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Spotlight: Jay Cutler

posted by Mark Wimer on Jul 14th


Mark Wimer's thoughts

During his first season in Mike Martz's offense, Cutler managed to survive the avalanche of sacks that Martz's system typically allows (Chicago was last in the NFL last year with 56 sacks allowed), and he cut down on mistakes in the interception department, dropping that number from 26 interceptions thrown during 2009 to 16 interceptions thrown during 2010. The good news about the offensive line in Chicago is that they did improve their pass blocking as the year went along (Cutler didn't get spammed by defensive players as much in the second half of the season - there were 24 sacks over the second eight games vs. 32 during the first eight). At the end of the season Cutler was 15th among fantasy quarterbacks with 261/432 for 3,274 yards, 23 TDs and 16 interceptions (with 51/232/1 rushing). 14 of his 23 TDs were thrown in the second half of the season (as his pass protection improved, he was able to hit his receivers for scores more often). The Bears' passing game generated some positive momentum during the second half of 2010, and appears to be trending upwards as the team gets settled into their new offensive scheme. Unfortunately, the team will need a refresher once training camp begins as nobody in the NFL benefitted from organized team activities or minicamps this year, but having a full regular season under his belt in the Martz system should help Cutler and the Bears get off to a better start during 2011.

One of the concerns about Chicago as of mid-July is that Cutler's supporting cast doesn't really have a clear-cut, go-to wide receiver. Last year's top receiver was Johnny Knox, who put up 51/960/5 out of 97 targets, and he was followed by Earl Bennett (71 targets for 46/561/3 receiving) and Devin Hester (73 targets for 40/475/4). However, the drawn-out NFL labor dispute has kept Chicago from pursuing free agents at WR, and there are rumors that Braylon Edwards might be a guy that the Bears will make a play for once they can. There is hope that Chicago can upgrade at WR and find Cutler a proper, #1 wide receiver to work with during 2011. Cutler has solid receivers at running back (Matt Forte hauled in 51/547/3 out of 69 chances last year) and tight end (Greg Olsen turned 66 targets into 41/404/5 receiving), so most of the pieces are in place for a resurgence in Cutlers' passing numbers - 3,274 yards is the least amount of yardage he's thrown for since his rookie season (when he only played five games) - usually Cutler has been around or over 3,500 yards passing (while in Denver he put up 3,497 and then 4,526 yards passing, with 3,666 in his first season in Chicago during 2009).

Another concern that some fantasy owners will cite about Cutler is the MCL tear in his left knee that knocked Cutler out of the NFC Conference Championships. However, numerous players from Chicago who have been working out with Cutler during the lockout have said that he looks completely fine and that the knee is no problem. Most recently, Bears TE Greg Olsen said on June 27th that Cutler has looked good during workouts this offseason. "I am not a doctor [but] yeah, he looks fine," Olsen said. "He looks completely normal to all of us. I think he feels fine so I don't think there are any lingering effects from anything." Obviously we'll have to wait until the lockout is over to get confirmation of his clean bill of health from the team's trainers, but as far as anybody can tell, Cutler should be good to go once training camps open.

Positives

  • Cutler enters his second season in the Martz system this year, and he and the rest of the Bears should be more comfortable in the attack to start 2011
  • There is plenty of room for Cutler to improve on his numbers from last year, and we know that he is capable of a 4,000+ yard season as a passer
  • Cutler is only 28 years old, and with five NFL seasons under his belt he's entering the prime of his years at his position - young enough to be resilient but experienced enough to see through defensive trickery

Negatives

  • Cutler is coming off a knee injury and we don't know for certain that he's 100% recovered
  • The Bears need to find a go-to wide receiver for Cutler to rely upon during 2011, whether it be through free agency or by improvement among their existing cadre
  • Chicago's home stadium can have brutal weather conditions descend on any given Sunday during winter - it's called the Windy City for a reason, folks. The Bears are at home week 13, at Denver week 14, at home week 15 and in equally-brutal Green Bay week 16. That's a tough gamut of venues to play in during fantasy playoff season, folks

Final thoughts

Cutler is 15th-ranked on my QB board as of mid-July, while his consensus ranking is 13th - I'm just a shade more pessimistic than my coworkers on Cutler this year. Mostly my reservations have to do with the weather in Chicago during the winter and the lack of a "star" wide receiver. However, as I laid out above, if the Bears get Cutler a high-caliber receiver during free agency I can see an argument for expecting a solid upturn in his numbers this year - he's a guy who may move up my board significantly during the preseason.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

mlball77 said:

From Week 11 on, Cutler only had one regular season game where he had 30 or more passing attempts. Previous to week 11, he had 30+ pass attempts five times. The o-line had trouble protecting the Bears franchise QB and their gameplan seemed to shift slightly away from a typical Martz approach of airing it out in favor of something more balanced.

