After the Bears hired Marc Trestman as their new head coach, I wondered if his style would fit how Cutler likes to play. That shouldn't be an issue as Trestman has shown the ability to adjust to his talent, which general manager Phil Emery noted when he introduced Trestman, but it will be up to Cutler to improve his play.
While Trestman doesn't seem completely married to Cutler as his quarterback, he made it clear he's anxious to work with him and try to tap into the potential that is obvious to everyone.
What we've seen in recent years is that effective quarterbacking isn't necessarily about playing like a machine—always making the right reads and the right throws on every play—but rather it's about making big plays down the field.
Five of the last 10 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks have not finished in the Top 10 in passer rating. Baltimore's Joe Flacco is the latest example of that, following Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Those three have combined to win five of the last eight Super Bowls, while the more polished passers Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have all won one apiece in that time frame.
One thing they all share is the ability to make plays outside the pocket and down the field, and Cutler has shown that ability.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cutler threw deep on 15.9 percent of his drop backs, fourth highest rate in the league, with the highest belonging to Flacco. Cutler completed 39.1 percent of those deep passes, 19th best in the league, slightly behind Flacco. A lot goes into that completion percentage, particularly the running game and the receivers.
It starts up front, where PFF has ranked the Bears as one of the 10 worst pass-blocking teams every year since they acquired Cutler before the 2009 season.
It isn't just that they've been terrible at protecting Cutler, he hasn't been put in good situations. This past season, the Bears offensive line ranked 28th in pass blocking and 30th overall on Pro Football Focus. They had the third-worst line when it came to committing penalties and the fifth-worst at run blocking.
As important as blocking is, quarterbacks can still succeed with bad offensive lines. In 2011-12, the New York Giants had the worst-rated pass-blocking line (according to PFF), and were the last-ranked rushing team in the NFL. Manning overcame that and led his team to the Super Bowl title, but he got help from his receivers, which Cutler received little of.
That season, Manning's receivers dropped 5.9 percent of the passes thrown their way, compared to the 7.8 percent of Cutler's passes that were allowed to hit the ground in 2012-13, according to PFF. Cutler's percentage ranked fourth behind Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III. The latter two still led top-five scoring offenses, but also had offensive lines that ranked in the top half of the league in pass-blocking on PFF. Luck is the only player who had as bad of a line and receivers as Cutler and Luck's passer rating was worse with his team scoring fewer points.
Every team suffers from dropped passes, but no team's drops were more costly than the Bears'. They dropped 8.7 percent of the passes thrown over 20 yards according to PFF—the third-worst rate in the league—and they averaged a league worst 12.23 yards per drop.
The Bears' receivers didn't just fail to make the plays they should have made—outside of Marshall—they barely made any plays at all. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Cutler had the fourth-fewest amount of his passing yards come after the catch.
Only two Bears wide receivers graded out positively on PFF, Marshall and Earl Bennett. Combined, their top four receivers had a grade of 13.2, 15.4 points lower than the top four on the 2011-12 Giants.
The other area that the Bears haven't helped is coaching.
We saw how big of a difference play-calling can make this season when the Ravens replaced Cam Cameron with Jim Caldwell after a Week 11 loss. Not counting the last game of the regular season—in which he barely played—Flacco threw 15 touchdowns and one interceptions while averaging 284 yards per game. In their first 13 games, Flacco threw 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions with an average of 248 yards per game. The players were the same, the coaching made a huge difference.
The hope is that Trestman is going to find a way to get the most out of not only Cutler, but the other players in the offense, particularly running back Matt Forte, who caught a career low 44 passes in 2012-13.
Despite all of these facets going against him, Cutler is 28-11 in games he has started and finished over the last three seasons, including the playoffs. He clearly has overcome the odds.
In addition to his physical skills, Cutler has shown he can make things happen in the clutch. He has 13 fourth quarter comebacks, seventh amongst active quarterbacks, and 17 game-winning drives, eight more than Rodgers.
While Cutler hasn't been in the playoffs enough, he did account for four touchdowns and zero turnovers in the one game he started and finished. Some say he played poorly the following week in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, but no one knows what would have happened had he not been injured. The only turnover he had in that game came after he had already injured his knee.
With all that being said, Cutler needs to help himself too.
I don't buy into any of the attitude problems or leadership issues some have said he has. Many quarterbacks have been bashed for not being good leaders and those criticisms continue until they win a Super Bowl.
Another knock on Cutler, which is mostly false, is that he struggles more than most quarterbacks under pressure. While he did throw seven interceptions under pressure, he also had the third-highest completion percentage in the league while under duress (according to PFF), and highest amongst quarterbacks who were pressured on over 35 percent of their drop backs.
What Cutler does need to do is play with more consistency. He led the NFL with a passer rating of 114.7 in the fourth quarter (according to NBC Sports), but had a rating of just 72.1 in the first half of games. There were several games in which it didn't seem he came out ready or prepared to play. Perhaps part of that is coaching, but it is something that needs to change.
While one certainly has to admire his confidence, Cutler tries to force balls into coverage too often. An issue Trestman will certainly try to fix, perhaps by giving him easier reads to get the ball out of his hand quicker.
What Cutler brings to the table is a rare assortment of physical skills and the ability to perform in pressure situations. There is no question Cutler can lead the Bears to a Super Bowl title, if he will lead them to that depends largely on what he has around him.
The Bears are in another offseason where they will try to get Cutler help. If they do, the narrative of Cutler's career could read quite differently at this point next season.
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