Pressure to perform mounts on Cutler

Quarterback+Jay+Cutler+of+the+Chicago+Bears+chats+with+the+officials+between+plays+in+the+first+quarter+against+the+Detroit+Lions+at+Soldier+Field+in+Chicago+on+November+10%2C+2013.+The+Lions+beat+the+Bears+21-19.

Quarterback Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears chats with the officials between plays in the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field in Chicago on November 10, 2013. The Lions beat the Bears 21-19.

Who is Jay Cutler?

He’s the long-term quarterback of the Chicago Bears, this much we know. He’s No. 6 under center with the high-powered arm and that brand new $127 million contract. And with Derrick Rose hot on his heels, he’s currently the most polarizing athlete in Chicago.

It’s what we don’t know about Cutler that is more complicated.

Can he stay healthy for an entire season for the first time since 2009?

Not sure.

If he stays healthy, will he play well enough to lead the Bears to their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season?

Maybe.

Will he ever reach his potential and establish himself as a consistent winner?

Cue the patented “Cutler shrug”.

With Cutler and the Bears reporting to training camp last week, these are questions on everyone’s mind. But the way I see it, there’s no question that this is the year Cutler needs to perform and silence his doubters, or else things will get real ugly in Chicago.

Until this season, Cutler’s shortcomings have been the result of what I see as legitimate excuses. You can’t blame the guy for getting hurt. Also, his offensive line was atrocious in his first couple of years with the Bears, allowing Cutler to be the NFL’s most-sacked QB in 2010. He’s had two different head coaches and a revolving door of offensive coordinators in five seasons.

And despite all of that, Cutler’s been the best quarterback Chicago has had since Sid Luckman took snaps in the 1950s. He led the Bears to within a game of the Super Bowl in 2011, only to suffer an unfortunate knee injury in the third quarter of the NFC Championship. He posted a quarterback rating of 89.2 in 2013, the highest mark of his career. His performance has instilled enough confidence in head coach Marc Trestman and the Bears front office to earn a new seven-year deal.

The table is set for Cutler heading into 2014, and he needs to make it count. He has the luxury of playing under the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons — he’s had four in five years with the Bears — and he should now be more than comfortable in Trestman’s QB-friendly system.

Cutler has the best receiving duo in the game at his disposal, as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are downright frightening for opposing defenses. Running back Matt Forte can keep the pressure off Cutler with another productive season on the ground, and he’s also an above-average pass-catcher out of the backfield. Cutler’s offensive line is more than solid, and tight end Martellus Bennett gives the Bears another downfield threat. Barring injury, there is simply no excuse for Cutler to fail with this offense. It’s stacked.

Cutler will be held to a Playoffs or Bust standard by fans this year, even if that’s not totally fair. The defense is a huge question mark after last season’s yearlong debacle, and the offense can’t win games on its own. Several criticisms of Cutler have been outside of his control, and some positive things that he can’t control will likely have to happen on the field in order for public opinion to shift in his favor.

That’s just how it is. But he can certainly help his own cause, and he should be poised more than ever to do just that. If the Bears fall short of the playoffs for the seventh time since their Super Bowl appearance season of 2006, Cutler will likely take most of the heat.

Cutler knows this, and with expectations high and fan patience low, the pressure is on him. He’s in the best position to succeed in Chicago since his career began. The window to win for the Bears is as wide as we’ve seen it since 2011.

A productive, healthy season from Cutler would go a long way toward silencing his critics. But if we see more injuries, pouting and picks? The haters will only multiply and get louder.

Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @aroux94.