Jay Cutler: Not Ready for Prime Time

Do the bright lights of prime time games blind Jay Cutler(notes) to open receivers? Does the additional mental prep time of a night game turn Cutler's finely-tuned competitive spirit into a mish-mash of ineffectiveness and petulance? In games played after 8:00 PM EST this year -- Chicago's season opening loss against the Packers on Sunday Night Football, the Week 6 Sunday Night loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and the Thursday night loss to the 49ers -- Cutler has put up some truly craptacular statistics. In those three night games, Cutler has completed 73 passes in 131 attempts for a 55.7 completion percentage, three touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That, folks, gives Cutler a quarterback rating of 49.3. In his five day games, he's 138 of 207 for 1,469 yards, with 11 touchdowns and six picks. That's a quarterback rating of 92.8.

And it's not as if Cutler put up those great daytime numbers against tomato cans -- his second-highest quarterback rating of the season (104.7) came against the Steelers in Week 2, and he excelled statistically against a pretty solid Cardinals defense, though many of his throws were in desperation after Arizona put up a 31-7 lead at halftime.

Is Cutler more comfortable when the eyes of the football-crazed nation are not exclusively on him? Some players thrive under the harshest of spotlights, and others shy away from that focus. But this wasn't as much of a problem for Cutler in 2008 -- he lit up the Raiders and Browns defenses in prime time, though the Chargers and Patriots gave him fits after dark.

What is it about Cutler's decision-making process that switches this year? Is he feeling the pressure of the "franchise quarterback" label after the Bears basically gave up two drafts for his services? Is he missing Brandon Marshall(notes) and Eddie Royal(notes) and finding Devin Hester(notes) and Earl Bennett(notes) lacking? Or is this just one of those things where everyone has to adjust and get used to each other?

The Bears don't seem to be exploiting Cutler's one supreme ability -- to get the ball downfield with consistency and accuracy. Instead, because of an ineffective offensive line and conservative game plan, Cutler's caught making checkdown after checkdown in an offense that any half-decent "game manager" quarterback could handle. You know -- the types of quarterbacks that don't cost multiple top draft picks and your existing starting quarterback. If all the Bears were going to do was throw bubble screens to Matt Forte(notes) and quick outs to Greg Olsen(notes) ... well, couldn't Kyle Orton(notes) have handled that?

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