Should the Chicago Bears Have Buyer's Remorse on Jay Cutler?

Bear Heiser@@BearHeiserFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2014

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) walks around the bench during the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

“Buyer’s remorse” suddenly has become the talk of the town in Chicago, signifying just how disappointing the 2014 season has become for the Bears.

Only a few days after the Bears lost their eighth game of the season, a game in which wide receiver Brandon Marshall suffered some very serious injuries that sent him to the hospital, there now is Bear-on-Bear crime to report.

A matter of hours after his release from the hospital and being placed on injured reserve by the team, the wide receiver unexpectedly showed up to do his radio show with the Waddle & Silvy show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. He seemed to be in good spirits.

Now let’s pause for a moment and go back to Sunday morning, when NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported, via Twitter, the Bears are having “buyer’s remorse” over the long-term contract quarterback Jay Cutler signed during the offseason. 

Here’s the full barrage of tweets so you have the full context:

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Barring significant improvement, I’m told the Bears plan to part ways with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker after this season...Plenty of blame to go around for Bears, who will say publicly they haven’t discussed staff changes. I’m told the plan is to have a new DC...As for Jay Cutler, there is serious buyer’s remorse. Inside the organization, there is doubt Cutler can lead them to where they want to go...Big problem for Jay Cutler comes in the run game and not checking out of bad plays. Not the only reason for run-game issues, but a big one.

Before we dive head first into what happened next, let’s get a full understanding of the meaning of buyer’s remorse, courtesy of our good friends over at Wikipedia, the Internet’s most trusted source for everything: "Buyer's remorse is the sense of regret after having made a purchase. It is frequently associated with the purchase of an expensive item such as a car or house. It may stem from fear of making the wrong choice, guilt over extravagance, or a suspicion of having been overly influenced by the seller."

OK, let’s now go back to Monday, when one of the show's hosts asked Marshall for his thoughts on Rapoport’s report on Cutler. What Marshall said still was mildly surprising to hear, even days later.

Marshall said, via ESPNChicago.com:

That's tough, man. It doesn't always fall on him. I guess that's why those guys are the highest-paid players out there because when you win and everything is going good, they get all the glory. When it's bad, they take more than what they should take. But I can understand that. As far as a businessman, I would have buyer's remorse, too.

Marshall’s comments couldn’t come at a worse time for the Bears. With fans and media members alike calling for jobs at Halas Hall, Marshall just created one more distraction for this team to deal with. It no longer matters if Rappoport’s report on Cutler is factual, Marshall’s comments gives it credence.

Honestly, though, who wouldn’t be feeling some semblance of buyer's remorse after missing the playoffs only a matter of months after signing the franchise quarterback to a franchise contract, valued at $126 million over seven years with $54 million guaranteed? That’s a lot of money, no doubt.

So, if general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman evaluated Cutler’s performance after the season and thought the free-agent-to-be quarterback deserved all that money, then something had to have changed between now and then, right?

The question that must now be asked is what’s changed since January? Aside from being eliminated from the postseason after Week 14 instead of the final week of the season, not much has changed (just wait).

Here’s a look at Cutler’s numbers from 2013 compared to 2014:

Jay Cutler: 2013 vs. 2014
YearCompletions-AttemptsCompletion %YardsTD/INTFumbles/Lost
2013 (11 games)224-35563.1 percent2,62119/125-3
2014 (through 13 games)330-49466.8 percent3,44626/1511-6
NFL.com

Did you happen to notice how similar the numbers look? Now, some of Cutler's numbers from this season must be taken with a grain of salt, because it has seemed a bit like Trestman has been trying to pad his quarterback's numbers late in games. For good reason, too, so it will be easier to justify keeping the coach and the quarterback in place for 2015.

But let's ignore the idea of a number-padding scheme going on here and take a look at Cutler's per-game averages so we'll have a better idea of where he's at this season: 

Jay Cutler per-game averages 2013 vs. 2014
YearCompletions-AttemptsYardsTDINTFumbles
2013 (11 games)20.4-32.3238.21.731.1.45
2014 (through 13 games)25.4-38254.121.2.85
NFL.com

Statistically speaking, based on what you see above, for all intents and purposes, Cutler is performing better this season than last. That seems impossible, though, right? Given how bad the Bears offense has been this season, you’d think Cutler’s numbers would reflect the NFL’s 18th-ranked scoring offense, 11th-ranked passing offense and 26th-ranked rushing offense.

"It's not all Jay's fault. It's not all the coaches' faults. It's not all the offensive line or the wide receivers. It's a group thing," Marshall said of the Bears struggles.

So why does the eye test tell us that Cutler is regressing before our very eyes? If you’re looking to point fingers, you’re going to need two of them, one pointed at Cutler and one pointed at Trestman.

Chicago Bears overall percentage of offense
201358.9 percent pass vs. 41.1 run
201463.2 percent pass vs. 36.8 percent run
Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

Look no further than the lack of balance on offense:

This should be alarming to anyone who loves to see Matt Forte, the Bears' most dynamic and explosive offensive weapon, carry the ball.

