My first experience with Jay Cutler was at the NFL combine. Cutler crushed his workouts and was generating first-round buzz. A late-riser in a draft class with huge quarterback storylines Vince Young and Matt Leinart, Cutler was the relative curiosity, and was stuck answering basic getting-to-know-you questions. "Are you really from Santa Claus?" At one point Cutler was asked if, given his humble background, NFL money would change him. He smiled and gave the sort of answer that has made him a popular target of reporters ever since. "We'll see," he said.
Cutler wasn't just graduating to money. Based on his college career, he also was graduating to a league where better talent finally could help him. Cutler at Vanderbilt wasn't the tale of a lone star pulling his team to new heights. No, he was just a good QB routinely getting drilled while playing for an overmatched team. In four years, Cutler's Commodores averaged less than three wins a season.
In a way, the NFL plan for Cutler hasn't changed much -- and the erratic gunslinger-under-duress label has followed. The trend, particularly in Chicago, has been that Cutler will continue to get crushed, because he's shown he can handle it, and the team tries to win in spite of it. The Bears have -- they're 20-9 in Cutler's starts since 2010, as the hits pile up.
In the past four seasons, the pressure rate on Cutler remains near the league high. It was the worst in 2010, when he saw pressure on 42.5 percent of all dropbacks; he was sacked a league-high 52 times, or on 11 percent of dropbacks ... and yet the Bears won the division. You might think you're seeing a similar story this year. Chicago is 3-1 coming off a huge win in Dallas, but Cutler is on pace to be sacked 48 times.
So, could they ride it out? After all, the Bears should be favored to win their next four games, which would make them 7-1. At that point, if they split the remaining games, they're a lock for the postseason, where anything can happen. Right?
Actually, no. A closer look says the Bears have to change their approach to Cutler. And they already may have started.