Don't write off Cutler (not yet, at least)

When the Jay Cutler trade was made this offseason, most football people were asking how a franchise quarterback in this era could possibly be acquired in a trade like this. Now the question being asked is: Was it really a good trade for the Bears?

I still think it's a win for both teams, even though Cutler is not playing like he did last year in Denver. So what is different with the 26-year-old in Chicago that wasn't part of his three years in Denver? I asked a few coaches and this is the general answer.

There is no Brandon Marshall on the Bears. That is a problem when it comes to setting up the coverage looks that Cutler faces. The same thing happened to Daunte Culpepper when Randy Moss left the Vikings.

However, the Bears have bigger problems than the lack of a No. 1 wide receiver, which put more pressure on Cutler. With Ryan Clady at left tackle, Cutler was sacked just once every 57 pass attempts last season. And because he was under less pressure, his interception ratio was one in 34 attempts. This Bears offensive line is not up to the standards of the 2008 Broncos line. Cutler is being sacked at an alarming rate of once every 18 attempts. That constant pressure has led Cutler to take more chances, resulting in an interception every 19 attempts.

As one NFL coach said, "Cutler is still young, and he has to learn how to reduce his sacks and, more importantly, his interceptions."

Quarterback maturity is when a guy throws the ball out of bounds instead of taking a sack, or takes a sack instead of making a reckless throw. Quarterbacks can't always control how often they get sacked, but a quarterback who "gets it" can cut down on his interceptions. I believe Cutler will eventually get it.

Right now, though, Cutler's issues resemble more of what rookies Mark Sanchez and Matt Stafford are going through, and he needs to stop playing like a rookie. Both Sanchez and Stafford get sacked once every 17 attempts and throw a pick once every 21 pass plays. They let the pressure affect their decision-making.

The only veteran that has numbers resembling those of Cutler is Jake Delhomme. The Panthers quarterback gets sacked once every 16 attempts and throws a pick every 19 passes. Delhomme is a true veteran, and he has fixed his problems in the last three weeks without throwing a single pick in that span.

Will Cutler continue to play like a rookie, or can he self-improve like Delhomme has done?

Dealing with the short week

I had a chance to talk with Carolina Panthers coach John Fox about the short week as his team prepares to host the Miami Dolphins in the NFL Network's Thursday night game. The Panthers did not practice on Monday. They had a full practice on Tuesday, but Wednesday is a final tune-up for the game. One retired head coach said, "We used a game plan from more than four weeks ago from a team with a similar defensive package." The players knew the plan, had used it before and should not make the mistakes twice.

I asked another current head coach if he could line up his best personnel if he had to play on Thursday night. "No way," he said. "We could be down four to five starters if a Thursday night game was up next."

As Fox crams in the preparation for this game, at least he is comfortable with Delhomme's rebound from a rough start. "I always had the utmost confidence in Jake, and he has worked his way thruugh the slump."

Why now?

The Buffalo Bills' firing of Dick Jauron in Week 11 doesn't make a lot of sense, unless the club feels it can get a head start on recruiting one of the unemployed Super Bowl coaches. That remains to be seen, but Jauron's firing will not help the Bills rebound this season. As Bills defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said to me Tuesday, "We let Dick down … coach Jauron never threw us under the bus even when we deserved it."

Stroud said he had to move on like all players must, but that he would pick up the phone and call Jauron out of respect for what he did for him as a head coach.

Freeman sounds like the real deal

I get the opportunity to talk with Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Josh Freeman most weeks, and he is very impressive. Tuesday, we talked about how he hit Maurice Stovall on a 33-yard touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter in Tampa Bay's loss at Miami.

He was in shotgun, which he feels gives him a "snap shot" of the coverage that he doesn't always get from under center. Freeman explained that after taking the snap, he took a good look at the coverage and realized he might have Stovall in a press man look, but read down from Kellen Winslow to Michael Clayton before turning back to Stovall for the TD strike.

Freeman seems to really understand pass route combinations, coverage beaters, calling plays, and using his "alerts" at the line of scrimmage to change plays. Freeman should have Bucs fans very excited about the future.

Albert's angles

I had the opportunity to speak this week with Branden Albert, who will be a very good left tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs someday. Among the topics we discussed, Albert is impressed with fellow second-year Chief and new starting running back Jamaal Charles. As Albert said, "He makes people miss, and he can really run." Albert on his quarterback: "Matt Cassel is a tough guy who never yells at his linemen and is always encouraging to his teammates." As for rookie head coach Todd Haley, Albert said, "When his expectations are higher than yours, you have a problem."

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