You couldn’t miss Jay Cutler’s spreading the ball around in the Bears’ first-half vivisection of the Oakland Raiders on Friday.
I mean, he threw to three different tight ends in the first quarter alone, or two tight ends and the mistake that Fendi Onobun represents.
Cutler also notably targeted receivers of all ages, from Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall to rookie Marquess Wilson with a lot of sophomore Alshon Jeffery in between.
But one play jumped out at me: the flip to Matt Forte that turned into a 32-yard touchdown.
It was only an exhibition game, sure, and it came against the team that seemingly already has clinched the first overall draft pick, but that play resounded as perhaps the best sign of growth since Cutler started stacking offensive coordinators’ heads.
That little flip is a core play in any version of the West Coast offense. Bill Walsh didn’t even consider it a pass, but more of a long handoff. That play has to be run for many reasons. That play also does many things we’re not used to seeing with the Bears’ erratic and often constipated offenses.
First, the play doesn’t force a pass. That often looks like the house special with Cutler. The play saves the quarterback from himself.
Second, the play exemplifies the way Marc Trestman’s scheme uses every bit of available turf. Opponents now have to defend the width of the field the way Bears opponents never have.
Third, the play we saw Friday night was run out of a set with both Forte and Michael Bush in the backfield, a much different look. The play also puts Forte in space and lets him operate with more room against players likely to be out of position.
Fourth, the play demands downfield blocking, which ought to be a strength of a Bears team with a lot of big receivers and tight ends, and there was Jeffery throwing the first block and free-agent right end Martellus Bennett throwing the second and part of the third.
But the big thing about the play is that Cutler might’ve learned he could throw a big TD pass on a lateral.
That’s a big deal for a quarterback with a big arm. But Cutler threw the right pass quickly and accurately even though it was a little toss to a wide-open target instead of a 100 mph pitch downfield into a nonexistent window.
Cutler has shown great touch downfield before. He has shown a propensity for airing it out downfield and letting his big receivers go up to fight for it. But this staple play of the West Coach offense requires smarts and discipline, and there it was, executed perfectly by the Bears offense.
The Bears offense, do you hear me?
With Cutler, you’re never sure. He tends to talk a better offense than he executes, especially during these times when he has a new boss and they’re all trying to talk themselves into a bromance.
I also realize we still haven’t seen Cutler do it against a real NFL team in a real NFL game under the kind of real NFL pressure that often makes his head and his mechanics fall apart quicker than J’Marcus Webb’s audition at right tackle.
But taking what the practice games show and projecting that into the regular season, Stevie Sunshine is pointing out a sign of hope that our little boy is growing up.