Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Sep 2012

What is Wrong With Jay Cutler?

During Jay Cutler’s first three years, Dynasty Rogues writers and former college assistant coach Nick Whalen found himself making excuses for Cutler's play. His offensive line is bad. His weapons aren’t talented. His offensive coaches aren’t playing to his strengths. No more excuses. He decided to break down Jay Cutler’s game versus Green Bay and see what the talented, but undisciplined Bears quarterback needs to fix.

Posted by: Matt Waldman on 26 Sep 2012

53 comments, Last at 27 Sep 2012, 5:32pm by dmstorm22


by Chris H. (not verified) :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:16am

Terrific article. I, too, have been mentally blaming the OL and whatnot (and, OK, the OL isn't good), but this makes it pretty clear that Cutler needs to improve significantly to become the QB we need (even though many already think he's there).

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:20am

Great breakdown of the Packers game, but to me that was Cutler at his worst. Would love to see if these things are present each and every week.

by Mark S. (not verified) :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:33am

Yeah, I agree. That was one of Cutler's worst games as a pro and might not be indicative of his true level. That said, good analysis.

I'm not a Bears fan but I do like Cutler and think he does more under tougher conditions (Poor O-line, tough home stadium for passing, not much talent in receiving corps, very questionable playcalling*) than nearly any other QB in the league.

*Granted I only probably see 4-5 Bears games a year but it seems to me like they really run very few short passing plays. Seems like Cutler is forever waiting for mid-deep routes to develop. Is this just my perception?

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:39am

It's almost impossible to evaluate a qb's options without seeing the coach's tape. The writer of this piece, after looking at the coach's tape of one game, seems to be saying that the issue is with Cutler's decision making.

by tuluse :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:49am

I thought it was pretty clear from the TV angles that Cutler was making poor decisions. Whenever you see a QB hold the ball as long as he did, he's made a poor decision.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:00pm

Yeah, I tend to agree. What would concern me most about this piece if I was a Bears fan, is the criticism of Cutler's mechanics, even when Cutler isn't being pressured. There's no excuse for that, at this point in Cutler's career. It's just sheer, stupid, stubborness or laziness.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:50pm

I thought quite a bit of it was staring Marshall down waaaay too much. This is the second game that the offense has played together under this system. On a Thursday night game (which I would just abolish due to it producing an astonishing number of poor quality football games every year).

by db :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 10:17pm

Cutler is, and always has been, an over hyped, strong armed QB who lacks the intelligence to compete at the NFL level. There is a reason that he has had only one winning season since high school. He has now alienated a substantial portion of the locker room due to his boorish behavior and Da Bears will likely be in the market for a new QB in the near future.

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 12:21am

Technically Cutler had a winning record last year, and he'll have one this year I'm pretty sure.

by Steve in WI :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 9:47am

I had a long response written and it got eaten by the spam filter, but in short, where do you think the Bears are going to find a better QB than Cutler in the near future?

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 11:21am

Not sure where the "intelligence" comment comes from. Anybody who can successfully run a Mike Shanahan offense isn't stupid...and Cutler excelled in that system almost immediately. His problems have always been he's stubborn and self-absorbed. Thus, anything he doesn't see as being a problem isn't going to be addressed. And his comments have always led me to believe that losing doesn't particularly bother him like it does some guys. But, all that said, he's still better than anybody the Bears are likely to get a shot at anytime soon.

by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 1:00pm

Also, what's your source for thinking he's alienated "a substantial portion" of the locker room? Without that it sounds like you're just pulling...stuff...out of your rear.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:38am

I thought that Cutler was terrible in that game. I thought the whole offense looked outcoached in that game. As if they expected completely different looks from the Pack's defense. You still want to see a QB play better and make better decisions with the ball.

by tuluse :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:48am

Same here. He kind of went shell shocked in that game. Although, it looks like it carried over into the Rams. He missed a lot of pretty easy throws for an NFL QB, which I'll assume was due to poor footwork, since I didn't watch that closely.

The Cowboys are a much better team than the Rams or Colts, so we're going to need Cutler to be somewhat effective this week. It will be interesting to see how he responds.

