After the Chicago Bears turned in a lackluster and unquestionably bad performance on offense in their first game this season, Bears fans and sports media alike have been criticizing and questioning the Bears third-year quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.
The Bears troubles at the quarterback position are well documented–the team has never had a quarterback throw 30 touchdowns in a season, and they’ve never had anyone throw for 4,000 yards.
Many fans are hoping Trubisky can be the first to do both, but after his shaky start Thursday, he didn’t provide much evidence to suggest that he can. In fact, some fans began tossing around comparisons to a retired Bears quarterback who also happened to be at the game Thursday: Jay Cutler.
Cutler visited Chicago as a spectator Thursday night and ended up seeing one of the team’s worst offensive performances in recent memory. Many Bears fans took to social media with divided opinions. Some insisted that Cutler should come out of retirement and lead the team to the promised land, while others reiterated how Trubisky, even in his struggles, is far superior to Cutler.
So exactly how similar are Cutler and Trubisky? As it turns out, they have a lot on common while also being completely different.
While Cutler was never known for his skills as a runner, he certainly had them. He never seemed to display keen instincts while running with the ball, but Cutler could throw on the run better than Trubisky can. Trubisky, however, has those keen running instincts–he just doesn’t have Cutler’s arm strength.
Cutler was never a top five rushing quarterback the way Trubisky was last year, and while opposing teams had to account for Cutler’s mobility, they have to make Trubisky’s rushing abilities a part of their defensive game plans. Both could run, but Trubisky is easily the superior runner.
Commonality: Both Divided the Bears’ Fan Base
This idea has been tossed around since Trubisky was drafted as the second overall pick. Both he and Cutler share the distinction of being loved by many Bears fans. Both have also been called into question frequently by their fan base, as well as the media. Cutler was definitely more abrasive and divisive than Trubisky, and his 1-1 career record in the playoffs simply didn’t get it done. Trubisky has displayed flashes of potential, and has excited the fan base–but many Bears fans are still waiting to see Mitch take that next step. And after his disastrous performance in the opener against Green Bay, fans are more split on Trubisky than ever.
Cutler was also a bit of a turnover machine in Chicago, leading the league in interceptions more than once, and his ineffectiveness in the red zone wore many fans down. Trubisky has been slightly better with this, although he has gotten away with several errant passes that should have been intercepted in multiple games.
Another reason Trubisky and Cutler have received such a divided fan response is because of the lack of success each has had against the team’s biggest rival, the Green Bay Packers.
Commonality: Both Struggle Against the Packers
Twice in the last eight years, the Packers defense has gone on record saying they knew they could beat the Bears because of the guy playing the quarterback position. In 2012, after another win in the rivalry, former Packers cornerback Charles Woodson told reporters after the game that his team didn’t need luck to beat Chicago. “Same old Jay,” Woodson said. “We don’t need luck. We just need to be in position. Jay will throw us the ball.”
As if channeling Woodson after the game Thursday, Packers cornerback Tramon Williams, who played with Woodson in Green Bay, said he and his teammates were well aware of the Bears innumerable offensive weapons, but they also knew that they’d have a chance to win as long as Trubisky was under center.
“We wanted to make Mitch play quarterback. We knew they had a lot of weapons, we knew they were dangerous, we knew all of those things. But we knew if we could make Mitch play quarterback, that we’d have a chance.”
Williams has since said that he didn’t mean any disrespect to Trubisky, but his statement certainly wasn’t a compliment. Trubisky is young enough to still flip this script, but it has to happen soon.
Commonality: Struggles in Prime Time Games
In his career with the Bears in prime time games and on Thanksgiving, Cutler went 560/912, throwing for 6,119 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 33 interceptions with a QBR of 85.6. His record in those games was 15-12. He retired with one career playoff victory.
Cutler performed better than Trubisky has so far in prime time games–but considering the small sample size the current Bears quarterback has, there’s still loads of time for this to change. However, so far, Trubisky has a tendency to underperform in prime time games, or in games where there’s a huge spotlight on his team:
Difference: Their attitudes are like oil and water
Numerous former coaches and players working in the media ripped Jay Cutler throughout the years due to an apparent lack of concern, and an overall lack of fire, passion, and personality. Cutler was commonly criticized because he never brought a ton of wins and a swaggy attitude with him–he brought loads of perceived indifference instead.
Mitch is the opposite. He has moxie coupled with loads of personality that he sometimes literally wears on his sleeve. He dressed as Ditka for Halloween and rocked a mean ugly Christmas sweater. He delivers a mean pre-game speech. He chugs a mean beer. His teammates and many fans love him, and those things are important. But performing at a high level on this league is also important, and Trubisky has to show he can do that.
In eight seasons with the Bears, Jay Cutler played all 16 games just once. He wasn’t injury prone, per se, but he wasn’t on the field enough.
Many argue Cutler never had the weapons or the strong offensive line Trubisky has, and that’s absolutely true. There were, however, times when Cutler had a great defense behind him, a solid offensive line, and excellent pass-catchers, but he never had them all at one time the way Trubisky does now.
At one point, Cutler had Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. He also had Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long, and Jordan Mills blocking for him, so it’s not like he never had any quality blockers. He just never had anything close to the line Trubisky has now, however.
Trubisky is a tough young player. He didn’t miss a game after he was named the starter his rookie season, and he missed two last season in what felt more like a precaution than a serious injury. Trubisky hasn’t been with the team nearly as long as Cutler was, but it already looks as though he’s more durable.
Difference: Cutler Never Changed. Mitch Still Can
As Patrick Finley recently noted, Jay Cutler’s habits were well-formed and unchanging. He was always erratic with the ball, and he never quite learned how to make the best decisions.
But Trubisky is still young enough to learn how to better read defenses and make adjustments. He’s also young enough to change and grow, and his attitude should also help him here. Trubisky deserves a full season before he’s fully judged.
The only Bears quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl, Jim McMahon, who remains beloved in Chicago, said it best at the Bears 100 Celebration this spring:
“This town has always been a Bear town. It’s always going to be a Bear town. This is a hard-working town and these fans appreciate hard-working players. They know who plays hard and who doesn’t. If you play hard for Chicago, they’ll love you. And if you play hard and win, they’ll love you forever.”
If Trubisky can learn how to win games on a regular basis, he still has time to rewrite his narrative.