Will Jay Cutler be a Pro Bowl quarterback or interception-prone disaster in his first season with Marc Trestman?
The knock on Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman was never his knowledge of the game.
Walter Payton’s son Jarrett—a former Montreal Alouette—told The Chicago Tribune how “Everybody talks about his X’s and O’s.”
The criticism is that Chicago’s new coach was unable to stick with an NFL team after nine different coaching stints in the league.
However, an article from Dan Pompei at The Chicago Tribune recently suggested that Trestman’s people skills were what held him back as a coach.
That’s great news for Jay Cutler.
Go ahead and joke that Trestman’s people skills (or lack thereof) make him a perfect match for the quarterback the media loves to hate. In reality, Trestman’s coaching will be great news for Cutler because of his ability to improve quarterback play.
If Pompei’s article is correct, Trestman’s inability to stick with an NFL team was due to other factors beside his football knowledge. His football knowledge was never lacking during his long track record with quarterbacks at many levels.
That track record portends good things for Jay Cutler.
The most famous quarterbacks Trestman worked with as an NFL coordinator were Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, Scott Mitchell, Jake Plummer and Rich Gannon. He served as either quarterbacks' coach or offensive coordinator when coaching each player. He was a CFL head coach when he worked with quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
Trestman was able to boost the performance of almost every quarterback on the list, with especially impressive results as his coaching career went on.
The following chart shows each quarterback’s passing yards per game the year before and year after Trestman’s hiring (note: Gannon's first 1990 run with Trestman is not included since it was his first season as a starter).
Only Kosar, who began struggling with injuries the year Trestman arrived, saw a dip in production. Trestman raised the average yardage of the other five quarterbacks while simultaneously lowering the yards per completion of Young, Plummer and Gannon. Mitchell and Calvillo saw only slight increases in Y/C.
Even including Kosar’s decreased production, quarterbacks averaged an increase of 17.0 yards per game in Trestman’s first year.
If you project that for Cutler over 15 games next season, which is the number of games he played in 2012, his passing yardage jumps from 3,033 to 3,288. Over a full season it would be 3,507 yards.
If you eliminate Kosar as the outlier, then you can project Cutler’s yardage production to jump more. The most distinguished quarterbacks on the list, Young, Gannon and Calvillo, all had the biggest jumps in production. Cutler is probably closer in skill level to them than Scott Mitchell.
In other words, a 4,000 yard season is feasible.
Regardless of what the final total is, expect an increase in Cutler’s yardage. In Trestman’s West Coast offense, quarterbacks often produce more yardage on more completions. The offense demands short, quick and accurate throws.
For the offense to succeed, Trestman needs to raise Cutler’s accuracy.
The next chart shows each quarterback’s accuracy in the seasons before and after Trestman’s arrival.
This chart is not as positive across the board. However, Kosar’s injuries in 1988 have already been referenced. Steve Young was also coming off a career-high completion percentage (70.3) in 1994. His 1995 percentage, though lower, was still 2.5 points higher than his career average.
The latter part of Trestman’s track record is the primary reason for hope. Plummer, Gannon and Calvillo all saw significant increases in their completion percentage. Those three raised their completion rates an average of 4.7 percent under Trestman.
Cutler is not the most accurate quarterback. He’s known for his arm strength and propensity for gambling.
That makes Cutler’s style of play most similar to Plummer, whose completion percentage benefitted from Trestman’s system.
Cutler’s completion percentage has hovered around 60 in Chicago, but the chart’s latter statistics suggest that Trestman could help him raise his rate back around his career high of 63.6 percent in 2007.
Raising yardage totals and completion percentage in a West Coast offense might not be the most telling stats though. They look good, but they’re intrinsic benefits to playing that style of football.
A more important statistic is TD to INT ratio, and Cutler’s has been atrocious in Chicago. Though the statistics are not as definitively supportive, there is reason to believe he will improve in that area as well.
The chart below shows each quarterback’s TD to INT ratio in the year before and after Trestman.
Steve Young’s ratio is baffling. Trestman came in at the end of the George Seifert era in San Francisco, and the 49ers had their worst two records while Trestman was there.
While Young did throw for more yards per game under Trestman, this last chart is serious cause for concern. With one of the most accurate passers in NFL history, Trestman managed to make him less accurate and more prone to turnovers.
Still, it seemed that Trestman gradually figured things out.
Gannon and Calvillo both saw substantial improvement in their ratios.
Both of them posted their best ratios playing for Trestman (discounting Gannon’s four-game 1996 season). Hopefully the troubles Trestman had with Kosar and Young can be written off as ancient history.
If Cutler’s production follows the average growth Gannon and Calvillo displayed (an increase of .82 in TD to INT ratio), his ratio next year would be 2.18. That translates to a career-high 30 or 31 touchdown passes if he throws 14 interceptions again.
The argument could be made that some of these charts show why Trestman will do a poor job with Cutler. That is not out of the question.
If the comparison between Cutler and Plummer continues, Cutler might end up throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in 2013. Plummer had 17 touchdowns to 20 interceptions in 1998.
On the other hand, those projections are based more on statistics from the 1980s and 1990s than Trestman's recent successes. Marc Trestman’s track record in the 2000s indicates that he will improve Jay Cutler’s production.
The Chicago Tribune article from above claims Trestman was “one of the premier offensive strategists in the game.” That has not changed.
While Trestman’s earlier track record is spotty, his most recent work is an improvement. He has only built on knowledge that was already impressive.
The charts suggest that Trestman will improve Cutler immediately, and media pundits agree.
Trestman was lauded as taking established veteran Anthony Calvillo “to a new level” by Yahoo’s Andrew Bucholz, according to SI.com.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Charley Casserly also imply that Cutler could rise to a new level, saying that Chicago should experience “immediate success” and end up “fixing its offensive issues.”
That’s high praise for a coach who hasn’t been in the NFL for almost a decade.
Trestman’s knowledge and track record merit it.
If he helps Jay Cutler meet statistical projections and media expectations, Chicago Bears fans will enjoy a great season.