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Spotlight: Jay Cutler

posted by Cecil Lammey on Jul 31st


Cecil Lammey's thoughts

Jay Cutler may have his best season as a pro in 2012. No longer will Cutler have to suffer through a season with Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz. The Bears fired Martz and added former Vikings head coach Mike Tice in his place. Tice knows how to build a high powered passing game and will use Cutler's strengths to the team's advantage. Cutler won't be asked to hold onto the ball too long while deep routes develop. Tice will have him getting rid of the ball quickly and getting it into the hands of his playmaking WRs. A big reason why Cutler could have a big season is the fact that he's being reunited with his favorite target, WR Brandon Marshall. The Bears traded for Marshall earlier this offseason after he wore out his welcome with the Miami Dolphins. Marshall and Cutler should be able to pick up right where they left off when they were both with the Denver Broncos. This is nothing but a good thing for the Bears and for Cutler's fantasy prospects.

Don't let his pedestrian stats with the Bears fool you, Culter is a big time QB. He is a supremely confident passer who feels he can hit any target on the field. Cutler does a good job of getting the ball quickly to his weapons so they can maximize their yards after the catch. His arm strength isn't his only top notch attribute. Cutler is also very good at avoiding pressure with his feet. He's not known as a scrambler but has the ability to elude pressure and keep a play alive while keeping his eyes downfield. Cutler is also adept at throwing the ball while on the run.

Cutler's blessing (elite arm strength) can also be considered a curse. Because he can fit any pass into a small window he's failed to truly develop his football intelligence. Cutler can afford to be late with a read because his arm can bail him out of any delay. We'd like Cutler to be smarter about his pre-snap reads as well. Defenses are going to know he wants to force feed the football to Marshall, and Cutler could really take advantage of that if he improves his understanding of defensive concepts. The Bears Offensive Line is one of the worst units in the league, and protecting Cutler may prove to be more difficult than some think in 2012.

The Bears have moved on from Mike Martz, and see a resurgent Jay Cutler as the key to their success. Cutler is out to prove the doubters wrong, but can he stay healthy and play up to his potential? His current ADP is QB14 and we expect him to outplay that mark. Cutler makes for a great QBBC candidate you can get later in your fantasy draft. This will allow you to lock up premium talent at other positions and still get high value QB play. Let's take a closer look at Jay Cutler to see if he can really thrive in 2012.

Questions about Jay Cutler entering the 2012 season:

Can he thrive in Mike Tice's offense?
Tice may not be seen as some sort of offensive visionary but he built an incredibly strong passing game with the Vikings in the early 2000s. From 2002-2004 Tice's offense ranked 9th, 4th, and 2nd in passing yards. They ranked 20th, 1st, and 2nd in passing touchdowns. They also ranked 13th, 15th, and 8th in passing attempts. Bottom line; Cutler is in for a bounce back season. Sure, he doesn't have Randy Moss and Cris Carter the way that Daunte Cullpepper did back in the day, but Cutler has his favorite target ever back in Brandon Marshall. Tice's offensive concepts should be much easier to adapt to than the mess that Mike Martz's offense was. Tice's system should also use Cutler's best attribute (his rocket arm) early and often. The Bears will have a downfield passing game set up by a strong ground game and play action fakes. This is especially important to note in leagues that reward bonus points for big plays. Expect Tice to use Cutler's rushing ability to their advantage as well. He'll be used on bootlegs to pressure defenses and give him easier reads on one side of the field. As odd as it may sound, Mike Tice may be the best thing that ever happened to Jay Cutler.

Will Cutler and Marshall continue where they left off?
Yes, we certainly expect them to. In their final two years together in Denver the duo combined for 351 targets, 206 receptions, 2,590 yards, and 13 receiving touchdowns. Split those numbers in half and that's what Marshall should average this season. Marshall is looking for a bounce back year after getting traded from the Dolphins this offseason. These two wanted to play together again, and they both got their wish. They'll repay the Bears in kind by putting up monster numbers again. Cutler finished as the 5th best QB in fantasy football during their last season together (2008). We wouldn't be surprised if Cutler finishes top 10 this year.

Will the Offensive Line protect Cutler better in 2012?
They had better protect Cutler better this year if they want to keep him upright for 16 games. J'Marcus Webb is currently battling with Chris Williams for the starting Left Tackle position in training camp. Neither are fantastic options, but we feel Webb will end up winning the job. Williams will then move inside to Left Guard which is his more natural position. The Bears will also get second-year RT Gabe Carimi back from the knee injury that forced him to miss significant time during rookie season. The most important reason why we expect fewer sacks this season is the system installed by new Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice. Gone are the seven step drops from the Mike Martz offense. Cutler will be taking three and five step drops which will help him get rid of the ball much quicker. We expect two Tight End sets to also be employed by the Bears as they look to protect Cutler. Tice will also use more bootleg plays to roll the pocket out and get Cutler away from pressure.