Also, this was a Thursday Night game. So 4 days to install a gameplan with a new OC. Now a great QB would have been ready regardless, and it's clear Cutler is not great. The question is, can he be good? I still think he can, but I'm a homer.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:54am

I think the Bears may be a poor matchup for the Cowboys, and the Cowboys for the Bears, to say something contradictory. Neither team pass blocks well, and both teams have guys who can rush the passer. Who handles that better, Romo or Cutler? I guess I have more confidence in Romo in that circumstance, especially in Dallas.

by tuluse :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:12pm

Looking over VOA with both teams, I'm not sure this will come down to QB play. Based on both teams' offenses and defense. I expect neither offense to do much of anything. The biggest difference to me looks like it's special teams. I could see a game where the Bears special teams sets up one easy score and that's the difference in the game.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:20pm

Yeah, you beat me to it. The most likely path for a Bears victory is that they crush the Cowboys on special teams, and that is a pretty good possibility. The Cowboys would likely be better served by adopting a 4 down strategy on offense for most of the field, but we know an NFL coach would never have the guts to do that.

by Roch Bear :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:26pm

lol, "Bears may be a poor matchup for the Cowboys, and the Cowboys for the Bears ..." Spoken like an offense oriented guy :) Me? I think you are exactly right about the lines and they match up beautifully. Just hope Cutler survives. jk The O-coordinators have their work to do.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:32pm

The contest does have the potential to set back pass protection 70 years. Egads.

by Independent George :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:39pm

Somewhere, up in Football Heaven, Paul Brown covers his eyes with his hat.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:32am

I really thought Cutler had turned the corner last year before getting hurt. Now, at age 29, in his 7th year, I suspect that this is what he is going to be until he's done; a guy who will have some great games, maybe even a great season or two, but never a consistently extremely good qb over multiple seasons.

When he went to Chicago, I said I thought he'd be successful, but had some concern about his maturity, due to some stuff I'd heard about him in regards to how he interacted with the public. He just seems to be a real slow learner, which is not something that always gets reflected on an intelligence test. He seems to be more interested in being right than being effective, if that makes any sense.

The contrast with Roethlisberger is interesting, I think. Roethlisberger, in my opinion from afar, appears to have been a perfectly revolting human being. He seems emotionally bright enough, however, to at least learn to fake being nonrevolting when it became necessary. I also think Roethlisberger is emotionally bright enough to not get too stubborn on the football field, and make the adjustments he needs to make in his professional life to maximize his effectiveness. I think Roethlisberger could have taken this same Bears roster for the last 3 plus seasons, and produced a rather more productive offense.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:35pm

Will, I had the same opinion as you regarding Cutler last year. During this game, I thought Cutler was having the classic Favre-ian meltdown I'd seen during some games. Now, I wonder whether he's suffering from David Carr syndrome. I don't watch the Bears regularly, so I don't know how this game compares to his other two games this year.

Roethlisberger has been pretty revolting as a person, but I think it's because his mentality never really leaves the locker room. So he doesn't have to change once he gets there. He's also the Timex watch of QBs in that he takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (Probably the ideal QB for Mike Martz.) His physicalness and mentality are almost like a defensive player, not unlike Jim McMahon or Joe Kapp. I don't think he has to try to fit in. I think it's just how he is.

by tuluse :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:23pm

I wouldn't call his game against the Packers Favre-ian at all.

Favre was never indecisive in the way Cutler was in this game. I would bet Favre never took more than 5 sacks in a game in his career. He was always great about getting the ball out. Honestly, this seemed more Rex Grossman-esque. Where he just didn't know what the defense was doing, and wasn't sure how to match what his eyes were seeing with what his brain was telling him to do.

His decision making against the Rams seemed improved to me, but his accuracy was way off.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:54pm

I haven't watched enough Grossman to make a comparison (like Cutler, another QB who was compared to Favre coming out of college). Favre did have a few games earlier in his career where he took several sacks, but he was more likely to throw 5 INTs rather than take sacks. While Favre almost always played great against the Bears, Favre had some really bad meltdowns in Minnesota and Detroit, especially in the 90's. John Randle in particular had great games against him. In '96, the Vikings sacked Favre 7 times in one game.

But I don't think Favre ever had a series of games like Cutler had against the Packers. If Cutler really has been this bad all year, I wonder how much is him and how much can be corrected by coaching. I'm still more impressed with Cutler than I ever was with Grossman.

by J. Oliver (not verified) :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 2:44pm

You'd lose that bet. The Favre-era Packers had 115 games with 5 or more sacks. I'm betting that most of those are Favre.

