Has Jay Cutler Finally Turned the Corner With His Career?
Type “Smokin’ Jay Cutler” into a Google image search, and you’ll be sure to get a good laugh out of the Internet’s handiwork of turning the Chicago Bears' quarterback into a chain-smoker on the football field.
Long a punching bag for fans around the country, Cutler has been hearing something in recent weeks that he hasn’t experienced much over the last year-and-a-half.
Over the past three weeks, the tone around Cutler has started to change. He’s led the Bears to two fourth-quarter, come-from-behind wins, and he orchestrated a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The Bears fell just short of a third-straight win, falling to the Lions 37-34 in overtime.
Meanwhile, Cutler has earned praise from some members of the media and his coaches and teammates for his toughness in returning from a hamstring injury to lead the Bears to two victories without some of his biggest playmakers in Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal.
That is a tremendous win. Outstanding job while outmanned by John Fox and his staff. Jay Cutler was great and deserves a lot of praise.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) October 11, 2015
John Fox effusive in his praise of Jay Cutler. "Been very impressed." Said he speaks for everyone in building
— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) October 5, 2015
Known as a talented but erratic quarterback, Cutler has thrown for 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while completing 62 percent of his passes since returning three weeks ago.
So what’s behind this turnaround for Cutler?
A New Coordinator Tries to Tame Cutler
Cutler has been known to alienate some of his previous coaches, motoring through four offensive coordinators in his six years in Chicago.
After two seasons in Denver with Peyton Manning, Adam Gase followed John Fox to Chicago this year.
While in Denver, Gase oversaw a 2013 Broncos offense that averaged 37.9 points per game and 457 yards per game. The Broncos broke the NFL’s scoring record for a team with 606, topping the 2007 New England Patriots, who had scored 589.
Now, Gase has been assigned with what has seemingly been an impossible task for those before him: eliminating the erratic play that has plagued Cutler over his 10-year career.
So far, Gase has been successful, according to our metrics.
On the season, Cutler owns a 29.94 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) score, ranking him ninth among quarterbacks with at least 150 drop backs.
NEP measures how many points per play a player adds to his team’s point total based on historical expectation, meaning Cutler has added nearly 30 points to Chicago’s expected scoring this year.
Last year, Cutler finished the year with a -1.24 Passing NEP, ranking him 22nd out of 24 quarterbacks who attempted more than 400 drop backs. Only Derek Carr (-40.94) and Blake Bortles (-97.97) posted worse numbers than Cutler.
Here’s a look at Cutler’s progression from Week 2 through Week 6. Remember, Cutler missed Week 3 with a hamstring injury. (These totals are cumulative.)
|Week||Passing NEP||NFL Rank||Passing NEP/P||Pass Successes||Success Rate|
Cutler's one-week Passing NEP -- 14.68 in Week 4 and 12.42 in Week 6 -- are his second and third best scores, respectively, over the past two years. Only in Week 6 of last season did Cutler post a Passing NEP score higher than 14.68. He notched a 16.54 Passing NEP against the Atlanta Falcons.
Although Cutler’s play has been promising, the Bears offense as a whole has struggled, averaging only 20 points per game, tied for 26th in the league, and producing 337.7 yards per game, also 26th best in the NFL.
Gase’s offense ranks 31st in our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points metric. (Ironically, the Broncos rank 32nd.)
A closer look at the winning percentages from numberFire Live show us just how improbable it was for Cutler to lead consecutive comebacks.
Against Oakland in Week 4, the Raiders held a win expectancy of 89.81 percent following a Sebastian Janikowski field goal that gave the Raiders a 20-19 lead with 2 minutes and 10 seconds left to play.
From there, all Cutler did was lead the Bears on an 11-play drive, covering 48 yards, to set up Robbie Gould for the 49-yard game winning field goal.
Then at Kansas City in Week 5, the Chiefs peaked at a 97.56 win expectancy about 5 minutes into the fourth quarter, leading 17-6.
Following a fourth-down stop by the Chiefs' defense, the Bears' defense responded by forcing two consecutive three-and-outs. Meanwhile, Cutler orchestrated two touchdown drives: one for 12 plays covering 88 yards and the second a 9-play drive over 67 yards.
To cap off that second drive, Cutler fumbled the snap before quickly regaining possession and flinging a pass -- with the Chiefs' Jaye Howard just a second late on the hit -- up to Matt Forte in the end zone.
Cutler just missed out on a third-game winning drive against Detroit last Sunday.
Following extra point by Matt Prater with 21 seconds remaining, the Lions held a three-point lead and a 92.47 expected winning percentage.
With no timeouts, Cutler moved the Bears down the field in three plays -- aided by a pass interference call -- for Gould to kick a 29-yard field goal sending the game into overtime where the Bears eventually fell.
Playing Without a Full Deck
Part of the reason Cutler’s turnaround has been surprising is because he’s done it without a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal.
After playing Week 1, Jeffery missed the next four games with a hamstring injury before returning in Week 5, posting an 8-catch, 147-yard, 1-touchdown line. Royal has also missed some time with an ankle injury.
Can This Continue?
Before we deem Gase’s work with Cutler a success, it’s important to remember that Cutler has yet to play a turnover-free game.
He’s thrown an interception in every game he’s started this year, except for the Chiefs game, where he fumbled in the end zone, which was recovered by the Chiefs for a touchdown.
And the Bears opponents over the past three weeks have not been impressive.
Cutler has played three weak passing defenses, per numberFire’s schedule adjusted Defensive Passing NEP metrics. Oakland ranks 31st, Kansas City is 24th, and Detroit is 29th.
Meanwhile, the Bears are heading into the bye week sitting at 2-4, and the schedule stiffens in the three subsequent weeks following the bye.
The Bears will face the Vikings in week 8 (ranked 11th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP), then the Chargers (12th), and the Rams (5th).
So, while Cutler’s “un-Jay-Cutler-like” play has been impressive in recent weeks, the next three weeks will give us a much better idea of how far -- if at all -- Cutler has progressed under Gase.