Jay Cutler's Miami Debut Was Even Better Than You Thought

When former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler retired in early May, it raised some eyebrows around the NFL. Cutler's career had stagnated and his release from Chicago was long overdue, but with so many teams lacking stability at the quarterback position, it was peculiar to watch a veteran passer with playoff experience find so few options in free agency.

At 34-years-old, the former Vanderbilt standout likely had a few more seasons of quality football in him, but he ultimately opted to sign on as a color commentator with Fox Sports. In a way, it almost seemed like Cutler was patiently waiting for the right opportunity, but it never presented itself.

Flash forward to August, and that moment arrived.

Unfortunate as it may have been, Miami Dolphins signal caller Ryan Tannehill aggravated his ACL during training camp and required season-ending surgery to repair it. Panic surrounded the organization, but amidst all that chaos, whispers began to emerge that Cutler was interested in stepping in to save the day.

On paper, the move made too much sense to ignore. After all, Cutler's best season as a Bear came under the tutelage of Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, and familiarity with the system made him an excellent candidate for the job. Cutler ultimately signed a one-year, $10 million deal (with an additional $3 million in incentives), and stepped out of the broadcast booth and under center for the Dolphins. But would he prove to be a reliable replacement for Tannehill?

The Debut

In Week 2, Cutler made his Dolphins debut, completing 24-of-33 passed for 23 yards and a touchdown, while leading his new team to a 19-16 victory over his old pal Philip Rivers and the newly-minted Los Angeles Chargers. While on the surface, those numbers appear pedestrian on a day that saw Tom Brady throw for 447 yards and 3 touchdowns, it was the little things that made Cutler's performance more impressive.

For starters, Smokin' Jay displayed considerable resilience in this contest. While his grit is often called into question, the truth is, Cutler is much tougher than he's given credit for and his ability to persevere was evident in this contest. After a highly unimpressive first half in which he accumulated only 75 passing yards and struggled to spark the offense, Cutler rebounded in a big way after halftime, throwing for 155 yards and a touchdown, elevating the play of his teammates in the process.

The veteran showcased his trademark arm strength and impressed with his mobility in the pocket, extending several plays with his legs and throwing on the run. Check out this nifty, game-tying touchdown pass to Kenny Stills:

Cutler also displayed an impressive connection with top receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. Often rumored to be phased out of the offense this season, Landry proved his doubters wrong, snaring 13 of his whopping 15 targets for 78 yards,

Meanwhile Parker, who Cutler recently described as "a faster Alshon (Jeffery)," continued to impress with four catches for 85 yards. Cutler's willingness to consistently target Parker on deep throws is a clear indicator of his trust in the young receiver. Watch this sensational 31-yard grab over Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward and you'll understand why:

These Numbers Don't Lie

Was that throw a little bit reckless? Perhaps. This leopard will likely never change his spots completely, but natural slingers are always going to take a few chances. Cutler attempted 8 passes of 20-plus yards (deep balls) in Week 1. In fact, 24.2 percent of his passes were deep balls, which would have been the third-highest percentage in the league in 2016.

However, Cutler was more responsible with the football in this contest than it might appear. Not only did Cutler avoid throwing an interception, but according to Player Profiler's metrics, he accounted for zero danger plays (unnecessary risks that could have resulted in turnovers), even including the downfield heaves to Parker. It illustrates that he was aggressive but not foolish. For a player who is known as occasionally careless, that stat is significant.

While Cutler's counting statistics may not appear fantastic on paper, some of his other numbers are elite. The 72.7 completion percentage he accumulated in Week 1 dwarfs his career average of 62.0. The same can be said of his 101.8 quarterback rating which obliterates his career mark of 85.8. Furthermore, he only took 2 sacks against an impressive Chargers pass rush.

Cutler also impressed in numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP employs historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on a per play basis. Positive NEP is earned when a player performs above expectation, and negative NEP is indicative of sub-standard performance. For more about NEP, check out our glossary.

After his impressive Week 1 showing, Cutler's Passing NEP per drop back of 0.19 is tied for tenth in the NFL among all quarterbacks with 30 or more drop backs. Not only that, but it is a considerable improvement upon his total of 0.13 from 2015 which (while under the tutelage of Gase) is generally regarded as his best season with the Bears.

The number also represents a significant uptick on Tannehill's 2016 figure of 0.09. No matter how you look at it, Dolphins fans should be pleased with Cutler's performance, and optimistic about what's to come.

The Wrap

For whatever reason, it's become fashionable to bash Jay Cutler for everything from his on-field performance to his body language, and he never receives any credit for the things he does well. While his first game in a Miami Dolphins uniform wasn't perfect by any means, he stepped up and delivered in the clutch, propelling his team to a road victory against a quality opponent.

The Dolphins were a playoff team in 2016, but with Tannehill sidelined, they seemingly had little chance to build off that successful campaign. With Cutler under center, that opportunity is there for the taking once again.

Make no mistake about it, Cutler handled his business in Week 1. Yes, it was only one game, but the early returns were highly promising. A reunion with Gase, high-quality targets like Landry and Parker, and a productive running game led by Jay Ajayi could be the catalyst to one of the better seasons of Cutler's NFL tenure.

Cutler could also become a legitimate fantasy option, beginning this week against a New York Jets defense that our numbers rank as the third-worst in the league. He's currently owned in only 4.1 percent of all ESPN leagues, so he's out there for the taking.

Not bad for a man whose career appeared finished less than two months ago.