Thursday, July 23, 2009

Anywho, About that Jay Cutler..

Back in April, when the trade was first announced, I was a little bit too shocked to truly give my take on Jay Cutler. Obviously my attitude since the trade has given you the idea that I'm pretty fond of him. So what information is really important about Jay Cutler?

Let's start with college. Cutler was a four year starter at Vanderbilt. As a starter at Vanderbilt Cutler broke nearly every record in the book, won SEC Freshman of the Year in 2002, First Team All SEC (2005), and SEC Offensive Player of the Year (2005), all impressive accomplishments considering Jay was just 11-34 as a starter. It's hard to blame Jay at all for that, however, given that in his entire four year career Vanderbilt had just three players good enough to be drafted into the NFL (our own Hunter Hillenmeyer, who was only there Jay's freshman year before going in the 5th round to the Packers, and a defensive end and guard who were both drafted in the 6th round in 2005). While in college, Jay was mercilessly beaten behind a shoddy offensive line which allowed him to get sacked around twice a game and almost never gave him a great amount of time to set up in the pocket and throw. His line from Vanderbilt looks like this-

2002- 103 comp./212 att./48.6%/1,433 yds/10 td/9 ints/6.8 ypa/130.3 ypg/112.4 Rating
2003- 187 comp./327 att./57.2%/2,347 yds/18 tds/13 ints/7.2 ypa/195.6 ypg/127.7 Rating
2004- 147 comp./241 att./61.0%/1,844 yds/10 tds/5 ints/7.7 ypa/167.6 ypg/134.8 Rating
2005-273 comp./462 att./59.1%/3,073 yds/21 tds/9 ints/6.7 ypa/279.4 ypg/126.1 Rating

All in all, a very impressive career given his surrounding cast. Due to the adversity Jay had to face while at Vanderbilt, his head coach, Bobby Johnson, had the following to say after Jay was accused of "whining" during his exit from Denver this offseason:

“I saw him designated as a whiner and spoiled and things like that and that’s the furthest thing from Jay Cutler you can imagine,” Johnson said in a recent teleconference.
While at Vanderbilt, Cutler “never whined or never whimpered,” Johnson said.
“He got hit a bunch,” he said. “We didn’t have the greatest people around him at that time to allow him to demonstrate his talents until maybe his senior year. He was a trooper for us. He rallied the troops.”The summer prior to his senior year at Vanderbilt, Cutler had an apartment that he allowed other players to stay at so they could all work out together.
“He just did everything we could ask him to do,” Johnson said. “To see him labeled like he was was really disappointing to me.”

After college, Jay was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Denver Broncos, who had traded up from the 15th spot in order to ensure that they got him. Cutler's draft measurables were pretty outstanding- at 6'3, 226 lbs, he dazzled with his throwing skills and ran a very respectable (for a quarterback) 4.7 second forty yard dash.

During his rookie year Jay started the last 5 games of the season, he went 2-3, but became the first rookie in NFL history to toss at least two touchdown passes in his first four games, and the second to toss 2 tds a game in his first 4 starts (Marino was the first). Jay's line for the 2006 season-

5 G/5 GS/81 Comp./137 Att./59.1%/1,0001 yds/9 tds/5 ints/7.3 YPA/200.2 YPG/88.5 Rating.

Cutler was just 2-3, but the team averaged 24.8 points per game on offense under his direction, the defense allowed 28.0 points per game.

In 2007 Jay took over as a full time starter and started all 16 games despite losing nearly 34 pounds and struggling with his stamina due to issues with diabetes. The Broncos went 7-9, but the team averaged 20.0 ppg under Cutler, with the defense allowing 25.6 ppg. Cutler's line for his first year as a starter was very solid:

16 G/16 GS/297 Comp./467 Att./63.6%/3,497 yds/20 tds/14 ints/7.5 YPA/218.6 YPG/88.1 Rating.

In 2008 Cutler managed an explosive offense, the second overall in the league in yards per game and one that averaged 23.1 ppg. Despite the power on offense, the Broncos managed just an 8-8 record thanks to a defense that allowed a whopping 28.0 ppg. Cutler's line for the 2008 season:

16 G/16 GS/384 Comp./616 Att./62.3%/4,526 yds/25 tds/18 ints/7.3 YPA/284.1 YPG/86.0 Rating.

All of that adds up to a solid career line of:

37 G/37 GS/762 Comp./1220 Att./62.5%/9,024 yds/54 tds/37 ints/7.4 ypa/243.9 YPG/87.1 Rating.

So what we can draw from that is this:

1. Cutler is extremely durable. Between Vanderbilt and the Broncos he's never missed a start. Something zero of the Bears previous 1,000 quarterbacks can claim over so long of a period.

2. The guy puts up numbers. His completion %, yards per attempt, yard per game, and his rating are all good-to-outstaning.

