Jay Cutler – Are our expectations too high?

Chicago, IL – I have never seen in all my years as a Chicago sports fan an athlete that evoked so much promise and at the same time so much disdain from the fans, media & even some of his own peers. This is probably why we have an obsessive fascination with this guy.  From the outside looking in there is no doubt Jay Cutler is an enigma to those that do not know him and maybe even to those that think they do.  He truly is an inscrutable curiosity which may explain why everyone dissects, analyzes, criticizes and defends him with such zeal.  When speaking about Jay Cutler it seems you either love him or can’t wait for his next mistake to pounce all over him but are either side being fair?

We all know Cutler is a local guy from neighboring Indiana, where he grew up a Bears fan, which is important to note that he was a Bears fan like us growing up.  In college he not only played football but was also an all-star basketball player and played baseball as well which does demonstrate he is an athlete that loves to compete – he is a player.  He went to one of the best schools in the country but Vanderbilt is not known for a great football program yet somehow he emerged from there with impressive credentials so much so he was drafted in the 1st round 11th overall by the Denver Broncos and signed a six-year 48million dollar deal.  Now we all know that in itself means nothing how many 1st rd QB’s have turned into busts or huge disappointments.  We need only look to his draft year class of 2006 QB’s where Matt Leinart and Vince Young were drafted ahead of him and how well are they doing currently in the NFL?  Are they even starting Quarterbacks as I write I’m not even sure as they have been yanked in and out of lineups so much.  Cutler was in Denver for three years when the infamous trade to the Chicago Bears happened on 4/2/09.  I’m not going into this as it has been well documented and debated whether or not Cutler was right or wrong to ask for the trade.  The only observation here I will make is it is imperative in sports to have trust between players and coaches.  Taking right and wrong out of the equation it was probably best for both that Cutler leave Denver once the trust was gone.  My only question is which one is still in the NFL?  Denver sorry but you have to question all the poor decisions that McDaniels made during his tenure there. Chicago is grateful or maybe not if you’re a Cutler detractor that the trade was made which was so out of character for the Bears.

This brings us to him as a Bear and the team, fans and local media and their expectations of this talented puzzlement called Jay Cutler. The Bears gave Cutler a two year contract extension to the tune of 30 million dollars and were showcasing him as the face of the franchise so they are placing their futures on him.  When we last left off Cutler was on the sidelines injured in what has been probably the biggest game of his career to date with his peers tweeting how they questioned his toughness and fans and local media were wondering what was going on and again reactions were split like the continental divide. To those that don’t believe Cutler was injured I would ask do you really believe that such a competitive guy would not want to play in the NFC championships and to boot for the team he grew up cheering for?  Since his teammates and coaches do not question him than neither should we.  Here I would be remiss if I did not chastise the Chicago Bears and their PR department for not clarifying this whole situation and what actually occurred with regards to Cutlers injury, which to this day I’m not sure the fans or the media are sure about.  As fans we are willing to forgive you the occasional fubar but next time hopefully this type situation will be handled swiftly and concisely.  The Bears must realize the reactions Cutler elicits so this was a major fumble which hurt Cutler and the Bears.  Now the thirty million dollar question is what will happen in the 2011 season if the lockout is lifted and how will Cutler respond.

I think we also need to look at Cutler statistically to see where he’s been and maybe where he is going.  While stats can lie they also can speak to truths as well.  So let us take a look at his stats from college to present and dissect him, well statistically at least.