Didn't bother to look at the Jets or Vikings years.

by Eddo :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:41pm

Will, you're always one of the first to caution against making personality judgements of people you don't have any actual interaction with, so I'm surprised you're so harsh on Cutler, here. I don't see how you can legitimately say that "[h]e seems to be more interested in being right than being effective," for example. The way he interacts with the press is not necessarily how he acts in the film room or at practice.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:59pm

I've seen him get physical with his offensive linemen on the sidelines, which is pretty unusual, among even the most demonstrative of qbs. I think how he acts with the press is a good example of what I'm talking about, however. From a professional standpoint, it's stupid to be antagonistic with the press, regardless of the merits of the press; doing so merely ends up being a more time consuming matter for yourself, and, more importantly, for your teammates, because they end up being asked a bunch of questions about your demeanor. It simply is much more intelligent to give a 20 second cliche-filled soundbite, and be done with it.

I said what I said about Roethlisberger based upon pretty well examined testimony. I'm saying what I am about Cutler not because I have insight as to his morality or ethics, but merely as a matter of maximizing his professional effectiveness. Expressing your displeasure with your left tackle's performance by putting your hands on him is dumb. Spending the time, that you are required to spend, with the press, in a way that causes more headaches for yourself, and more importantly, your teammates, is just dumb, and leads me to believe that Cutler's hasn't thought through his priorities, or he has, and has chosen them in a way that isn't optimal for the Chicago Bears.

by Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:53pm

"I've seen him get physical with his offensive linemen on the sidelines, which is pretty unusual, among even the most demonstrative of qbs."

There was an interesting anecdote I heard the other week on the Cutler situation in the GB game. Greg Cosell, on Doug Farrar's podcast with Yahoo, mentioned that he had seen HoF QBs "eviscerate" and "rip into" teammates on the sideline. Such incidents were stored away at NFL Films and wouldn't see the light of day. Cosell said this in the context of the Cutler controversy; basically he was saying that he didn't think the incident was unique at all. Now I don't know if those HoF QBs made physical contact with the players, and I don't recall Cosell ever explicitly mentioning physical contact. Just my speculation here, but I wouldn't be surprised if those QBs occasionally bumped or shoved teammates in the heat of a verbal confrontation.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 2:00pm

QBs verbally "ripping into" or "eviscerating" linemen isn't unusual at all. Shoving a frustrated, angry, guy, who has 70 pounds on you, is really dumb. There's a reason you haven't heard much in the way of that from the Mannings or Bradys, on even the days when they have received the worst of protection.

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 2:43pm

There's a great clip that is public of Peyton and Tarik Glenn having a really heated discussion after Manning switched to three pass plays in the red zone. As heated as I've ever seen Manning. That type of stuff is normal (Brady's done it to as well). Getting physical is not. THat was just strange.

by herm :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:52pm

Technically, it was Jeff Saturday he was yelling at, though Tarik Glenn does forcefully tell Manning to stop upbraiding Saturday.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 1:35am

I have no idea how I switched those two up. I feel dirty.

by RC (not verified) :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 9:49am

I don't know that i've ever seen Brady shove anyone, but grabbing a lineman by the facemask and shaking him, yeah, about every bad game Brady has.

I think you're reading into this too much.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 11:31am

Maybe. However, when I hear guys in the league, or guys who have recently been in the league, consistently say things about the guy which indicate a degree of disrespect, whether it is fair or not, I don't think it is unreasonable to suppose that such an sentiment exists in the Bears locker room. If that sentiment exists with regard to a receiver or cornerback, I don't think it means much, but I do think it might with regard to the quarterback.

by Steve in WI :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:46pm

It's an interesting question, but I'd argue that the offense was pretty productive last year before Cutler got hurt and the Bears had no one who could even pretend to play QB at an NFL level. For that matter, the year before they got into the playoffs and possibly could have beaten the eventual Super Bowl winners had Cutler not gotten hurt (although he was bad before the injury that day, so he would have had to step up his play in the 2nd half).

It's a small sample size, but the most recent pair of games is the first time I've really started to question Cutler's potential.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:01pm

Like I said, I really thought he had turned the corner last year. So far this year, it hasn't looked nearly as promising.

