Has the Bears’ identity changed with Cutler?

The identity of the Chicago Bears has almost changed overnight.

The offseason acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler has suddenly transformed Da Bears into a team that relies on the pass to set up the run; for decades, it used to be the other way around. In fact, Chicago fans had been waiting for a strong-armed quarterback to aid their ground game, not hide its weaknesses.

Through five games this season, the Bears have attempted 172 passes to only 119 rushing attempts. They’re throwing nearly 60% of the time, which, for the Bears, is unheard of.

On Tuesday, Cutler and the Bears agreed to a two-year extension that will keep the quarterback in Chicago through 2013. Does the move signal the end of the Bears’ philosophy of being a run-first team? Given Cutler’s gun-ho mentality as a passer and Chicago’s sudden desire to throw the ball more, one would think that Chicago’s smash-mouth days are over.

But a closer look tells a different story. The Bears are currently 27th in rushing yards per game this season, averaging 89.8 YPG. They haven’t run the ball much this year because quite frankly, they can’t run the ball. The changes the Bears made to their offensive line in the offseason haven’t amounted to much as Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale and the rest of Chicago’s O-line has failed to gel. And while people are quick to assume running back Matt Forte is suffering from the dreaded sophomore slump, the fact of the matter is that the line hasn’t been opening up holes for him like they did last year.

So are the Bears becoming more of a pass-first team with Jay Cutler? Yes, but that’s only because their O-line is under performing. If the line starts opening more holes for Forte (who seems to be tiptoeing into holes more this season because of the amount of licks he’s been taking), the Bears will undoubtedly become the balanced squad that they envisioned when they traded for Cutler.

Until then, don’t expect the Bears to stop putting it in the air. And as long as they’re throwing, offensive coordinator Ron Turner better start calling more vertical passes in order to take advantage of Cutler’s strengths.

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Cutler already alienating fans in Chicago?

David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune had this interesting tidbit about Jay Cutler in his latest column:

I know Cutler already has alienated enough small pockets of fans at various appearances in Chicago to produce a flurry of furious e-mails, such as the one from a guy at Wrigley Field last week who criticized the quarterback for waving off autograph seekers. “His lack of appreciation for fans will be his undoing in Chicago,” Glen. R. wrote me.

We’ll see, but if Cutler experiences an undoing in Chicago it will have more to do with the people on the field than in the stands. Generally speaking, the same folks complaining about Cutler’s insouciant behavior will be cheering him on his first 350-yard Sunday.

Sure, Cutler could do himself some favors by exuding more charm or suffering the occasional fool with a little less outward disdain. But those who have been Bears fans for two decades, or two generations, need to remember Cutler has been here for two months. There will be — and has been — a degree of culture shock. Denver isn’t Chicago. Eventually, Cutler will adjust because he will learn life is easier that way in this tradition-rich football city. If he doesn’t, then he will get what he deserves.

But it’s too early in his tenure to predict that.

Cutler isn’t the first athlete who shunned autograph seekers and he won’t be the last. Unless it’s obvious they’re being outright pricks to fans, I try not to let it bother me when athletes don’t sign because we have no idea what kind of schedule they’re on. For all we know they’re running late as it is. Sure, it would be nice if they signed autographs until the last person is gone, but that’s not reality.

As far as Cutler is concerned, Chicago fans are going to embrace him if he performs well. And actually, they’ve already embraced him because they’ve been dying for a quarterback for decades. As long as he performs, it’s going to take a lot for him to ruin his image in Chicago. He’s safe for now – I don’t care what a handful of people say.

17 Intriguing Matchups on the 2009 NFL Schedule

The NFL released the 2009 NFL Schedule today, so I’ll do what the 4,000 other websites do and list some of the more juicier matchups of the year. (Although in the sake of being at least a little creative, I’ll list one interesting matchup for each of the 17 weeks on the schedule.)

Before we get to the matchups though, let me state for the record that it’s a complete farce that the Cowboys get six nationally televised games next year despite not making the playoffs last season. I guess “America’s Team” opening a brand new stadium is worth major national exposure…six times a year.

Week 1: Bears at Packers, 8:20PM ET
Jay Cutler’s first game in a Bears uniform will be at Lambeau against the rival Packers on Sunday Night Football. How much will John Madden overplay the, “The Bears finally have a quarterback” angle after every pass Cutler completes?

Week 2: Giants at Cowboys, 8:20PM ET
One of the ‘Boys six nationally televised games, Dallas will open up their new stadium against division rival New York on Sunday Night Football. How much will John Madden overplay the, “Tony Romo and Wade Phillips must win now because Jerry Jones built this brand new stadium and he wants a contender” angle?

Week 3: Falcons at Patriots, 1:00PM ET
The over/under on the number of times Matt Ryan is compared to Tom Brady in this game has officially been set at 800,994,990.

Week 4: Chargers at Steelers, 8:20PM ET
AFC Divisional Round rematch in Pittsburgh – let’s see if the Chargers can hold onto the ball for more than 17 seconds in the third quarter unlike the last time these two teams met.

Week 5: Patriots at Broncos, 4:15PM ET
If Bill Belichick shakes Josh McDaniels’ hand at midfield after this game, I’m calling shenanigans on the behalf of Eric Mangini.

Week 6: Bears at Falcons, 8:20PM ET
Here’s hoping the Bears’ secondary figured out that they have to cover the out pattern when that’s the only route Matt Ryan can look for when there’s 11 seconds on the clock and he needs to get his team into field goal range.

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New Bang! Cartoon: Special Delivery

In their latest ‘toon, the guys from Bang! Cartoon illustrate the mass confusion that ensued when Jay Cutler arrived on the Bears’ doorsteps and what was really behind Josh McDaniels and Pat Bowlen’s decision to trade the “snot-nosed” quarterback.

Are the Bears now the favorites in the NFC North?

In one day, the Bears seemingly addressed their 20-year old quarterback problem and also added a significant piece to their offensive line. In one day, the Bears might have gone from a .500 team to the perennial favorites in the NFC North.

It’s way too early to be getting into predictions for the 2009 NFL Season. Voluntary workouts have begun, but the draft is still weeks away and teams are still trying to reshape their rosters.

But with the trade acquisition of Jay Cutler and the signing of left tackle Orlando Pace, the Bears significantly upgraded their offense and hopefully made current players like Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Frank Omiyale and Chris Williams better.

Make no mistake – Chicago is far from a Super Bowl contender. They still need to upgrade their wide receiver position, could use another defensive end to throw in the mix with Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson, and even though they signed Josh Bullocks this offseason, they could still use an upgrade at safety as well.

But while every team in the division has arguably gotten weaker, the Bears have upgraded. The Vikings are still pretty strong, but they lost long-time center Matt Birk and still have questions to be answered at quarterback. The Packers are planning to run a 3-4 defense next season, but have done next to nothing to add true 3-4 personnel and the Lions will continue to take a sandblaster to their entire roster.

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