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4 Downs: Where's the new Jay Cutler?

Jay Cutler numbers against the Bills were good -- except for that crucial interception thrown to defensive tackle Kyle Williams. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

His numbers were impressive except for that bad decision. We've heard that before, many times actually, about Jay Cutler, but that was supposed to change in Year 2 under Marc Trestman. But 349 yards passing and two touchdowns against the Bills were wiped away with one ill-advised interception into the hands of Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams.

Will Cutler ever change? Is there such a thing as a "new Jay Cutler?" Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The "new Jay Cutler" will still emerge this season and prove that a gaffe like the Kyle Williams pick was an exception.

Jeff Dickerson, ESPNChicago.com Bears reporter: Fiction. Who is this "new" Jay Cutler people are talking about? Cutler is the same exact guy he was five-plus seasons ago when the Bears acquired him from Denver. What's changed is the talent around him. General manager Phil Emery and the rest of the staff did a fabulous job surrounding Cutler with boat loads of playmakers, a sturdy offensive line, and a head coach who specializes in offense. And they paid him on top of it! How can Cutler not succeed? Look, Cutler is going to have games this season (likely against the bad teams) where he fills out the stat sheet and puts up big numbers. But there will also be times in critical moments (Buffalo) when he makes a terrible decision and hurts the team. It's who he is. He's not changing. But there is no need to panic. The Bears can still win games with Cutler at quarterback. That's a proven fact. But can Cutler win the games that really matter against the elite NFL teams? That's the question fans need to ask themselves. The organization believes the answer is yes otherwise they wouldn't have handcuffed themselves to the QB for the next three years. Guess we'll see if the Bears bet on the right horse.

Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: Fact. I don't know about "new" Jay Cutler. "Better" Jay Cutler is probably more apt. I do think he's better than in previous years, and he'll have his best season as a Bear this year. I also think he's going to make mistakes. That's in his nature, for one, and two, this is a very difficult game played against superior athletes with supernatural instincts. There's no excuse for that "fat guy" interception and that will probably resonate with Cutler, at least for this week.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: There is reason to be concerned about the health of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Dickerson: Fact. Of course there is. Marshall and Jeffery are two of the best wide receivers in the NFL. They both made the Pro Bowl last year. You always worry when a key skill position player is unable to finish the game (Jeffery) or is forced to play through an injury (Marshall). However, Marshall and Jeffery should both be available to play against the 49ers. It sounds as if the Bears are being cautious with Jeffery's mild hamstring injury, as they should be. There is no reason for Jeffery to practice much this week. Same with Marshall. Get them to Sunday night as fresh as possible. The Bears need all hands on deck to beat San Francisco. The Bears generally prefer to play it safe with injuries, but I don't believe they can afford to use that approach in Week 2. In order for the Bears to improve to 1-1, they need to score a ton of points on Sunday night. That cannot happen with Marshall and Jeffery on the sidelines.

Greenberg: Fact. Given the high risk of injury for every player, you should be concerned about pretty much everyone on the roster. Maybe not Shea McClellin, I guess. But yeah, Jeffery's hamstring injury is something that could linger or reappear. Marshall will play through anything, so I wouldn't be as worried. But in any game in which either of these guys are out, this team is, to quote Cutler's wife in her "Laguna Beach" days, dunzo.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: With a veteran backup at center, the loss of Roberto Garza to injury isn't as bad as losing Matt Slauson.

Dickerson: Fiction. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is experienced (44 career starts for the New Orleans Saints), but it's never easy for an offense to swap out centers, especially on the road where crowd noise figures to be a factor. Cutler and de la Puente need to spend the entire week getting on the same page. The Bears cannot afford any pre-snap penalties or false starts because there is confusion over the quarterbacks' cadence or silent count. Cutler's had three years to get comfortable with Garza, and vice versa. That chemistry doesn't develop overnight. Plus, Garza is a leader. He will be missed, along with Slauson, if their respective high ankle sprains keeps them on the bench for an extended period of time.

Greenberg: Fiction. It's worse. Garza makes the calls on the line. Leadership can be such a vague term in sports, but he leads by being on the field and keeping everyone on the same page. Slauson is very good, don't get me wrong, but Garza is crucial to this offense holding together. You never want to lose your center.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The 49ers will rush for more than 200 yards against the Bears on Sunday.

Dickerson: Fiction. The 49ers rushed for 127 yards in Week 1. San Francisco is likely to have better success on the ground against the Bears' defense, but will they top 200? Maybe, but let's not forget, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (3,197 passing yards in 2013) is a far more accomplished passer than Week 1 opponent EJ Manuel. Kaepernick posted a 125.5 quarterback rating against Dallas, completing 16-of-23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. The fourth-year quarterback torched the Bears for 243 passing yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL start in 2012. The point is, the 49ers don't have to rush for 200 yards to beat the Bears. If the Niners run the ball 35-plus times, the Bears will surrender close to 200 rushing yards. But I think the 49ers use the zone read to aid their passing attack on Sunday night. Misdirection works both ways.

Greenberg: Fiction. Come on! No way the Niners get more than 195 on the ground. In all seriousness, I'd be worried about Kaepernick through the air. Last week, he completed almost 70 percent of his passes for a respectable 201 yards with two touchdowns in an easy win over Dallas. I think the Bears defenders will be a little more disciplined in their "run fits" this week, not that it will stop the Niners from piling up yards, but I'm betting it's the pass defense that gets exposed this week. Aside from Chris Conte's interception, Manuel was pretty good last week. Kaepernick is even more dangerous.