|Photo by Jim Matthews, Green Bay Press-Gazette|
Poor Jay Cutler. I don't like the guy - although I'm sure that he is a nice guy in person, and he is a pretty good quarterback. I still remember that shootout he had with Brett Favre in 2007, when Cutler was still with the Broncos. At the time, he seemed like a rising young star of a quarterback. But his sour-puss disposition on the sidelines, ever since he has been with the Bears, and the mere fact that he is the quarterback of our historical rival, has been enough to get me to dislike him.
Having said all that, I do think that he gets a disproportionate share of the blame whenever the Bears lose. I can't let him off the hook when he throws two interceptions and another one that could have been an interception. The first one was tipped by Tramon Williams and intercepted by Clay Matthews. But the main thing is that, in addition to throwing the ball into way too much traffic on the play, he threw it to a spot where Williams had a better opportunity to catch the ball than the receiver. The second one was the result of mis-communication between Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Marshall cut upfield, when Cutler evidently expected him to break back toward the line of scrimmage.
Normally, I would have no way of knowing who was at fault in a mistake like that. Except that Coach Trestman went out of his way to twice mention that it was Marshall's error, at his press conference. (Cutler himself had been more gallant, just indicating that it was a mis-communication between the two players.) This, to me, is an interesting choice by Trestman. I can't read it any way other than that he said this in order to protect Cutler from criticism on the play. So he perceives Cutler's ego to be so fragile that it is preferable to put the blame squarely on the player who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I am not sure that was a wise choice. At this point, if Cutler is not tough enough to take criticism from the fans and the media, there is not much hope for him.
So are the Packers back on track? I can't give a stronger answer than "maybe." The offense played to perfection for the entire game - really the first complete performance by the offense all year. So unlike other formerly excellent teams (I am thinking of the Patriots, given Monday night's game) where the wheels have really come off the offense, at least we now know that the Packers can put a complete offensive game together. But the defense seems poised to give us fits all season. The box score is deceptive. The Packers only gave up 17 points, but better clock management would likely have put the Bears ahead at halftime, 24-21. And if the Bears had led early in the second half, who knows if Cutler would have started throwing it up for grabs? In fact, if the Bears had led in the second half, and if they had decided to just run the ball up the middle on most plays, with occasional passes mixed in to keep the Packers honest, they could easily have won the game. So I have a high level of concern for the defense. The bright spots are that they have started to generate turnovers, and they do seem to be improving somewhat as the year goes on. But watching them get gashed by the run, play after play, is not a pretty sight.
The Vikings are next up for the Packers, at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. The good thing about the Packers' 2-2 record is that they have only had one home game so far. If you win all your home games and half the away games, you end up at 12-4. The Packers are 1-0 at home and 1-2 on the road, so they are not far off the pace for a good season, if they can continue winning, especially against division rivals. A home game on a short week, against the Vikings, is nothing like a sure win, even in more normal times. And of course there are a couple of wild cards in the mix - the emergence of a talented but inexperienced young quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was injured on Sunday, and it is not at all a sure thing that he will play on Thursday. The other wild card is the Vikings' running game. Frequent nemesis Adrian Peterson is suspended, but on Sunday, the Vikings had a healthy running game without him, for the first time since Peterson's suspension.
The Packers have got to do something about their run defense, and they have to do it in a hurry. They are currently ranked last in the league in this category. I do think that they will win Thursday night. But if Sunday's game against the Bears provides any lesson, it is how important it will be for the offense to build up a lead, to take the Vikings out of their running game.