In the wake of Chicago’s 40-32 Week 4 loss to the Detroit Lions, many Chicago Bears fans are hopping on a familiar bandwagon, the one where you can answer the question What is the cause of all of life’s problems? in just two words: Jay Cutler.
It’s a popular ride, and maybe you’re on it. The problem is that the wagon is powered by knee-jerk reactions, shoddy analysis and distorted perspectives.
Sixty-nine percent of Bears fans think Jay Cutler is the primary reason the Bears lost to the Lions. The truth, however, is that Cutler is taking more of the blame than he should.
Let’s look at two reasons why.
Reason No. 1 : It’s Not You, It’s Me. Nevermind, It’s You.
The common notion is that Jay Cutler has all the skills to be a top-tier quarterback. Bears fans point to his arm strength. They point to the flashes of brilliance they’ve seen over the past four years. They reference the promise that management made upon his arrival from Denver.
Jay Cutler, they said, is a franchise quarterback.
Yet the Denver Broncos didn’t think so.
They coughed him up after three years. Why? Maybe because they saw him for what he was. In 37 starts with the Broncos, he amassed a traditional passer rating of 87.2.
Above average? Yes. Great? Not even close.
And yet, many Bears fans thought that would change. And now that it hasn’t, many Bears fans are mad.
It’s a classic case of expectation-itis, a condition where illogical expectations are not met, causing an inevitable letdown for the expectant party. It’s like the guy who starts dating a chubby girl and then expects her to lose weight, and then when she doesn’t, he gets mad at her.
New flash, guys: The problem isn’t her. She’s been the same. The problem is you. And, truthfully, you should have seen it coming.
While he flashes brilliance every now and again, it’s his limitations that have been on display since day one.
Limitations—those pesky little things that plague second- and third-tier quarterbacks like Matt Schaub, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger—have been the one thing fans can count on with Cutler. He forces throws downfield. He throws off balance, even when he doesn’t have to. He gets rattled by consistent pressure.
None of this was a surprise when he came over from Denver. And there was no evidence to think it would change.
It’s because fans continually believe Cutler is going to one day wake up and become Drew Brees that they serve a larger-than-appropriate slice of the blame pie to Cutler when things start to go south. It’s time to stop thinking that Cutler is on the cusp of becoming Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. He’s not.
He’s an above-average quarterback whose inconsistencies are here to stay. He’s the chubby girl, and sorry to say it, but the chubby girl never loses the weight.
Reason No. 2: “Cutler Can Go to H***." Now That Is an Offensive Line
For three weeks Cutler was invited to sit at the adult’s table, the one with the elite quarterbacks and fancy silverware and red wine.
His QBR totals for each of the first three games (85.7, 59.4, and 86.3, per espn.com) vaulted him to a top-five rating. He was clutch when the Bears needed him to be, and for the most part he avoided the gunslinger interceptions that have plagued him throughout his career.
With each passing week the whispers grew louder. This is it, they said. Jay’s days of drinking Welch’s sparkling grape juice at the kids' table are over.
And then the Week 4 debacle happened, and now he’s outside in the backyard, in the dog house.
I promised another reason why that’s unfair punishment. So here we go.
Through three weeks Cutler was sacked just three times. His sack rate of 2.9 percent was second best in the NFL. Credit an improved offensive line. The rookies on the right side, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, fared remarkably well. The acquisition of Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod helped shore up the left side.
Gone are the days of screaming for J’Marcus Webb to block someone, anyone.
Coach Mark Trestman’s new offense also played a role in keeping Cutler’s jersey clean. Last year Cutler’s throws traveled an average of more than 10 yards downfield. He and Andrew Luck were the only two quarterbacks to surpass the 10-yard mark. This year the average length of his passes is 7.0 yards, 27th in the NFL.
The implication is pretty clear: shorter passes are 1) easier and 2) quicker to execute.
Chicago’s offensive line and new scheme made Cutler’s job substantially easier.
So what happened in Week 4?
From the get-go against the 2-1 Lions, Cutler was in survival mode. His front five couldn’t hold its ground. Additional blockers didn’t help enough. He was sacked three times, hit six times and pressured on nearly every play.
The calm and poised Cutler that Bears fans saw in Weeks 1-3 disappeared. He became frantic, and if you watched with a careful eye, you saw that he was hardly able to complete his initial dropback before his feet and body language became skittish.
But that can happen when a pass rush applies constant pressure. It’s a nightmare situation for a quarterback, to feel like you’re going to get hit every time you drop back. The pressure impacted his psyche, and he reverted to throwing off balance from his back foot and to forcing throws downfield—even on those occasions when he actually had time to throw.
Cutler finished the game with a QBR of 36.6, 17th in the league. Let’s take a closer look at why his numbers faltered.
First off, from the very beginning of the game, Detroit’s defense knew two things: Chicago had adopted a tendency to look for short passes, and its own pass rush was getting to Cutler. This allowed their defensive backs to play tighter coverage than they otherwise would. Did you notice how many times a Chicago receiver caught a three- or four-yard pass only to get immediately pummeled by a Lions defender?
Cutler is, of course, partially to blame for the loss. He made some bad passes. Period. There’s no denying that. But consider why he was "off" until the fourth quarter, when the Lions eased up after they had established control of the game.
Dole out blame to all guilty parties. The offensive line didn’t stop the blue jerseys from flooding the backfield. The Chicago coaching staff was outwitted. Detroit knew what to expect, and the Bears had no answer for it.
The anti-Cutler bandwagon is circling Chicago. But I say forget the wagon. Let Cutler be Cutler, a quarterback whose numbers are more indicative of the blocking in front him than fan expectations, a quarterback who lowers his shoulders into defenders but whose toughness has been questioned over the years.
And a quarterback whose greatest fault may be that he landed in a city that was on a decades-long search for someone under center who could become the face of the franchise.