Each week throughout the season we'll ask five questions of PFW publisher and Bears expert Hub Arkush to get his analysis on some of the top issues facing the team. This week, Hub says he trusts Jay Cutler's decision making more than he did when the season started, but points out that Bill Belichick's defensive game plan could be one of the tougher challenges Cutler has faced this season.
1. What changes have you seen in Jay Cutler's play during the past couple games compared to the first half of the season?
Arkush: Obviously he is operating from a lot more three-step drops, getting the ball out quicker, appears much more decisive and is making a lot fewer questionable throws/bad decisions. He is also using his feet and athleticism quite a bit more, which has probably led to the biggest improvement in his protection. The blocking still isn't very good, but defenses are more concerned about keeping him in the pocket now. The development of Earl Bennett has also been a big help, as every quarterback needs a go-to guy.
2. Do you trust Cutler more now to make good decisions than you did when the season started?
Arkush: More, but not completely. You can still see him tempted to try and do too much every time he gets into trouble. Success breeds confidence and he's obviously learning, but he's still far too confident in his big arm and will still throw off the back foot and try to squeeze balls into spots he should really stay away from. The real question is, how will he fare against the schemes of the Patriots and the much tougher defenses of the Jets, Vikings and Packers compared to what he's seen the last five weeks? The Vikings appear to be playing much better than they were in Chicago in Week 10.
3. Should the Bears take shots downfield in the passing game against the Patriots' 31st-ranked pass defense more frequently than they have in the past?
Arkush: They will have to take shots down the field because that's the weakness of the Patriots' defense, but Cutler should only take them when he thinks his receiver has them beat. You can pile up yardage on the Pats, but throw too many jump balls and they will absolutely make you pay. The more the Bears can run on New England, the better chance they will have of making some plays down the field. But if you can't get those two safeties to come up, going downfield on New England is a very risky business.
4. Has Earl Bennett become the Bears' most valuable receiver?
Arkush: I think Bennett is their most dependable receiver and obviously the guy Cutler is most comfortable with, but Greg Olsen is still just as valuable. Bennett will rarely get any mismatches, but Olsen, with his great size and surprising quickness, will get them all the time on linebackers and safeties, and Olsen is more valuable in the red zone.
5. Will Chicago's offensive line, as flawed as it is, be able to contain a relatively weak New England pass rush?
Arkush: The success of the Bears' offensive line will be directly tied to just how much Bill Belichick decides to throw at them. While the Bears' O-linemen aren't great one-on-one blockers, their biggest problems come from line stunts, blitzes and their failure to execute their own protection schemes. No one in the NFL is better at confusing an offense than Belichick, and the best matchup in the whole game will be the Pats coaches' schemes vs. that shaky Bears O-line. The other thing Belichick will do is give Cutler looks he hasn't seen in coverage. The Patriots may do real damage with picks on plays where Cutler didn't appear to be pressured because he may not recognize what he's throwing into.