Like everyone who follows the NFL closely, the players on the Eagles defense know pretty much what people say about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
This is what people say: He hasn't won anything. He throws interceptions when harassed. He doesn't like to get hit. He went to the sideline and stayed there during the biggest game of his career. He gives off an apathetic vibe that spawned the internet meme Smokin' Jay Cutler, in which the quarterback drifts through games with a cigarette dangling indifferently from his sullen lips.
That is not, however, what the Eagles say.
"I heard the Smokin' Jay jokes and I've seen those pictures, but what I see on film is a very talented guy, who can throw the ball all over the field, move around a little, and takes some hits, too," said defensive end Connor Barwin. "Every quarterback is less effective when you disrupt them, but honestly Jay is good at handling pressure, I think. He's a challenge. He can do everything."
It's not unusual for the public perception of a player to differ from the professional perception of those who have to match up against him. Fans can belittle the athletes they don't like, but opponents don't have that luxury. When Monday night's game begins in Soldier Field, the Eagles won't be thinking of what Cutler can't do. They'll be worried about what he can.
"I went to school in Madison [Wis.] and the Packers fans up there were always killing Cutler and I never understood it," tackle Beau Allen said. "He's one of those guys when you watch on tape, you have to respect him. He's got a huge arm and can make a ton of throws. I don't know what caused his public persona, but I think he's a great quarterback."
Cutler's history with the Packers and his reputation, deserved or otherwise, for coming up small in the biggest moments, is intertwined. In 10 previous NFL seasons, Cutler has played in the postseason only once. That fact alone might have something to do with his public perception. He's had the bad luck to play for a lot of teams that stunk, and that's not always the quarterback's fault or within his power to change.
In 2010, the Bears won seven of their last nine games to finish 11-5 and then beat Seattle in a divisional playoff to advance to the NFC championship game against the Packers. Cutler was just 6 of 14 in that game and didn't play after the opening drive of the third quarter. It was later revealed he had sprained the MCL in his right knee and coach Lovie Smith made the decision to take him out of the game, but the television images of Cutler sitting placidly on the bench are what people remembered.
"I think everyone scrutinized him for that one playoff game, but he was injured. If you're hurt, you're hurt. There's not much you can do about that," said cornerback Nolan Carroll. "I think he's a tough dude who takes a lot of hits back there. Whatever the public perception is doesn't mean anything to me, and he's still got a cannon."
Cutler has been sacked 290 times in his career, including five times in the Bears' season-opening loss to Houston last Sunday. He was hit another 13 times in that game, and what had been a successful start - Cutler was 10 for 13 and Chicago had a 14-10 lead at halftime - slipped away as the Texans wore down a suspect offensive line. Cutler was 6 for 16 in the second half, threw an interception (he has 142 in 135 career games), and the Bears lost, 23-14.
"When Cutler has a clean pocket and is upright, he can make every throw in this league. If you give him the environment to have success, he will," said safety Malcolm Jenkins. "We have to get pressure early, disrupt them up front, and take the crowd out of it. He's like any quarterback. They're really talented with a clean pocket. Then all of sudden, they start getting hit and they usually change into a different quarterback. When you watch Cutler in games, when he gets hit a lot, that's when you start seeing mistakes."
Which makes Cutler exactly the same as the other 31 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. That will be the challenge, and it has nothing to do with Cutler's history or outside perception. He's coming off a season in which he had a 92.3 quarterback rating, the highest of his career, and he has a target in receiver Alshon Jeffery who has averaged five receptions and 75 yards in 51 career games. The Eagles have taken note of all of that.
"He's a baller," Vinny Curry said of Cutler. "If he gets hot, he's hard to stop."
For all his talent, though, Cutler is 68-69 as a starter. If he beats the Eagles, the public perception of his career won't change much. The funny thing is that if Cutler has a great game, the Eagles' professional perception of him won't change, either. They can always see through the smoke and find the player hidden there.