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 11:28am

I watched him a lot when he was in Denver, less so since he went to Chicago. I don't really see him being a slow learner per se...more along the lines of him not seeing the need to learn certain things. My impression has always been he's the typical jerkish teenaged boy--it's not easy to get his attention or make him do anything, and he always knows more than anybody else in the room. His arm strength and physical gifts have always allowed him to get away with things that other guys couldn't. And as long as he's still the starter and enjoying any sort of success, he's not going to see a lot of reasons to change.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 11:39am

I think we have only a semantic difference here. I pretty much agree with your assessment. I'm not a Bears fan, but I'm not anti-Bears, and was kind of hoping to see good things from them this year. Combine that with the fact that I never enjoy seeing anyone let great potential go unfulfilled, due to stubborness, it's kind of disappointing.

by fier0017@tc umn edu :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 11:57am

Absolutely nothing is wrong with Cutler. Looks fine to me.

by NegativeChirality (not verified) :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 3:21pm

That's gold. Complete gold.

One thing that's always bothered me about Cutler: the way he wears his helmet. He wears his helmet like a douchebag high school jock wears one of those flat-billed caps: as low over his eyes as he can. It makes me yell at the TV every time I see it.

by The Hypno-Toad :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 10:43pm

Oh, that was pretty great. For whatever reason, the ones where he was wearing a suit tended to be the most convincing photoshops. I also *love* the one of him walking that little dog and flipping off the camera.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:08pm

While I think some of those examples are at least partially the fault of some of his teammates and some are a little harsh, I do think that Cutler's mechanics tend to regress under pressure both during games and as the season progresses.

However, pocket presence, ball location and footwork are all correctable. Aaron Rodgers is the posterboy for a quarterback who has learned how to use a process to deliver good mobility in the pocket ie if the first read isn't there then step up, if the second read isn't there then move your feet again, then clear the pocket entirely away from your strong receivers while reading the defense so you don't end up trying to throw on the edge of the pocket. Rodgers didn't display this level of movement in college and it's the process that allows him to be decisive and he's clearly being coached well and taking that coaching onto the field.

The issue for the Bears is that they haven't shown that they have the staff in place that can do the teaching and Cutler has shown that his technique tends to fall apart if he's under fire. It is looking increasingly likely that he could never become the player his immense talent promised.

by tuluse :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:16pm

He did display those qualities last year. Then he got injured.

I still think Martz is the greatest QB coach ever who was just promoted too far.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 4:20pm

Agree on Rodgers and just to add a bit more, Rodgers didn't do that stuff in his first preseason either and his arm motion was different too, it wasn't quite the Tedford hold the ball on the ear hole and stiff looking arm that he had, but it wasn't where it is now. You saw some of the lack of the progression in the pocket in his first season as a starter as well, even though his mechanics were fixed by then, his second year as a starter he was pretty close to where he is now.

I still chuckle when I find old draft articles that claim part of why the 49ers took Smith over Rodgers was that the Smith was more athletic and mobile. The chuckle is of course from hindsight, if you look at college tape, as you mention, it did look that way.

To be fair, he still holds the ball too long and takes sacs he could avoid. There are good examples of that from the Seattle game. Bob McGinn's did a film study that gave his sack times as "3.0 seconds, 2.9, 3.7, 4.5, 4.3, 5.4, 2.6 and 4.9 seconds." As our resident FO series, Under Pressure by J.J. Cooper points out, over 3 seconds you give more blame to the QB. None of those times were quick sack times by his measure, though I don't know if McGinn measured from snap to first contact by the player that gets the sack like J.J. does since Bob didn't explain how he timed.

To get back to Cutler I've always thought he needed a Holmgren type coach. Mike would berate Favre on the sidelines about footwork and drill him to death in practice sometimes. Favre would still break down mechanically at times under pressure too and trust his arm too much, but I agree with what has been said in this thread, he didn't make as many flat out bad decisions, if you separate out the trusting the arm too much versus just not finding the open guy or moving the pocket wrong. He would throw to guys that had very very small windows, but they did have windows and he felt his arm made up for it, sometimes it didn't. Though yes he threw into triple coverage at times, but the problem was that worked about half the time for him, and he threw an int the other half. I really think he was aware of the risk that he was taking most of the time. Cutler doesn't seem to be that way.

by Steve in WI :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 12:57pm

First off, it's great to read an analysis/critique of Cutler that's based on observing what he actually does with the ball in his hands and not what he looks like on the sidelines or what he says to the media.

I'm more worried about him than I have been at any point in the past few years. Yes, the offensive line is still terrible, particularly JaMarcus Webb, but Cutler doesn't look good even when he gets halfway decent protection (and as everyone has pointed out, he holds the ball too long sometimes). And he has good weapons at receiver that he hasn't had yet as a Bear, so that excuse has gone out the window, too.