Trestman is a believer of the theory that a short, high-percentage pass is just as good as a run play. After the loss to Detroit on Thanksgiving, Trestman talked about how the short pass attempts were intended to get the Lions defense "running sideline to sideline," but the Bears offense "just couldn't sustain it."

ESPN NFL Writer Kevin Seifert took note of the Bears' lack of a run game against Detroit: 

Well, in theory, Trestman's belief that a short pass is as good as a run is probably true. But go ahead and try to find theory on a map. Good luck.

The problem with Trestman’s plan, which has been carried out this season, you’ll soon see, is that the opposing defense can play on a shorter field than it normally would, because it knows the Bears no longer are a vertical team. Instead, the Bears move the ball from sideline to sideline, hoping to string together enough error-free plays to reach the end zone, which hasn’t been happening, as you can tell by the drastic drop in scoring.

Trestman’s system is designed to find the best look at the line of scrimmage, based on how the defense is lined up. Trestman has mentioned this season that Cutler, most of the time, is allowed run-pass checks at the line and then is supposed to make the best decision on that given play.

Now, according to Rapoport’s report, Cutler isn’t checking out of bad plays at the line. What Rapoport likely doesn’t know is which plays Cutler is given to choose from when he steps to the line and scouts the defense. If he’s given two bad options, then good results are unlikely.

If you look at Cutler’s passing chart from last season to this season, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required), you’ll see a few drastic differences that can’t be seen by looking at generic totals for yards, touchdowns and interceptions.

Jay Cutler passing chart: 2013
Pass travels ...Attempts per gameCompletion %Yards per game
20-plus yards downfield5.1842 percent75.4
10-19 yards downfield6.7359 percent58.36
0-9 yards downfield14.6375 percent87.36
behind line of scrimmage3.5492 percent17.18
Pro Football Focus
Jay Cutler passing chart: 2014 (difference from 2013)
Pass travels ...Attempts per gameCompletion %Yards per game
20-plus yards downfield4.30 (-.88)34 percent (-8)49.8 (-25.6)
10-19 yards downfield7.38 (+.65)54 percent (-5)50.8 (-7.6)
0-9 yards downfield17 (+2.37)78 percent (+3)101.84 (+14.48)
behind line of scrimmage7.15 (+3.61)94 percent (+2)52.07 (+34.89)
Pro Football Focus

The above numbers, along with what you already have learned, should tell you everything you need to know about the Bears offense.

As you can see, verticality no longer exists in this offense. While Cutler is attempting a very similar number of passes that travel 10-plus yards downfield, his completion percentages and yards-per-game averages in those areas of the field are significantly down from last season.

What isn’t down from last season is the number of Cutler passes that stay within nine yards of the line of scrimmage or behind it—six more attempts this season than last. The majority of Cutler’s passing yards no longer come from vertical throws; they overwhelmingly come from short pass completions. 

Rush yards per game: 2013 vs. 2014
2013114.3 (16th in NFL)
201488.7 (26th in NFL)
NFL.com

Why? Because there is no run game to speak of. Because the defense knows the Bears want to play a dink-and-dunk style of offense, and Cutler has talked about how tough this strategy can be.

Cutler's league-leading 22 turnovers certainly have something to do with the way a defense plays the Bears, too. Could Trestman's play-calling have something to do with Cutler's turnovers? Sure, maybe. But Cutler is not the kind of quarterback who thrives when harnessed, and that’s exactly what Trestman has been doing, despite the team's struggles. The numbers should tell you the story.

If Cutler truly is making the wrong checks at the line of scrimmage, as Rapoport’s report suggests, then Trestman deserves as much, if not more, blame for the Bears' struggles than Cutler, because the play-caller, in this case the head coach, is the one who has given the quarterback the option to check out of a run and into a pass or vice versa.

If Trestman really wanted more offensive balance, as he’s said many times this season, then he’d stop giving his quarterback the authority to change the play at the line. It’s hard not to look at the fewer number of run plays and the shift in pass distribution and not think this has Trestman written all over it.

David Goldman/Associated Press

Look, does Cutler make too much money for the numbers he’s delivered this season? Yes, he most certainly does. But if there's buyer's remorse anywhere to be had, it needs to be with Trestman, because he clearly isn't capable of putting his quarterback in positions to succeed or removing his quarterback from positions where he could fail. 

The offensive strategy has changed in the past 12 months, so has the decision-making from the decision-maker. The Cutler-Trestman partnership is failing the team.

If there is buyer's remorse anywhere, it shouldn't be for the reasons being reported by Rapoport; it should instead be from Emery's decision to sign Cutler long-term instead of giving him the franchise tag while he worked with Trestman for a second season before having to make a long-term commitment. The franchise tag was the smarter move any way you look at it. 

Quotes via press conference transcripts unless otherwise noted.