Cutler trade suddenly makes Bears serious contenders in NFC

If Jay Cutler was a bad fit in the Denver Broncos' new offense, he might very well be a perfect fit in a scheme the Chicago Bears have been running for years.

Taking sides's Vic Carucci and Steve Wyche debate which team got the best of the trade that sends Jay Cutler to Chicago in exchange for draft picks and Kyle Orton. More ...

And if that proves to be the case, Cutler's potential impact is taking the Bears from a second-place, non-playoff team to the top of the NFC North -- and perhaps even on a deep run into the postseason.

Cutler is an enormous quarterbacking upgrade for the Bears, who clearly did not see themselves becoming a contender with Kyle Orton under center. Orton's inconsistency and injury-prone history gave the Bears little chance to ever develop a strong enough passing game that would provide a legitimate complement to a highly effective ground game.

That was the main reason the Bears were willing to give up as much as they did -- and it was plenty -- to provide a new home for a quarterback who did not mesh with the offensive philosophy and vision of first-year Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. Another reason, according to multiple league insiders, was to keep Cutler away from two division opponents (the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions) who were known to have an interest in him and that could easily have become much better by making the trade.

"Keeping him away from those teams was almost as important to the Bears as getting him for themselves," one NFL coach said.

By all accounts, Cutler -- provided his Mile High soap-opera drama doesn't resurface in the Windy City -- should get along just fine with Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner.

Unlike McDaniels, Turner does not employ a passing game that often acts as a second running game. He is not asking his quarterback to take a controlled, methodical approach that frequently requires spreading the field and finding open receivers underneath the coverage.

What Turner does is what Cutler was used to in Denver: Pound the ball on the ground, force the defense to crowd the line and then cut it loose with his throwing arm.

The Bears do have some issues with their pass protection. Their signing of veteran left tackle Orlando Pace, who will go down as one of the game's best to play his position, will help. But Pace's age and inability to stay healthy are a concern. Giving up first- and third-round picks in this month's draft for Cutler will limit the Bears' ability to help their offensive line.

However, Turner's run-first mentality should go a long way toward helping to protect Cutler. It has never been Turner's way to expose his quarterback to a ridiculous pounding by having him throw too often and including too many long-developing routes in his game plan.

Presuming that all works as planned, the Bears clearly can thrive this season when you consider their soft schedule and the fact they have, by far, the best quarterback in their division.

The Green Bay Packers are solid with Aaron Rodgers, but he still has some developing to do. The Vikings will pick a starter from one of two unaccomplished candidates -- Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson. The Lions are likely to find their quarterback in the draft, but it is unlikely that a rookie (whether he is Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez or anyone else) will make an impact next season.

Here are some other reasons that trading for Cutler makes such good sense for the Bears:

» His strong arm will allow him to be effective in the inclement weather with which the Bears deal in the middle and late portions of the season in Chicago and places such as Green Bay.

» The Bears already have one of the most dynamic running backs in the league in Matt Forte, who had a sensational rookie season in 2008. Cutler's big and talented arm will make Forte even more effective.

» The Bears' defense struggled last season but is capable of making strides. It is notable that it ranked fifth in the NFL against the run, although the fact it was 30th against the pass and most opponents were able to move the ball successfully through the air had something to do with that. The point-scoring capability that Cutler brings also should help the defensive effort.

» The Bears' special teams are strong, and the field-position game can only bring out the best in a good quarterback.

"(The Bears) gave up a lot," linebacker Brian Urlacher was quoted as saying by the Chicago Tribune. "Cutler must be pretty good. I guess we got better as a team."

You guessed right, Brian.

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