Team TD’s Int’s Yards Avg Yrds Attempts Sacks Comp %
Vandy[i] 59 36 8,697 2,174 1,242 80 56.475
Broncos[ii] 54 37 9,024 3,008 1,220 51 61.66
Bears 50 42 6,940 3,470 987 87 61.6

The Vandy numbers are 4 year number, Broncos are 3 years and Bears 2 years worth and are averages over the length of time Cutler spent with these teams.  The glaring obvious stat is the increase in sack totals and what it says.  Bears stats are worse than a college football team’s in this category which is embarrassing if you’re a Chicago Bears Offensive lineman.  Now some of those sacks could be Cutlers fault but not all of them and what is most alarming is that with the Bears each year the sacks have gone up.  Hopefully 2011 will break this pattern.  The other thing is the interceptions have trended upwards which is not a good thing but not surprising given the sacks and the horrific O-lines in Chicago.  Some of the interceptions are on Cutler but again not all of them as they are up 14% over his time with Denver.  His attempts have gone down but yards are up which indicates to me that the passes are of a longer variety which lend themselves to more interceptions as well. His completion percentage is middle pack amongst his NFL QB brethren.  Is he better than middle pack?  Well so far his stats say no but the hope is the skill and talent are limitless and he should be in the top tier category.

The Bears offense overall was ranked 24th overall in team offence, 28th[iii] in passing, 30th in total yards and 22nd in rushing yardage. The Bears were dead last in the sacks given up category in 2010 with the highest in the league at 52.  The next closest was the Ravens with 40 given up on Flacco.  Also the Bears have no wide receiver or tight end in the top 10 rankings in the NFL.  The numbers do not lie there was little to no protection up front and very little help from receivers down field which is a tall order for any quarterback. I know the Cutler haters do not want to hear about bad o-lines, inexperienced receivers, no running game especially in Cutler’s first year in Chicago or having to change Offensive co-ordinaters and systems so frequently but these thing have to factor in to some degree.  Granted Cutler does make some bad decisions on field especially in the red zone which can’t continue if he is to succeed and become an elite QB.  He also does not demonstrate leadership particularly for someone making as large of a salary as he does; nor is he particularly media or fan friendly which irritates both immensely.  It seems like he along with the Bears could work on their PR skills but maybe it says more about us than it does Cutler.  Maybe he is a quiet leader and prefers to let his field play do his talking but then the interceptions and poor redzone play have to be improved upon.

What the stats do not show is that he has started every game in College and the Pros except last year when he was knocked out with a concussion and was forced to sit out the next game due to new league rules. His durability has been very good and it’s surprising given the poor offensive lines he has played behind but the results have not been there for him as he only made the playoffs this past 2010 year.  Football is a team sport and it could be he has not Quarterbacked very good teams or it could be something is lacking in him or everyone’s expectations are too high for someone with middle of the pack stats.  What we do know about Jay Cutler is that he is an exceptional athlete all the way back to his college days and prior.  He is a competitor to be sure otherwise he would not be an athlete and one thing I would bet on is no matter how high fans expectations are for him they are not higher than Cutler’s own expectations of himself.  Whether or not he can bring the Chicago Bears the Lombardi trophy is yet to be seen but he certainly has the skills to do it. Expectations are high and probably higher in 2011 as he will be in the league for his 6th season and third year with the Bears & he will be 28 years old and in his prime and maybe something to prove after his exit from that NFC Championship game.  Chicago has an unforgiving media, rabid fan base and a storied franchise that are all rolling the dice on this exceptional athlete.  There was another exceptional athlete in Chicago that was 28 years old and in his league 7 years before he won his first of six championships – Michael Jeffrey Jordan.  Now I’m not saying Cutler will ever reach the heights Jordan did all I’m saying is it takes time even for the best to win championships.  Bears fans lets try to have patience and try not to pass judgement just yet Cutler’s story is still being told, media try to not have personal agendas and stick to reporting the facts, Bears try to do better with your PR and give Cutler all the tools he needs to do his job.  Are expectations high absolutely but I’m sure the competitor in Cutler wouldn’t have it any other way.

Will Jay Cutler win a championship in Chicago, why or why not?  please leave comments.

[i] Stats for Vandy were taken from Wikipedia

[ii] NFL team stats were taken from NFL.Com

[iii] All stats were taken from NFL.com


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