x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Jay Cutler turns conservative under Martz

The Chicago Bears’ quarterback has been using a short game – and it's paying off.

Short passes have worked for Chicago's Jay Cutler. 

David Stluka / AP Photo
Short passes have worked for Chicago's Jay Cutler. David Stluka / AP Photo

After Chicago paired the headstrong Mike Martz with the equally headstrong Jay Cutler this offseason, there was much … head-scratching.

The thinking among Bears officials was that Martz's aerial creativity as offensive co-ordinator would dovetail with Cutler's powerful arm. It made sense.

Still, concerns remained: possible incompatibility, the revolving-door nature of the co-ordinator position and whether a weak group of blockers in front of Cutler would prohibit Martz from unleashing a 2.0 version of the offence known as "The Greatest Show On Turf" when he coached the St Louis Rams.

The Bears, at 8-3 entering today's game against the Lions in Detroit, are one of the NFL's surprises because Martz and Cutler have changed their stripes. Temporarily, at least. For now, both have seen the benefits of short, safe throws as an alternative to flinging it far down the field.

"Winning games and just moving the chains," Cutler said after a mid-November victory, referring to an emphasis on first downs as a means to touchdowns.

Three years a Bronco, Cutler wore out his welcome in Denver and landed in Chicago before last season. His dubious league-leading statistic: 26 interceptions, a figure attributed to bouts of Brett Favre-itis - the tendency to make lots of high-risk, high-reward throws.

Now, Martz has Cutler making short drops from centre, allowing the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly, which translates into the lowest rate of completions exceeding 20 yards among NFL quarterbacks.

"He did a good job taking what was there," Greg Olsen, the Bears tight end, said on a recent Sunday.

The short-and-fast passing game does not yield yardage in chunks, but it aids in efficiency. Cutler has reduced his interception rate (10 through 11 games) and bumped his quarterback rating to 90.4, up from 76.8 a year ago.

Nothing less than a play-off run, this season or beyond, will convert the Cutler critics.

His reputation for stubbornness precedes him and his supreme self-confidence in his arm can cause trouble, too, as none other than Favre acknowledged when discussing Cutler.

"I see that in him," said Favre, an avowed admirer. "You kind of take the good with the bad."

Cutler is exercising patience, a virtue rarely associated with him, and Martz, too, is showing restraint. Think of a person with hands tied behind his back, gradually untangling the ropes.

"It'll happen," the coach said of dusting off his Greatest Show playbook. "It's just a step-by-step process … You just have to choose your spots."

Olsen concurs. "He's that kind of guy who can make those special plays," he said. "We don't want to take that away from him."


Today’s top games

• Washington at NY Giants: The renewal of a classic rivalry has one team (Redskins, 5-6) with little room for error against one (Giants, 7-4) trying to keep pace with NFC North leader Philadelphia. The Skins, an older bunch, are showing their age. The Giants rise and fall weekly on their turnover frequency; with 30 this season, they lead the league.

• Atlanta at Tampa Bay: The Falcons, unbeatable at home, venture south for the first of three consecutive road games. They are operating on all cylinders offensively, and while their defence is 20th in yards allowed it is No 7 in points permitted. The Bucs are 7-4 despite being outscored this year but lost only by six in the Georgia Dome.

• Pittsburgh at Baltimore: Ben Roethlisberger was suspended when the Ravens won 17-14 in Pittsburgh. Iffy for this game, he has worn a boot on a foot rumoured to be broken; the Steelers deny it, calling the ailment a sprain. The Ravens have won eight straight at home and should get the after-dark cold weather that they relish.

Today’s other games

Jacksonville at Tennessee

Cleveland at Miami

Chicago at Detroit

Buffalo at Minnesota

New Orleans at Cincinnati

San Francisco at Green Bay

Denver at Kansas City

Oakland at San Diego

Carolina at Seattle

St Louis at Arizona

Dallas at Indianapolis

Tomorrow’s game

NY Jets at New England

Stat of the week

The Dallas Cowboys were 14-3-1 on Thanksgiving Day leading up to 1985, but since then the holiday has not been as merry; they are a modest 13-12.