The Chicago Bears Should Keep Brian Hoyer as Their Starting Quarterback
The NFL may be unique in its unpredictability, but even in a league of unknowns, there are at least a few stories we can count on each and every year.
Cutler is one of the few guys in the league who can be criticized for suffering a legitimate injury, and all discussions around him will eventually circle back to his gaudy contract that runs through 2020. Basically, he takes more jabs than his play generally warrants, meaning the answer to our question about whether Cutler deserves to sit is usually "no."
This year is different, though. In Cutler's absence, Brian Hoyer has filled in admirably, giving the team a worthwhile alternative they haven't had in year's past. This will change the tenor of our discussion and, ultimately, the conclusion.
We can dissect the merits of both Cutler and Hoyer through the lens of numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players.
If you're new to the site, here's how NEP works. Prior to each play, there is an expected number of points a team will score on its current drive. A 3-yard completion on 3rd-and-2 will pick up a first down and increase those expected points, giving the player positive NEP. That same 3-yard completion on 3rd-and-4, though, will likely result in a punt, meaning the player will see a reduction in his NEP. Tracking these fluctuations over the course of a year can tell us which players are operating in the most efficient manner and -- in this instance -- which deserves to hold down the starting job.
Let's compare Cutler and Hoyer using these tools and show why it's time to let Hoyer keep on slinging it.
A Tale of Two Signal Callers
In the two games that Cutler started this season, the Bears' offense looked dead in the water. They scored 14 points in the opener against the Houston Texans, and they were trailing the Philadelphia Eagles, 16-7, when he left injured in Week 2. These were two tough opponents, so that's not all on Cutler, but it does make Hoyer's success since then a bit more eye-popping.
Hoyer currently ranks 6th in Passing NEP per drop back of the 34 quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs. He's performing well relative to the league, and that only amplifies when you compare him to Cutler. Check out their respective performances in the table below. "Passing NEP/P" is short for Passing NEP per drop back, and Success Rate is the percentage of dropbacks on which the player has increased the team's NEP.
|Quarterback||Dropbacks||Passing NEP/P||Success Rate|
While Hoyer sits sixth in Passing NEP per drop back and second in Success Rate, Cutler is last and third to last, respectively. If we're just comparing the two in 2016, Hoyer wins in a landslide.
All of this would be null if Cutler had a track record of immense efficiency. We can forgive nearly two games of subpar play -- especially against quality opponents -- if Cutler had heavily outperformed Hoyer in the past. Again, though, the metrics paint a different picture.
To expand the sample a bit, let's go back to 2014 when Hoyer was playing with the Cleveland Browns and Cutler was with the Bears. If we lump the past three seasons together, that should give us a better idea of whether Cutler's track record is worthy of a second chance, but Hoyer measures up well again.
|Past Three Seasons||Dropbacks||Passing NEP/P||Success Rate|
Although Cutler holds a slight edge in Success Rate, Hoyer nearly doubles him up in Passing NEP per drop back. Again, this includes 2014, when Hoyer's top targets were the inimitable Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin. Where is the evidence that Cutler is a better short-term option than Hoyer?
Hoyer's performance isn't going unnoticed, either, especially by those who matter most.
John Fox on Bears' QB situation with Hoyer and Cutler: "Anybody's that performing well, I don't think we're going to be likely to change."
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 3, 2016
If Chicago coach John Fox truly intends to go with the player who is performing better, he should be choosing Hoyer for the starting job. Based on his comments, we shouldn't be surprised if he makes that exact decision.
Cutler receives a lot of unfair criticisms for things over which he doesn't have a lot of control, specifically when it comes to injuries. But that doesn't mean the Bears should start him when they have a better option on the team.
Whether we look at just this season or the past three years, Hoyer has been either as good as or better than Cutler, even when he has had less talent around him. Cutler's contract is a sunk cost, so the team shouldn't be making the decision based on that part of the equation. If it's based on performance, Hoyer's the guy.
The Bears are 1-3 this year, and their playoff odds are down to 6.7%, according to numberFire's power rankings. In a tough division, it's going to take a lot to play into January. What do they have to lose? With Hoyer playing as well as he is now, they may as well ride the hot hand, even if it means leaving their big investment holding a clipboard on the sidelines.