Will Cutler spread the ball around enough to keep defenses honest?
Cutler's never been known to really spread the ball around and we don't expect that to change this year. He has supreme confidence in his arm and believes he can make any throw on the football field, and split any double team he sees. Cutler will certainly target Marshall at least 150 times this year, and after that is anybody's guess at this time. If another player can emerge in the passing game as a reliable target then Cutler will force the ball that way too. Cutler doesn't have to spread the ball around to keep defenses honest. He defies convention because of that rocket arm, and his maverick style will keep opponents in line.

Do the Bears have enough quality weapons in the passing game?
We're not looking for a guy like Devin Hester to do much in this offense, but his incredible speed will help stretch the field and back off Safeties. Early Bennett (Cutler's college teammate at Vanderbilt) is looking for a breakout season as a slot WR after showing flashes last year. The duo had a three game stretch in 2011 where they combined for 14 catches, 251 yards, and 1 touchdown. Expect that natural chemistry to show up this season, and draft Bennett late in your draft as a 'lottery ticket' type of player. The Bears also drafted a potentially dominant WR when they added Alshon Jeffery in the second-round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Jeffery has a large frame, long wingspan, and the ability to make difficult catches seem routine. Add in supersized TE Kellen Davis, plus the Aaron Hernandez-like rookie TE Evan Rodriguez and it's easy to see why the Bears could have a more formidable passing game than some think. We can't forget about Matt Forte's ability as a receiver out of the backfield either.

Positives

  • Elite arm strength
  • Bold thrower who is very confident in his ability
  • Quick release, can make every throw

Negatives

  • Forces ball into coverage
  • Too often locks onto targets
  • Porous offensive Line

Final thoughts

The Bears are moving to a base offense under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice that will highlight Cutler's strengths. Matt Forte will lead the charge for the ground game and help keep defenses honest. Cutler has to be over the moon to be reunited with Marshall. He'll go out of his way to prove it was the right move for the team. Forcing the ball to Marshall may limit other weapon's production on the team, but it won't hurt Cutler's stats. He could certainly outperform his ADP (QB14) and there's a chance that he breaks into the top 5 once again. Jay Cutler has always had a chip on his shoulder, and this year it might be bigger than ever. That could propel him to greatness in 2012.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

David Yudkin (Footballguys.com Staff Writer) said:

I've discussed Cutler in several other threads, and my main concern is his best fantasy year was basically built around throwing the ball A TON. His peripheral numbers have been ok but not great, so even with a known upgrade in Marshall and a perceived yet unknown upgrade in Jeffery, I can't give Cutler a resounding endorsement for vaulting up the QB rankings (especially given the crazy fantasy totals being scored today).

Cutler has had that one year in the fantasy Top 10 (2008) . . . when he passed 616 times and ranked 5th. By comparison, if he were to repeat those numbers (when he played with Marshall), last year he would have ranked as the #9 fantasy QB. However, since coming to CHI, his attempts per game have fallen from 34.7 to 28.8 to 23.2. The Bears have predominently been a defense and ground and pound team. True, the receivers haven't been great, but I would contend that they weren't horrible either. Knox-Bennett-Williams-Hester were at least capable (even though they were not elite).

Marshall should help Cutler's numbers. IMO, Jeffery may at some point evolve into a decent receiver, but I would think as a rookie his numbers will not be eye popping. Considering that the Bears should have a fine tandem in Forte and Bush to pund the ball, I frankly don't see Cutler throwing the ball anywhere near as often as he did in Denver in 2008.

Other than that one year, Cutler's high for passing yards has been 3,666. His career high in TD has been 27. His ypa in 2008 was 7.3, which is exactly what his career ypa is.

Bottom line for me, Cutler may do slightly better this year than his other seasons in CHI, but I still have a hard time seeing a scenario where he would be a starting fantasy QB. I would call him a decent QB2 with some upside if things worked out in his favor, but I don't see 4000 yards or 30+ TDs for Cutler this season. He's still the same guy that had very little time to pass, looked petrified in the pocket at times, and has a history of making poor decisions.

I would go with 3600/22/14 with another 100/1 on the ground. That includes 15 games for Cutler (misses a half a game a couple times) and assumes Marshall buys in and doesn't self-destruct.

fightingillini said:

I like Jay Cutler this year. He gets his boy Marshall back. Forte will still be a force receiving out of the backfield. CHI's running game should be very solid which should help Cutler stay upright for 16 games. Having the Pack and Lions 2x will make the Bears have to score a ton to win. Nice value in the middle rounds and a solid option to pair with someone like Carson Palmer or Matt Schaub or Andy Dalton as a QBBC.

geoff8695 said:

Suffice it to say that new GM Phil Emery, and the Bears, are going in a new philosophical direction.

