The acquisition of Cutler a season ago lifted hopes, but the initial results were disastrous. He struggled to make the transition to Ron Turner's offense and his perpetual indecisiveness led to a league-worst 26 interceptions. Chicago finished 23rd in total offense, while producing only 20.4 points a game.
With his offense stuck in neutral, Smith turned to his mentor, Martz, for help.
Martz, who hired Smith as his defensive coordinator while he was coach of the Rams, has an outstanding reputation for developing quarterbacks. Martz helped transform what were lightly regarded players such as Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger into Pro Bowlers, and he was instrumental in Jon Kitna posting back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons in Detroit.
Although those players had the mental acumen and instincts to thrive in Martz's system, Cutler possesses better physical tools. With his arm strength and touch, Cutler can make the vertical throws, while also having the anticipation to connect on short and intermediate routes.
In Martz's system, the quarterback is directed to throw the ball on time to designated spots on the field, and the receiver is expected to be there when it arrives. The intricate timing between thrower and catcher makes it nearly impossible to stop when executed properly, but some quarterbacks are never able to grasp the anticipation aspect of the system and frequently get picked off as a result.
In addition to anticipation and awareness, quarterbacks must have the courage to stand tall in the pocket against a host of rushers. Martz prefers to release all eligible receivers into the route regardless of the pressure, and rely on the QB to find the "hot" receiver to defeat the rush. While this approach exposes the passer to a lot of punishment, it results in big plays when the timing and anticipation is on point.
In looking at the Bears' first two games, the beauty of Martz's system has been on full display. Although Cutler has taken a bit of a beating in the pocket, he has routinely picked apart the coverage, and has connected on 68.8 percent of his passes with five touchdowns against only one interception. Those numbers are even more remarkable when factoring in his league-leading 10.1 yards per attempt average and 121.2 passer rating.
Throw in the fact that he is posting this kind of production without an established No. 1 receiver on the roster, and it's obvious that the marriage between Cutler and Martz is off to a good start.
The Bears are sitting atop the NFC North with their newfound approach. With Cutler playing a large role, he could nab the league's Offensive Player of the Year award to accompany a division crown at season's end.
Offensive Player of the Year
3. Chris Johnson, Titans, RB (1): He saw his 12-game streak of 100-yard rushing efforts end at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but provided a sensational "what if" moment with a 85-yard jaunt that was nullified by a penalty. While he is well off the pace for a 2,000-yard season, he continues to stake his claim as the league's most explosive offensive player.
Most Valuable Player
Defensive Player of the Year
2. James Harrison, Steelers, LB (5): The former Defensive Player of the Year has been sensational in the Steelers' two wins. Harrison continues to pummel quarterbacks from the blind side (three sacks), and produce turnovers (two forced fumbles) that have keyed the team's surprising start without Ben Roethlisberger.