The big question to me is; "Will Martz revert back to his old ways and pass a ton in 2011?" I tend to think he will, unless the o-line struggles mightily again. But until the line proves incapable of protecting Cutler, I think Martz will do what Martz always does... lean heavily on the passing game.

MrTwo94 said:

In the last five seasons that Martz has been a HC or OC for a full season, his teams have finished 2nd, 5th, 2nd, 4th, and 32nd in pass attempts. I have a sneaky suspicion that he has not suddenly decided to abandon the pass and resort to pounding the ball (especially since they were 12th from last in rushing attempts, so they just didn't run many plays last year). In those five seasons the passing attempts/game were 37.5, 36.3, 37.3, 36.7, and 29.1. I know Cutler missed the entire second half of the Giants game last year, so just extrapolating his 14.5 games last year to 16 yields 3613/25/18 with 256 rushing yds (29.8 att/gm). That alone should outperform his current staff ranking. Actually, in just 14.5 games last year he finished as QB15 by FBG scoring.

Given Martz's historical attempts/game, I think 34 is a very conservative number for 2011 which gives us 34 x 16g = 544. We can even bump Cutler's ypa down from 7.6 to 7.3 ypa. This yields 544 x 7.3 = 3971 yds. If his TD/att pace is similar then we can assume last year's 23/432 => 29/544. Same for INT: 16/432 => 20/544. So a conservative approach gives us 3971/29/20. Assuming 36 att/gm and last year's ypa gives 4378/31/21.

Just Win Baby said:

In Cutler's first season, Chicago threw the ball 563 times (8th in the league) and ran it 373 times (29th in the league). In his second season, Chicago threw the ball 466 times (32nd in the league) and ran it 414 times (21st in the league). Presumably this had mostly to do with the fact that in 2009, the Bears were 21st in points allowed and 17th in yards allowed and improved in 2010 to 4th and 9th, respectively.

I'll take the middle ground and assume 500 passing attempts in 16 games. His career average for yards per passing attempt is 7.2. In Chicago, he has averaged 7.0 ypa, but averaged 7.6 last year. He averaged 7.4 ypa in his Denver career. I think 7.4 is reasonable to project for this year; a slight regression from last year but still above his career average. That means 3700 passing yards.

Interesting that 3 people have projected 30 or more passing TDs for Cutler; he has never had more than 27, despite having seasons with 555 and 616 passing attempts. And as of right now, his receivers haven't improved over last year, so I don't see much of a reason to expect a major improvement in this area. His career TD percentage is 4.7%, but it has been 5.1% in Chicago and 5.3% last season. I'll go with 5.1%, which projects to 26 passing TDs.

His career interception percentage is 3.6%, but it has been 4.3% in Chicago. Last year, it was 3.7%. I think he'll face more unfavorable passing situations this year, which will push that back up to 4.0%. That means 20 interceptions.

He has averaged ~200 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD in his 4 seasons as a starter, with little deviation. I see no reason to project much of a change there.

FF Ninja said:

I hate to echo stuff that has already been said, but last year was a really weird year for a Martz offense. Finishing dead last in pass attempts won't happen again. Given Cutler was on pace for over 3600 yds even with that weird year should yield a lot of optimism for 2011, but that has not been the case.

The fact that the guy finished as QB15 last year on a team that was dead last in pass attempts and he missed a game screams value to me. I think, in the second year under Martz, that this offense takes a couple steps forward. It really only needs to inch forward for him to outperform his draft position.

Interesting note: Cutler has finished 4th, 7th, 6th, and 6th in QB rushing in the last 4 years, staying pretty darn consistent and with an average of 203/1.25. That's not a bad bonus.


Jay Cutler projections

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Mark Wimer300485350025142001
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