback prior to last season, many laughed because of his statistical representation and his demeanor on the field. Twelve months later, it is Manning’s demeanor and attitude that carried him to his second Super Bowl victory while nobody is slow to point out how poor his teammates were during his times of struggle.
Cutler can completely curtail the criticism of his character this year, because he finally has somewhat of an adequate supporting cast.
The Bears made a concentrated effort to alter the identity of their offense this off-season. Bringing in players like Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush should give Cutler some legitimate outside threats, while Mike Tice’s new offensive line friendly philosophy will help reduce the strain on a previously overstretched offensive line.
During his time in Chicago, Cutler’s best offensive weapon has been running back Matt Forte. Not only has Forte carried the Bears’ rushing attack, but he has also been his quarterback’s primary receiver. While it is nice to have a back capable of consistently catching over 50 passes each season, it is not ideal for that back to be your leading receiver two years in a row(although Forte was tied with Johnny Knox in 2010).
Over the past few years, Cutler hasn’t had a legitimate number one receiver. By that I mean he hasn’t had a receiver capable of drawing coverage. Both Johnny Knox and Devin Hester have a lot of speed, but neither is the most refined route runner. Hester in particular has never looked capable of being anything more than a hall-of-fame special teams player. That’s not exactly an insult, but there is no doubting his limitations as an offensive piece. Knox proved to be a better receiving threat, but never elevated his game to more than that of an average NFL player.
Furthermore, in Mike Martz’ offense, the Bears didn’t place a premium on talent at tight end. During Cutler’s first season, the sole season without Mike Martz, tight end Greg Olsen was his favorite target. After being a bit-part player the following season, Olsen was traded before last season. Olsen’s spot was filled by Matt Spaeth, a blocking tight end from Pittsburgh.
Instead of having a big bodied player to give Cutler easier throws to get in rhythm, and a big option to create mismatches in the opposition’s secondary, Cutler was forced to make quick decisions throwing to receivers he couldn’t completely trust who also needed very accurate timing throws to be successful. That often forced the ball to Matt Forte coming out of the backfield.
This year should be a lot different for Cutler on the outside. Second round draft pick Alshon Jeffery and former teammate Brandon Marshall bring size and speed to the offense outside. Marshall is one of the best receivers in the NFL while Jeffery should provide matchup issues for corners on the other side of the field. With Earl Bennett being a reliable possession receiver, and Hester potentially receiving one-on-one matchups as the team’s fourth receiver, Cutler has a flurry of receiving weapons to make his life a lot easier.
While Greg Olsen is still in Carolina, former offensive line coach and new offensive coordinator Mike Tice is looking to reignite the tight end position. Spaeth’s blocking will be important in the running game, but it is Kellen Davis threat as a receiver that should become a greater aspect of the offense.
Tice recently said that he also wants to have two 1,000 yard rushers. While that is unlikely, his willingness to bring in Michael Bush should be a breath of fresh air for Cutler.
Bush won’t be much of a receiver, but his ability to run hard between the tackles, and give the team a two headed rushing attack with Forte, will create some hesitation in the minds of opposing teams’ pass rushers. As a former offensive line coach, Tice is the antithesis of former coordinator Mike Martz. Tice will place a priority on helping his less than stellar talent on the offensive line. By establishing the running game, removing the seven-step-drop, keeping more skill position players in protection and giving the group less protections to memorize, the offensive line will spend less time thinking and more time acting this season.
With Cutler under less pressure, his turnover to touchdown ratio should significantly fall, while having Marshall and company on the field, his potential for consistent big plays should significantly rise.
There is very little not to like about Jay Cutler when you watch him on the football field. He has a big arm, is intelligent, incredibly tough and accurate. Most of his issues in recent years have stemmed from the failures of his surroundings enveloping his production.
This season is the season when Jay Cutler gets back to working in a respectable offense. Just like every chef needs a kitchen, every quarterback needs an offense.
Who knows, Cutler’s souffle could have the letters M.V.P on it…
I tweet @Cianaf