Jay Cutler’s time on the Bears has been rather disappointing. He has yet to replicate the success he had in Denver with Mike Shanahan. Part of the problem has been Jay himself, with sloppy mechanics and errand decision making, but the Bears have rarely put him in a position to be successful. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why he has struggled. Between injuries, terrible supporting casts, and awful coaches, Cutler has been in situations that would be difficult for even the best quarterbacks.
Still, the excuses can only go so far. He still needs to step up and really be the dominant quarterback that everyone knows he can be. He has the talent; there’s no doubting that. But quarterbacks worse than Cutler have had a lot more success than he has because they have had better players around them. He doesn’t need to be a 5,000 yard, 35 touchdown passer for the Bears to be successful. If a team needs a player of that caliber to succeed, then the team itself has a lot flaws, but that is a whole other discussion.
The Bears have really put Cutler in an optimal position for success in 2013. They brought in the offensive guru, quarterback developing head coach, with the elite offensive line coach who doubles as offensive coordinator to run the show. They have Cutler’s favorite wide receiver, a versatile and explosive tight end, a brand new offensive line, young developing talent at the other wide receiver spots, and a defense that was setting records in 2012. Sure the team has room for improvement, but it is by far the best group Cutler has had around him in his career.
To really see how successful Cutler is going to be, it is important to look at his new coach – Marc Trestman. He has made a living on making good veteran quarterbacks great, working with Steve Young, and Rich Gannon, among others. Even beyond the players are the raw statistics from his multiple coaching tenures.
The main team that Trestman is associated with is the Oakland Raiders where he was quarterbacks coach in 2001 and offensive coordinator in 2002 and 2003. In 2000, prior to Trestman’s arrival, Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon threw for 3,430 yards with 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 60-percent completion rate. When Trestman became quarterbacks coach in 2001, Gannon’s numbers were slightly better, with the biggest improvement coming in completion percentage at 65.8-percent.
2002 is when he really took off. With Trestman now coordinating the whole offense for the first time, Gannon had a career year with 4,689 yards, on his way to winning the Most Valuable Player award. This, occurring during Gannon’s first season with Trestman as offensive coordinator. Was Trestman the sole reason for Gannon’s success? Certainly not, but the correlation is undeniable.
Jump back to 1998 through 2000, when Trestman was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with the Arizona Cardinals. Prior to Trestman’s arrival, rookie quarterback Jake Plummer was thrown into the fire, six games into the 1997 season, and he would finish the season with just 2,203 yards and a 53-percent completion rate.
In comes Trestman in 1998 as both quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, and Plummer throws for 3,737 yards at 59.2-percent completion, a performance he would only surpass once in his career. Having Trestman seemed to be a major difference maker for Plummer in only their first season together. While it wasn’t quite the monster season that Gannon had, the point remains the same.
Trestman’s most recent coaching job, with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, followed this trend. While the games are played slightly differently, the effect is still the same. Before Trestman became head coach, quarterback Anthony Calvillo had 3,608 yards with 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a 67.1 completion percentage in 2007.
The next season, Trestman is hired, and Cavillo explodes for 5,633 yards with a career-high 43 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 69.2-percent completion rate. This, like Gannon and Plummer before him, occurring in year one under Trestman.
There is no reason that this pattern of first-year success won’t continue with the Bears. He has done it with multiple teams in multiple leagues, so the Bears should be no exception.
But you may be thinking to yourself, “Jay Cutler is no Rich Gannon. He’s not going to be able to handle the all the throws.” Well, you might be surprised to find out just how similar the two quarterbacks are, and how successful Cutler has been the more he throws.
Let’s compare Cutler and Gannon from a statistical standpoint. Let’s start with Gannon’s previously mentioned 2000 season. He threw for 3,430 yards on 473 with 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 60-percent completion rate. In 2010, arguably Cutler’s best season in Chicago, he threw for 3,274 yards on 432 attempts with 23 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a 60.4-percent completion rate.
Sure Gannon had more five more touchdowns and five less interceptions, but they had very similar completion percentages and yards per pass attempts. The difference in touchdowns and interceptions had a lot to do with personnel. Cutler was sacked 52 times that season; Gannon was sacked only 28 times, a product of better offensive line play.
The receiving corps were quite different too. Gannon had Hall of Fame finalist wide receiver Tim Brown, who put up 1,128 yards and 11 touchdowns that season. Cutler’s leading receiver was Johnny Knox, who put up a respectable 960 yards and only five touchdowns. Gannon’s next best leading receiver was Andre Rison who had 606 yards and six touchdowns, whereas Cutler had Earl Bennett as his next leading receiver with 561 yards and only three touchdowns.
In just the two top receivers, there is already a nine touchdown difference. Some of the Bears’ other receivers reached the endzone more than other Raiders’ receivers, but it is easy to see why Gannon was able to have more touchdowns and less interceptions.
It is also important to look at how Cutler has fared when attempting a high amount of passes. In 2008, his last year in Denver, he attempted a career high 616 passes, which led to a career high 4,526 yards on a 62.3-percent completion with 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, on his way to the Pro Bowl.
The counter argument to this is Cutler’s next season, 2009, his first season with the Bears. In that season he attempted 555 passes and threw for 3,666 yards with 27 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. Aside from the interceptions, that’s a pretty good season.
A lot of the problem came from growing pains. In his first game as a Bear, he played against the Green Bay Packers and threw four interceptions. Week nine that year was his career worst game against the 49ers where he threw five interceptions. While you can’t just ignore those games, career worst games are anomalies and he fared well in most of the other games that season. Two games accounted for a third of his interceptions, inflating the statistic.
Cutler also didn’t have a whole lot to work with. Devin Hester was his number one receiver, and his offensive line included 34-year old Orlando Pace, 32-year old Olin Kreutz, and a pair of struggling young players in Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale.
These may seem like excuses, and maybe that’s what they are, but there is a lot of legitimacy to them. It was Cutler’s first year with the Bears, and they threw him on the field with very little to work with. This year looks to be much different.
All signs are pointing to Jay Cutler having a breakout season in 2013. He has the personnel around him now that are conducive to success and he has the coach with a history of first year success. The biggest thing for him is to stay healthy. He needs to play in all 16 games for the Bears to really be successful. There are no excuses left, and there is no reason to think he won’t be successful in 2013.
Disagree? Tell me why in the comments below.