Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler is poised to have a huge season in 2012, and I like the Bears to compete with the Green Bay Packers as a contender within the NFC North, which should be the toughest division in football.
Cutler was having his best season as a pro in 2011, he led the Bears to a 7-3 record and the team looked playoff bound, he had thrown for 2,319 yards and 13 touchdowns to 7 interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 85.7 through ten games. However, disaster struck during the Bears week ten game against the San Diego Chargers when Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. Under backups Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown the team went 1-5 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs, finishing the season with an 8-8 record.
The Bears goal this offseason was clearly to add more weapons for Cutler to utilize in the passing game, and the team did just that, by trading for Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall. Cutler and Marshall enjoyed much success while playing together as members of the Denver Broncos during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, when they were widely regarded as one of the most dangerous combinations in the league, and now they have been reunited in Chicago.
The team also added big wideout Alshon Jeffery during the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and he should instantly become a red zone threat for Cutler, who will have the chance to develop alongside the dangerous Marshall. To top things off the Bears signed wide receivers and special teams aces Devin Thomas from the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants and Eric Weems from the Atlanta Falcons. These four receivers have been added to a receiving corps that already included Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Johhny Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher. Then the Bears added former Oakland Raiders running back Michael Bush in free agency to back up and serve as a short yardage option behind starter Matt Forte, who is one of the most talented backs in the game today.
Chicago also fired offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who Cutler openly criticized, causing the two to have a strained relationship. Cutler blamed the offensive coordinator for calling slow developing plays, which were causing the quarterback to hold the ball for long amounts of time behind a poor Bears offensive line, forcing him to take a lot of punishing hits. Martz was replaced by offensive line coach and former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice, who will give Cutler the option to audible out of plays at the line of scrimmage, which he was unable to do under the control-freak Martz. The team also brought in quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who was Cutler’s quarterbacks coach while he was a member of the Denver Broncos, and the two remain close.
The one thing that I can see keeping Cutler from huge numbers during the 2012 season is his offensive line, a unit which has struggled for a number of seasons straight now, and one that the Bears have done little to improve. If I was in the Chicago Bears front office, I would keep a close eye on any offensive linemen that are cut from other teams during training camp or the preseason, as these players could provide an immediate upgrade to a unit that lacks both talent and depth. If the offensive system truly evolves into a more quick-hit system and the offensive line is able to keep Cutler healthy and upright, the sky is the limit for the Chicago Bears offensively.
With a better supporting cast, a healthy Jay Cutler should be a major impact player during the 2012 NFL season, and the Bears should be in competition for an NFL Wild Card playoff spot. If you miss out on the top quarterbacks in your fantasy football draft do not be afraid, strengthen other positions on your roster early on, and grab Cutler in the middle rounds. If he can duplicate the high level that he was playing at before that thumb injury ended his 2012 season, upgrades in both player personnel and team philosophy should help Cutler become one of the top quarterbacks in the league during the upcoming season.