Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is well-known to be a hot and cold type of player. When he's cold, some wonder how he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
But when he's hot, he looks like a perennial Pro Bowl player. It's part of the reason the Bears had been able to compile an 11-5 record and secure the no. 2 seed in the NFC.
Such was the case heading into the Week 17 matchup with the Green Bay Packers when he entered the game with a 104.6 passer rating in his previous five games.
Cutler's previous streak of solid play didn't carry into the regular season finale, however. In a game the Bears chose to play their starters despite having their playoff fate sealed before kickoff, Cutler had one of the worst outings of the season.
The Bears quarterback completed 21-of-39 passes for 168 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 43.5.
"This past game, they did a lot to disrupt our timing in the offense, especially our passing game," said Cutler.
Disrupting the passing game might be an understatement for what the Packers were able to do on Jan. 2.
The Packers defense racked up six sacks of Cutler on their way to 10-3 victory at Lambeau Field including one from cornerback Charles Woodson who credits the speed of the defense as a big reason they've been able to get to the quarterback this season.
"Well, you know, nothing is easy, but we played fast, and I think that's the way this team, this defense has been playing all year because we've been playing fast," said Woodson. "And I think that's the key to us getting into quarterbacks all season, playing fast, knowing where you're supposed to be, not making the big mistakes, and you know, those type of things work in your favor if you do that."
Cutler fared only slightly better in the teams' first meeting this season back during Week 3 in which he completed 16-of-27 passes for 221 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a rating of 82.5. It took a yeoman's effort from the Bears defense and special teams to get their 20-17 victory.
Having poor performances against the Packers was no coincidence. The Green Bay defense held opposing quarterback to a paltry 67.2 passer rating during the regular season, which was tops in the NFL.
Their dominance has extended into the postseason when they've held Michael Vick and Matt Ryan – a pair of Pro Bowl quarterbacks – below their passer rating season average. The Packers limited Vick to a 79.9 rating (100.2 season average) in the wild card round and Ryan to a 69.0 rating (91.0 season average) in the divisional round.
When it comes to Sunday's NFC Championship game, with all the marbles on the line for both teams, the Packers aren't taking anything for granted.
"I think they love having a guy like Jay Cutler, because he brings a lot of energy and big-play capability to the field," said A.J. Hawk on Monday. "And I think he's done a really good job all year of kind of capitalizing on the defense's mistakes that are made against him and what he can do."
If there's one area Culter has had success against the Packers in the past and made them pay for any blunder or error, it's when he's on the run.
The Bears signal caller had three rushes for 37 yards in the teams' first meeting on his way to rushing 50 times for 232 yards on the season, which led to the Packers using rookie linebacker Erik Walden to spy on Cutler in their Week 17 rematch.
"He's a playmaker," said Bears coach Lovie Smith. "Whether it's them getting pressure and him using his feet to get out to buy time to get a throw off, Jay Cutler does it as well as anyone."
Cutler knows if he's able to use some feet to buy him some time, it's only going to help him get the ball to his playmakers whether it's Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen or any number others.
"With all the man stuff [the Packers are] going to play, if I can take a look at things and escape the pocket a little bit, it gives our guy more time to maybe break free and make a play," said Cutler. "It's a possibility they do a really good job of closing the pocket and keeping you contained, so it's going to be challenging."
Like the Week 17 game, Cutler enters Sunday's game on a roll. He was effective in the Bears' 35-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs by completing 15-of-28 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 111.3.
But he also knows he's probably going to face a fearsome pass rush from the Packers one more time.
"I would expect the to be aggressive, they have the past four or five games with Charles blitzing a lot and Clay Matthews and those guys," said Cutler. "We just have to be on our keys and our tips and hit our hot routes and do what we do on our offense."
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