OWINGS MILLS — Jay Cutler is practically defiant in his belief that he can force the football into the tightest of holes.
Described as stubborn to a fault by his legion of critics in Chicago, ultra-confident in his rocket throwing arm and unable to gain any relief from the worst running game in the league, the Chicago Bears’ quarterback has thrown more interceptions than anyone else in the NFL this season.
Assuming the Bears’ travel plans allow them to arrive on time for today’s game at M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens welcome their arrival. Especially Cutler.
With a total of four interceptions in the past two games and nine interceptions over the past five weeks, the Ravens’ defense has been transformed from suspect to opportunistic.
“The thing about Cutler is he’ll look at a covered guy and believes he can make the throw,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “You don’t want to get caught up in thinking you can bait him because he has a strong enough arm to make it in there. You have to respect every play. No matter how well you have a guy covered, the ball may be coming to you.”
Acquired via a blockbuster trade this offseason from the Denver Broncos, Cutler has gone from the Pro Bowl to the 22nd-ranked passer in the NFL.
Out of his 457 throws, he has thrown an interception 4.8 percent of the time.
“Anytime you’re throwing the amount of picks that I’m throwing, something’s not going right,” Cutler said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “It’s something I’ve been working on, something we’ve been talking about. But when you boil it down, I’ve just got to take care of the ball better.”
Cutler is still dangerous, though.
He has passed for 3,023 yards and 19 touchdowns to go with his league-high 22 interceptions.
“You’ve got to be ready because it could be a touchdown or an interception when he puts it up,” said safety Tom Zbikowski, who’s expected to start his third game in a row in place of Ed Reed. “You have to be on your game every time he drops back.”
It’s just a matter of which Cutler shows up.
Who knows which guy will break the huddle today in Baltimore?
“What we’re preparing for is Jay Cutler’s best,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We saw it in the Pro Bowl last year. We know what he’s capable of. He can make every throw.”
Defensively, the Ravens rank eighth overall with an average of 305.9 yards surrendered per game.
And the pass defense has improved markedly, up to 11th in the league with 208.2 yards given up per contest.
In the past five games, the Ravens have allowed 126, 256, 145, 299 and 74 passing yards with Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers responsible for the 299 and 256-yard games.
A Chicago offense that has become one-dimensional with a running game mustering just 85.8 yards per game is also going to be missing the speed of wide receiver Devin Hester due to a left calf strain.
So, essentially, it will be Cutler, the gunslinger, against the Ravens’ improving secondary.
“Talent-wise, he’s up there with anybody in the league,” outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said of Cutler. “You can’t give him time. You’ve got to get in his face, but he’s a risk-taker. He’s such a competitor that he’s going to do some things to help his team out any way he thinks he can. A lot of the time that’s the wrong decision.”
What the Ravens (7-6) are faced with is the extreme pressure of a three-game season with no margin for error.
They have to win every game to maintain their position as the sixth and final playoff seed in the AFC.
One year removed from an AFC championship game appearance, everything is on the line for the Ravens.
Every single week.
“We can’t sit back and say, ‘We’ll, if we don’t get it this week, we can get it next week,” veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “If we don’t get it this week, there is no next week for us.”
NOTES: The Ravens were able to conduct their normal Saturday morning schedule, including a brief walkthrough and meetings. All of the players arrived to work on time. … The Ravens placed defensive tackle Brandon McKinney on injured reserve with a back injury. The team promoted defensive back Marcus Paschal (6-0, 201 pounds) from the practice squad to the active roster. The former Iowa player was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 18. … The Bears arrived at Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport just before 11PM on Saturday night after their Friday night flight was cancelled.