My biggest fear prior to this season was that the defense would drop off dramatically and that the Bears would lose some shootouts and miss the playoffs or make an early exit. It would be even more heartbreaking to see the defense shine for another year or two and have the offense still fail to perform at a high level. That said, maybe this will be the 3rd year in a row in which Cutler and the Bears get dramatically better on offense after the first few weeks; unfortunately, that seems a bit unlikely since the problems this year are not due to Martz.

by Roch Bear :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:20pm

Yup, Yes and affirmative. I sure hope it isn't a matter of his losing accuracy due to the slightly oddball surgeon his picked to fix his thumb quick last year. Bad decisions look a good deal better if you can rocket a ball into a very tight window. Cutler had shown signs he could do just that. I had thought that physical ability along with Marshall would cover Cutler's less-than-perfect decision making. There is still a chance, of course, early days.

by rageon :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 1:27pm

I really think a lot of the problems with Cutler in Chicago stem from a square-peg-round-hole situation. It's insanely simple to recognize that the QB is the most important position in football, and it's not even remotely close. Yet some teams still refuse to design their offense around whoever they believe their long-term solution at QB will be. Any argument that the team would be screwed in that QB got hurt is pointless, as any team losing it's QB would likely not go anywhere regardless of scheme (absent a historically-good defense).

I like Cutler. I like Martz. But I didn't think the two of them together made any sense at all. And I don't think it was a coincidence that Cutler was vastly better in Denver. Even accounting for the giagantic drop-off in offensive line quality, I thought he was a much, much better fit for the Shanahan offense.

by Duke :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 8:07pm

All of which makes me very curious why we haven't heard the name Jeremy Bates mentioned in Chicago media, almost since training camp. I thought he was going to be a major part of the staff, but I haven't heard anyone asking him questions or getting quotes from him at all.

by jackiel :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 9:42pm

I don't think that Bates has any attachment to Lovie.

by theslothook :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 2:52pm

I still maintain this, the trade for cutler was just bad timing. I think Chicago looked at him like a near finished prospect, but he was still learning the finer points of the game. Shanahan was still working with him to clean out mechanics and decision making. Then the trade happened, the bears basically let cutler be in charge of the offense just as the talent had hit rock bottom. AS a result, i feel like jay basically took a beating, became entitled because of the lesser players around him, and now defenses have a great read on exactly what his issues are.

All this to say, Cutler still has a fantastic skill set and can still destroy defenses when he has a good read because his throwing skills are so good. However, that will only get you so far and the hope has to be that he learns the subtlety's of the game.

Its funny, but, i feel like all of the areas tom brady is weak, cutler is strong and all of the areas cutler is weak, brady is superb. Not that brady has a weak arm, but he doesn't have that fit into the tight windows moxie that cutler has. But it does go to show that maybe how vital pocket movement and presence are to being a successful qb.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 4:29pm

Shanahan was gone when McDaniels traded Cutler so he was never going to be there to finished the job.

Checking back I'd forgotten all the shenanigans that went on in Denver with Cutler saying he didn't trust McDaniels after McDaniels showed interest in Cassel. That tells a story in itself that Cutler expected to be pandered to and handed the starting job. That's part of what got him a bad rep for immaturity.

You look at how the 49ers flirted with Peyton this summer and it's the same sort of disrespect being shown to Alex Smith. I don't recall hearing a word of discontent from Smith, I think he did visit Miami but otherwise he's just walked straight back in and got on with proving himself worthy of being the starter.

You look at Peyton and the Colts and what happened with Luck being drafted. Peyton took it like a man - he knows it's about business.

I doubt Tom Brady is expecting to be the Patriots starter until he's 45. He knows he has to earn the Patriots starting job every year.

Cutler brings a sense of entitlement with him and I've never met anyone in whom that was a good quality.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 09/27/2012 - 5:32pm

The one difference is Peyton Manning, in his normal form, is far better than Alex Smith.

Matt Cassel is not better than Jay Cutler.

by jonmadchris (not verified) :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 3:02pm

His problem is he doesn't take his bi-polar meds. Its always someone else that the proplem./ B.S cutler is a baby and couldn't take the blame for his mistakes, he acts like jeff george. hope the bears sign him up for another 10 yrs. ha ha