If only the offense and defense aligned
The truth is, the stars simply failed to align; by the time the Bears front office finally prioritized offense, the defense was on its last legs (see 2013, when the Bears had the No. 2 offense, but the No. 30 defense). Check the lowlights. That run defense was statistically the fifth-worst in NFL history; odds are, you and I could’ve gotten a first down or two at Soldier Field.
Just as they’ve done with the Khalil Mack trade in 2018, revisionist history has tried to suggest that the Bears lost that trade. With how poorly the Broncos mismanaged their scouting, it’s still something we have to question. As USA Today’s Broncos Wire made note of, Denver took Robert Ayers and Alphonso Smith over Clay Matthews and Earl Thomas, and then acquired Richard Quinn to go along with Kyle Orton.
None of the four, nor head coach Josh McDaniels, hung around to see that Broncos’ 2015 Super Bowl run. Jay Cutler hung tough until 2016.
The only reason we have to question this trade is because of how Chicago’s front office failed Cutler. I think back to a game early in Cutler’s tenure with the Chicago Bears — a Sunday Night Football game against the Giants. You couldn’t tell Jay Cutler’s white jersey from a punching bag; he was sacked eight times, and as the legend has it, was rocked so hard, he ended up jogging to the wrong side of the field.
Cutler’s run in Chicago feels like a failed story of nature vs. nurture. In many ways, he was set up for mediocrity. The same people who point to his durability issues, neglect the revolving door that was protecting him. In his first three seasons, Cutler ranked No. 1 in sack percentage, and No. 3 in sacks. Here’s a stat for you: in three full seasons in Denver, Cutler was sacked just 51 times. In 2010 alone, he was sacked a league-high 52 times.
That statistic took the national stage during 2010’s NFC Championship. And afterward, fans like myself had to defend Cutler in online chatrooms because his offensive line couldn’t. The reason? Chicago consistently tried to go beyond their means. In Denver, Cutler had max protections on seven-step drops. In Chicago, Cutler was throwing to converted cornerbacks and two-year flameouts in a run-first system.
The same people who cavil at Cutler’s durability never wonder — was it simply magic that he never missed a game in a Denver uniform? He went through everything from a Type I diabetes diagnosis that took 33 pounds off his frame to a fibula injury, and still found time to nearly get the Broncos to the postseason as they’d fallen to their seventh-string running back.