3. His 17-20 career W-L record is heavily to blame on the defense. To break down Cutler's career even further:

In Wins:

17-0, 378/563 (67.1%), 4590 yds, 270.0 ypg, 8.2 ypa, 35 tds, 13 ints, 103.1 rating, in wins under Cutler the Broncos averaged 29.4 ppg and allowed 20.2 ppg.

In Losses:

0-20, 384/657 (58.4%), 4434 yds, 221.7 ypg, 6.7 ypa, 19 tds, 24 ints, 73.3 rating, in losses the Broncos averaged 15.7 ppg and allowed 32.7 ppg. (for what it's worth, Cutler has a higher rating in losses than Tom Brady (65.7), and isn't that much worse than Peyton Manning (77.1))

Overall- Cutler- 37 games, 762/1220 (62.5%), 9024 yds, 243.9 ypg, 7.4 ypa, 54 tds, 37 ints, 87.1 rating. In his career the Broncos have averaged 22.0 ppg and allowed 26.9 ppg. Cutler-led offenses have scored 20 points or more 23 times in his 37 starts, they've scored at least 30 points 10 times, and at least 40 points twice. 8 times in his career Cutler has lost games in which his offense has scored at least 20 points, he's lost one game after the offense scored 34 points. He's 13-1 in his career when the Broncos defense held the opposing offense to 21 or fewer points.

So what does this tell us? Well, Cutler is Hardly, and I mean Hardly the reason his team has lost. Cutler is no more to blame when the Broncos lose than Tom Brady is when the Pats lose or Peyton Manning is when the Colts lose, he's just never been lucky enough to have as good of a defense as Brady or, sadly, even Manning. He did throw 18 interceptions, which was second in the NFL to Favre's 22, but if you compare their interception percentage (2.9% for Cutler, 4.2% for Favre) you see that Cutler throws far fewer risky passes than a noted "Gunslinger." For another comparison, even though Rex Grossman threw just 2 more interceptions in 2006, Rex's interception % that year was also a whopping 4.2 %, so any pessimists thinking the Bears are getting just a slightly more talented Grossman are also wrong. There's also reason to be optimistic about Cutler taming his wild streak, his interception % has dropped every year of his career (3.6 to 3.0 to 2.9).

As far as any personality issues go, Cutler may have been portrayed as the bad guy during his trade crisis, but if you'll pay attention to the Brandon Marshall situation and if you'll note this article, Cutler is hardly the only Bronco to have had issues with Josh McDaniel's methods. Cutler's former coach Mike Shanahan, his coach at Vandy as mentioned above, and his former teammates, have praised him. Champ Bailey had the following to say:

“Well he’s definitely in the top 10 as far as what he’s done to this point,” Bailey said. “Now where he can be, he can be the best in the game, he has that ability. The guys very smart, very sharp, a good arm; he has all the stuff you’d want. He reminds me of a Marino, Elway type of guy, and he’s going to be a great winner for them. It’s unfortunate for us that we had to lose a guy like that, but we’ve got to move on, we’ve got some quality guys back there that can definitely get the job done so we’ve just got to go out and handle business as necessary.”

So far Bears coaches and teammates have been impressed with Cutler's work ethic, and Cutler has shown his committment to winning and the team by refusing any endorsement deals in order to focus on football.

As far as what Cutler will do this year on the field, well, I can only address the complaints of "he has no wide receivers!" with a few points-

1. Devin Hester went from 299 yds receiving in 2007 to 665 yds in 2008. It's not unreasonable to expect a jump up to 800-1000 yds with Cutler at the helm.

2. Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark combined for 95 catches last year, and Olsen is poised for a breakout year. Many teams can get by with a star tight end as their best pass catcher.

3. Matt Forte is one hell of a multi-purpose back, and he should improve on his yards per catch and provide a viable target for Cutler.

4. Earl Bennett has to do...something.

5. From 2000-2008 the Philadelphia Eagles have made the playoffs 7 times. They've had a 1,000 yard receiver just once in those 7 seasons (Terrell Owens in 2004).

6. The San Diego Chargers have made the playoffs 4 times since 2007. Only once have they had a 1,000 yard receiver on any of those playoff teams (Vincent Jackson last year).

7. Cutler's legendary predecessor (well, thats how Broncos fans viewed him anyway), John Elway, made 10 playoff appearances, only 5 of those times did he have a 1,000 yard wide receiver. Two other of his playoff appearances Did feature a 1,000 yard pass catcher, but it was Shannon Sharpe, the tight end. How interesting.

So this all adds up to the fact the Bears acquired a 26 year old Pro Bowl quarterback who has shown significant progression in nearly every category over his first three seasons. The Bears defense should (hopefully) be improved, and will at the very least have a decent shot of holding opponents to 21 points or less, a situation in which Cutler excels as mentioned above. I'm not sure why so many experts seem to think this was a bad move by the Bears. While it's foolish to think that Cutler or any one player will carry the Bears to the Superbowl, its nothing but downright pessimism to think that this isn't the best move the team's made in the last 20-25 years.

Go Bears.