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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Jay Cutler Myth, and Why it Doesn't Matter

Loyal listeners of our podcast will know that, after the Bears' final game last year, and after we knew they would not make the playoffs, I made a bet with Erik that I would accept Jay as the quarterback of the Bears' future if the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

This may seem like an arbitrary bet, but it was nothing of the sort. Last year's Ravens were eerily identical to the Bears, and in fact I could make a case that those Ravens were worse than the Bears. Ray Rice and Matt Forte are equivalent, the Bear defense was significantly better at every position than Baltimore and had a similarly legendary MLB who was failing to produce much of anything. The Bears had a better receiving corps (sans the walking disaster we codename Kellen Davis (also, as an aside, Anquan Boldin was not great last year. He caught on during the playoffs, but his regular season was less than mediocre)). In fact, the only real difference was that the Bear offensive line was worse.

You may have noticed I intentionally glossed over the most obvious comparison: quarterback. If you will remember, before the Ravens won the Super Bowl, it was largely accepted that they would never be able to win the big one so long as Joe Flacco was their quarterback. In my mind, if the Ravens won a Super Bowl with Flacco it would prove the Bears could win one with Jay. Why? Well, let's look at the stats:

QB1 Average season: 230ypg, 136 TDs, 100 INTs, 7.2 Y/A, 60.8% completion percentage.
QB2 Average season: 220ypg, 102 TDs, 56 INTs, 7.1 Y/A, 60.5% completion percentage.

Thoase are the career averages for Cutler and Flacco. QB1 is Jay, but really, it shouldn't matter which is which, those stats are nearly identical. Give Flacco two more years to accrue TDs and INTs and he'll end up very near Cutler's grand total, with slightly more TDs and slightly fewer INTs (but of course he has had much, much better receivers over his career). These two are practically the same person.

So what am I saying? Well, first, this Bear team can win a Super Bowl with Jay at the helm. For all the flak Jay takes, and admittedly I have given a lot of it, he is the best QB in Bear history, and it isn't really close. The two most important stats for a QB are not TDs and INTs, they are Yards per Attempt and Completion Percentage, and Jay is above average over his career in both categories. I like Jay as the Bears' quarterback.

I started this article with nice things about Jay to prove to ESPN Chicago that, yes, it IS possible, and now that you understand I am approaching this with goodwill, I ask that you give me some time to sound like I am criticizing Jay. I promise my point here is not meant to be negative towards our quarterback, but instead to dispell a nagging belief many Bear fans hold that simply will not hold true: that we do not know who Jay Cutler is or who he can be.

Scroll back up to that QB1 career stat line. Now compare those stats to these stats:

58.8% completion percentage, 6.6 YPA
63.6% completion percentage, 7.6 YPA

Those are the two worst instances over a season in which Jay has played at least 15 games, and the two best. In fact, if you remove the worst and best season for each from Jay's 7 years, just the one outlier on either end, you get something even more beholden to the point I will make:

60.4% completion percentage, 7.0 YPA
62.3% completion percentage, 7.5 YPA

Eerily similar, yes? Jay has played 5 15 or 16 game seasons and they are nearly identical. His two years in Denver have an inflated completion percentage because of the offense they ran (which, by the way, is indeed more similar to the offense the Bears will run this year than any of the offenses he has run in Chicago), but his YPA have largely floated between 7 and 7.5, his completion % hovers around 60%, and his TD and INT percentages also hold to within 1% of eachother over his whole career. This is not the career path of a confusing quarterback. It is not the career path of a quarterback ready for a breakout year. It is the career path for a consistently slightly above-average quarterback.

It may seem, watching Jay game to game, that he IS inconsistent. Some games he seems to be locked in like Drew Brees, other games he looks like Jonathan Quinn. But his inconsistency is, humorously, incredibly consistent. Let's take his last 2 full seasons. Last year Jay had 8 games with a QB rating of over 80 and 8 games with a QB rating under 80. Three seasons ago Jay had 9 games with a QB rating over 80 and 7 games with a QB rating under 80. Certainly, some of those games varied wildly, but his rating for his career has evened out at an 84. That is practically the definition of a slightly above-average QB (and QB rating is not a perfect measure by any means, but combined with everything else, it adds to the proof).

The point I am making here, and what I want our readers to understand, is twofold: Jay will not have a breakout year this year, but he won't be bad either. Jay will be the same quarterback he has always been. His inconsistencies in game, ironically, make up the greater whole of Jay Cutler that is actually an incredibly consistent quarterback.

But that is not a bad thing. Remember Joe Flacco. Go look back at that QB2 line. That QB just won a Super Bowl last year with a worse defense and a worse supporting cast. His career line? It's worse. So this year, when you're sitting through a game where Jay has thrown three picks and all hope seems lost, remember that Jay is consistent in his inconsistencies. Remember that the game with the 130 QB rating will come soon to even it out. Remember that Joe Flacco is just as consistently inconsistent as Jay. And now he has a Super Bowl ring.


Anonymous said...

That's a massive difference in TDs vs INTs, certainly not negligible. You should put those in averages like you have everything else... Cutler is averaging 1.36 TDs per INT while Flacco is averaging 1.82 TDs per INT. Cutler has had Marshall for the majority of his career as well, so I don't think you can blame it solely on the receiving corps.

Code Red said...

Cutler has a higher career TD % at 4.7%, while Flacco's is 4.1%, while Flaccos INT% is just 2.2, Jay's is 3.4 So yeah, Flacco is less prone to both turning the ball over AND throwing TDs.

The Ravens have been able to attempt more passes than the Bears because Flacco's protection, while not good, has at least been better than Jays. Presumably, if each had a normal career year and threw 500 attempts, Jay would have a 23-17 line and Flacco would have a 20-11 ratio. I'd say that's largely negligible, depending on how you weigh 3 TD passes vs. 6 INTs.

Code Red said...

And really, without Jay's weird 2009 season, where he threw a career high 27 TD passes and a career high 26 INTs, in the other five years of his career his % are 4.5% and 3.0%, so that 500 pass mark would be 22.5 and 15, so again, the difference is negligible. Moderately better at throwing TD passes, moderately worse at turning the ball over.