In the pass-friendly 21st Century National Football League, defense and a running game are NOT the keys to building a Super Bowl Champion. Emery didn't spend a 2nd and 4th round pick on receiving targets, and also sign Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush as FAs, just so that Cutler could "manage games" for a "ground and pound" offense.

In relatively short order, Emery has surrounded Cutler with legitimate offensive skill position players for the first time in Chicago. Certainly the RBs will get plenty of rushing opportunities, but Forte and Bush are also good receivers to go along with vastly improved WRs, and even a new TE acquired this off-season. Last season's top Bear WRs had 37 receptions (Knox & WIlliams tied); this season Marshall will likely beat that total by about 60+ receptions all by himself!

Alshon Jeffery is also a 1st round talent with the size and catching ability to create serious mismatches across from Marshall. Even Devin Hester should enjoy single coverage and opportunities to regularly stretch defenses, now that Marshall will be drawing the opposing defense's top cover men and schemes. Combine that with two talented pass catching RBs out of the backfield and Chicago's offense is poised to put up some surprising stats moving forward.

The Bears also play in a division with high octane offenses, and the defense is VERY long in the tooth. This will NOT be a Bears offense that can get through the 2012 season winning ugly by scoring a TD or two per game, and hoping that the D can hold on to the lead. Get ready for a few shoot-outs.

I predict one of the biggest stories during the upcoming season will be the surprising emergence of a highly productive offense in the Windy City; something that is pretty much unheard of in modern Bears' history. I know many will never believe it until they see Cutler put up a couple of 4000+ yd seasons back-to-back, but the handwriting is on the wall for those willing to read it.

It will honestly shock me if Cutler fails to throw for over 4000 yds in 2012.

TheDirtyWord said:

It's tough to be sold on Jay Cutler. It seems like he's carrying around the stigma for not really having lived up to expectations since he was traded to CHI despite having lead the Bears to an NFC title game appearance and playing pretty decent football the last couple of years. But what he hasn't been is prolific, and to be fair, while that really hasn't been his fault as much as it's been about the Bears and how they've been built, as it relates to FF...it seems like he simply doesn't have a QB1 ceiling at all.

For one, Cutler WR's have largely stunk since his arrival. Secondly, his offensive line has struggled to protect him. I'm framing that comment gently. Those two things will make it difficult for any QB to find success yet Cutler to his credit has persevered. For as much bad publicity as he got in 2009 for not being the second coming and in 2010 for not coming back into the NFC title game, it appears that a lot of that has washed over.

Is this the year that Cutler puts it all together and becomes the perennial QB1 everyone thought he was on pace to become after the 2008 season? I just don't see it.

Think about this - are the chances Jake Locker becomes a QB1 as good as Jay Cutler's? What about RGIII? Andrew Luck? Maybe not in 2012...but I feel like there is potential with other QB's based on skillset and situation to ascend up the QB hierarchy whereas with Cutler, I simply see his top line production potential to be QB14-15...and that's top line.

Even with Brandon Marshall, the Bears group of WR's as it stands now is average at best (a cursory count has me taking at least 14 other groups of WR's ahead of the Bears collection). Alshon Jeffrey might turn into a player, but the buzz around him as it relates to his 2012 contribution seems a bit too intense for my liking. Can he really be a consistent compliment in a prolific passing attack this season? I'd hedge my bets toward no. Hester/Bennett seem now to be in roles better suited for their skillset/talents, but I think they'll see fewer targets now and they've not been very productively efficient producers previously. I agree with Yudkin's sentiment above in terms of Cutler's ceiling. The top tier of QB's in todays NFL (and FF) either have to have a) an 8.0 YPA at least or b) an offense that throws the ball a minimum of 575 times/season. Is Cutler that guy or is his situation going to yield that?

Right now, Cutler is going QB14...right behind Big Ben and ahead of Matt Schaub. That feels overvalued to me. The analysis done on Mike Tice offenses above only makes passing mention of the fact that in 3 of those 4 seasons, Randy Moss was to the NFL what Calvin Johnson is now. The single most dominant WR in football without so much as a close peer. And the RB's on those teams? Moe Williams, Michael Bennett, the Whizzenator. Michael Bennett had his one spectacular year in 2002, but the Bears ability to put Forte/Bush out there is IMO going to curb the Bears/Tice's reliance on the passing game. That and their ability to protect Cutler which is still suspect.

And so at the end of the day, I think the Bears are going to be a very good football team, but also one that reaches its success in a more deliberate manner than on the arm of Jay Cutler.


Jay Cutler projections

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