Will Jay Cutler Have a Bounce Back Season in 2015?
Going into the third year of his $126 million contract with a new head coach, Jay Cutler is under a lot of pressure to improve his play in 2015. Of course, last year, he made some great plays but struggled to find consistency and was benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen in Week 16 of last season.
His first season in Chicago in 2009 was the last time he played a full 16 games in a season. Since then, he has shown flashes of immense talent but also struggled with mistakes and inefficiency as the football world knows all too well.
He will need to prove this season that he is the best option to lead the Bears for the next few years. That begs the question as to whether he can bounce back from his performance last season.
Here at numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), and it gives historical context to a player’s production, ultimately indicating how many points above or below expectation level a player added with his performance.
Passing NEP indicates how many points above or below expectation a player added with his drop backs. Success Rate refers to the percentage of drop backs that lead to positive NEP gains.
So, how has Cutler fared in his career?
|Year||Pass NEP||Per Drop Back||Pass Success Rate|
His two seasons as a full time starter for the Broncos in 2007 and 2008 were by far his best by all numberFire metrics. In those two years, he ranked 11th and sixth respectively in Passing NEP per drop back among all quarterbacks with 200 or more drop backs. His best rank since joining the Bears is 15th back in 2011.
Last season, he finished tied for 31st with Mike Glennon. His 2014 Success Rate is his highest since joining the Bears and was good enough for 18th in the league among 37 qualified passers last year, just one spot behind Andrew Luck (47.59%).
I looked at how many quarterbacks with 200-plus drop backs ended each of the past five seasons with a zero or negative Passing NEP per drop back and compared it with how many of them improved to a positive value the following season.
Of the seven quarterbacks who finished below positive in 2014, five of them (including Cutler) are currently expected to start this season. So far he has successfully come back from a zero or negative value three times, while only failing to do so once. In the year he failed to get his Passing NEP per drop back above zero in consecutive years, he still improved over his value from the previous year.
His rate of interceptions per game has increased in two consecutive seasons. His rate of 1.63 interceptions thrown per game last year is almost one interception per game more than his 2012 rate of 0.70. He led the league with 18 interceptions thrown last year. Fortunately for him, history shows that he is unlikely to repeat as the interception leader next year.
Over the past five years, the quarterback who led the league in interceptions thrown has thrown at least seven fewer interceptions the following season. Among quarterbacks who threw for 18 or more interceptions in a season during that same time frame, Mark Sanchez (2011 and 2012) is the only one to throw at least 18 interceptions the following season.
In the years after Eli Manning and Drew Brees led the league in interceptions thrown, both quarterbacks increased their attempts while decreasing their interceptions. After leading the league in interceptions thrown in 2010, Eli Manning became the Super Bowl MVP the following season.
Cutler played one fewer game in 2010 after leading the league in interceptions in 2009, but he would have needed to throw 10 interceptions that game to equal his prior year total. His Passing NEP and Success Rate improved, while he led the Bears to the NFC Championship game in.
Cutler also had nine fumbles last season. Since joining the Bears in 2009, he has fumbled at least four times every season.
Cutler’s 28 touchdown passes last year is a new career high and good enough for 10th in the league. He did it in only 15 games, which is one fewer than the full 16 it took him to reach his previous career high of 27 in 2009. He averaged 1.87 passing touchdowns per game, an increase from 1.73 in 2013 and 1.27 in 2012. His two rushing touchdowns last season matched a career high as well.
Coming off of his Week 16 benching, the final game was his only game without a touchdown pass all season. He had 10 games with two-plus touchdowns and a season high of four in Week 2 against San Francisco.
Here’s a look at how Cutler’s top pass catchers fared in 2014. Their position rank measures them against all other players at their position with at least 50 targets.
|Full Name||POS||Targets||Rec NEP/Target||Position Rank|
|Alshon Jeffery||WR||145||0.73||32 of 87|
|Brandon Marshall||WR||106||0.63||50 of 87|
|Martellus Bennett||TE||128||0.57||16 of 27|
|Matt Forte||RB||128||0.28||13 of 22|
Marshall was traded to the Jets in the offseason, and his replacement comes in the form of 6’3”, 215-pound rookie wide receiver Kevin White. Last season at West Virginia University, White caught 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns, giving the Bears a potential breakout receiver for 2015.
Martellus Bennett is unhappy with his current contract and is yet to report to the Bears for offseason work, which could cause some problems for Cutler -- but Bennett was not an efficient receiver last year relative to other tight ends.
Jeffery will start the season as the Bears’ number-one wide receiver for the first time in his career, and he has the potential for a big season this year.
Forte led the NFL in receptions by a running back in 2014. Cutler also has the luxury of handing him the ball, and he has run for at least 900 yards every year of his career.
John Fox is the new head coach of the Bears, and he brought offensive coordinator Adam Gase with him from the Broncos. Gase will be the sixth offensive coordinator for Cutler since he entered the league in 2006. The 2014 season was the first time in Cutler’s career that his Passing NEP did not increase after playing in the same offensive system as the previous year, and now he’ll have to learn another new system.
Fox and Gase had the luxury of Peyton Manning being under center for their offense the past three years in Denver. Gase was only the offensive coordinator for the last two, but he was Manning’s quarterback coach the previous year. During those three years, Manning threw for more touchdowns than in any other three year span in his career.
Manning and Jake Delhomme are the only quarterbacks to post positive Passing NEP numbers under Fox. The other quarterbacks to have at least 200 drop backs in a season for Fox are Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, and Rodney Peete.
Cutler and the Bears will have a tough schedule -- based on last year’s passing defense metrics -- to start the season before their bye in Week 7.
|Week||Opponent||2014 Adj. Def. Passing NEP Rank|
Making matters worse, each of the Bears’ first five opponents spent a first or second round pick on either a defensive back or defensive lineman.
Green Bay intercepted Cutler four times in two meetings last year. They lost cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency but spent their first and second round draft picks on defensive backs. He will need to pick up this new offense quicker than he has in the past, or he will be in for another rough game against the Packers in Week 1.
Antonio Cromartie left Arizona to return to the Jets, and Seattle lost their number-two cornerback Byron Maxwell to the Philadelphia Eagles. They replaced him with Cary Williams, who only has nine interceptions in his seven-year career.
Cutler’s offensive line will have an easier job of protecting him against Detroit after they lost Ndamukong Suh, who had 8.5 sacks last year, to free agency.
Cutler has shown that he can rebound from a poor performance like last season, but he has also shown that his ceiling is well below the elite level that his contract calls for.
Even if he bounces back as he has done in the past, it still may not be enough to rank him among the league’s top quarterbacks, but it could be enough for him to maintain his job at the helm of the Bears.