Bears positional analysis: Quarterbacks
Bears positional analysis: Quarterbacks
First of a 10-part series
By Brad Biggs
No new video of Jay Cutler making his way around Los Angeles surfaced over the weekend, so maybe the uproar that ensued after his knee injury in the NFC Championship Game has died down.
It's not a story that is going to disappear for Cutler -- it can't after so many peers throughout the league kicked him while he was down. That was the bigger issue. It wasn't that the Chicago Bears quarterback's toughness, which is well-established, was questioned. It's the fact that given an opening, so many chose to pounce on him, crossing unwritten lines in doing so.
But that is a challenge for Cutler on another day. A week removed from the disappointment for the franchise and the city in the loss to the Green Bay Packers, we begin a look back on the 2010 season while also keeping an eye on the future in positional breakdowns that will run on ChicagoBreakingSports.com for the next two weeks.
There is much to learn from the past season and plenty to look forward to as we inch closer to an uncertain world in the NFL, with a lockout potentially a little more than a month away.
Looking back at this time a year ago, new offensive coordinator Mike Martz was gushing about Cutler. Not only did he say he'd never worked with a quarterback with the physical tools Cutler possesses, he praised him for being in a class by himself when it came to understanding the game. The quick fixes Martz made in St. Louis with Kurt Warner and Detroit with Jon Kitna were hailed. The sky was the limit for Cutler.
If it looked awkward, that's because it was. The play-calling Martz did in the first half of the season didn't work. He was stubborn about it, and all the evidence you need is the crazy Week 4 game against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands when Cutler was sacked an NFL-record nine times in the first half. Martz kept going to the pass in a game that wasn't out of hand -- the Giants led only 3-0 at halftime. At one point in the second quarter, Cutler was sacked six times in eight snaps and if you didn't know better, you would have thought Martz was trying to show up his offensive line. Or get Cutler killed.
A month later, Martz balanced his play-calling and things started to take shape, even if it didn't look like a traditional Martz offense. There weren't the deep throws you are accustomed to, but the sacks went down, third-down conversions improved and Matt Forte got rolling.
Roll call: Jay Cutler, Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie
2010 overview: Cutler wound up being sacked an NFL-high 52 times, the most ever for a Bears quarterback, although the 2004 line during the Terry Shea experiment was more leaky. But the Bears had four quarterbacks to spread the sacks around that season. The line contributed to Cutler's issues, but quarterbacks have produced big-time numbers while being sacked an irregular number of times. Consider the following:
2010: Jay Cutler 86.3 passer rating, 52 sacks, 7.58 yards per attempt, 23 TD, 16 INT.
2009: Aaron Rodgers 103.2 passer rating, 50 sacks, 8.20 yards per attempt, 30 TD, 7 INT.
2007: Ben Roethlisberger 104.1 passer rating, 47 sacks, 7.81 yards per attempt, 32 TD, 11 INT.
In other words, you can't say Cutler didn't possess elite quarterback statistics because his offensive line and the play-calling frequently had him running for his life.
When Cutler was on, he was terrific. He earned NFC offensive player of the week honors in Week 12 after he threw a season-high four touchdowns in a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. That started a five-game span in which he threw 11 touchdowns and was picked off four times. He had six games with a passer rating of 100 or greater, and ran his career record to 22-0 when he reaches that level. His completion percentage of 60.5 over the last two seasons ranks third-best in franchise history, but to give you an idea of where the Bears rank leaguewide when it comes to passing, consider Cutler's 60.4 percent mark this season was 19th in the NFL.
When it mattered most, Cutler was dreadful in the NFC title game and his performance has been overshadowed by the knee-injury controversy. He had Devin Hester open for what would have been two touchdowns in the first half and missed badly both times. Cutler was overthrowing his targets as if he was afraid to throw an interception, something we've never seen from him before. In one half and the one possession he played in the third quarter, he completed just one pass to a wideout. During the season, only 156 of his 256 completions (56.5 percent) were to wide receivers, and only 36.1 percent of his total attempts were completions to wide receivers.
Todd Collins proved to be a flop as a veteran backup. The blame belongs with Martz, who openly campaigned for an experienced No. 2 quarterback last spring. That tells you how he evaluated Caleb Hanie. The front office resisted Martz's lobbying for a veteran until Hanie suffered a minor right shoulder injury in the preseason opener at San Diego. By that point, Trent Green had told the Bears no, Josh McCown was committed to the United Football League and the rest of the veterans had been picked over. Collins made $1 million on a one-year contract and at 39, he will not return. Hanie provided the kind of spark against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game that you're accustomed to him making in the fourth quarter of exhibition games, and as general manager Jerry Angelo said, Hanie's stock went up in his eyes.
By the numbers: Sometimes it's considered hidden yardage, and Cutler sure supplied plenty of it with his legs. He rushed for 232 yards, 35 behind Chester Taylor for the second-most on the team. It was the most by a Bears quarterback since Kordell Stewart had 290 in 2003. In the final nine games, if you exclude kneel-downs, Cutler averaged 8.3 yards per attempt.
Free agency/draft priority: Low. What the Bears do here depends on whether Hanie has changed the mind of Martz. If not, they need to look for another alternative before the third week of August.
Player to watch: Cutler. He's going to be the player to watch for the entire team entering 2011 because in this era in the NFL, a team goes only as far as its quarterback will carry it. It was interesting to read what former Packers architect Ron Wolf told Dan Pompei about quarterbacks for teams in the NFC North: "People say in order to be successful, you have to be able to run the ball," Wolf said. "When I was in Green Bay, the Lions had Barry Sanders. You can't have a better runner, particularly in the venue he played. But they didn't win diddly squat. I'm not so sure that's the case that you have to run the ball. It's about throwing the ball. That certainly wasn't the case this year with the Packers. They didn't have a runner. They were a one dimensional throwing team, and they were very successful throwing it."
Looking ahead: Cutler is going to have to bounce back from an avalanche of negative criticism. Again, the harsh criticism he took from current and former players was more a reflection of how he's viewed generally rather than his toughness. Cutler always has carried himself as if he doesn't care what the outside world is thinking or saying. This was far more volatile than any criticism he received when he exited Denver, the result of a marriage gone bad on both sides. The ultimate silencer for Cutler will be winning. And winning big.
Bottom line: The Bears, who traditionally have done all they can to outfit the defense under Lovie Smith, must address a number of issues on offense to help make Cutler better. Consider that for all of the publicity Martz got for his work in Detroit and San Francisco, where he was hailed for being a quick-fix artist, the Bears didn't fare any better. They scored 33 offensive touchdowns in 2010, the same number that Ron Turner's offense produced in 2009. The 2008 San Francisco 49ers and the 2007 Detroit Lions both scored more points than this year's Bears team. The quarterback needs to be considerably better and he needs more to work with.
Coming Tuesday: Defensive line.