Alex from Chicago asked how well I thought Jay Cutler would do with the Bears this year. I told him: “I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again — Cutler will make Bears fans remember Rex Grossman. He’ll make just as many crazy passes but won’t suffer the Grossman fate because Chicago’s fan base is so in love with him that they will forgive the nutty throws he makes in ways that they never forgave Grossman.” ....
Now I understand that fan scrutiny comes with the territory, so I don’t mind that, but what I don’t understand is why those fans are treating Cutler differently than they did either Grossman or Kyle Orton.
Grossman was on fire during the first part of Chicago’s Super Bowl season, and yet as soon as he had the bad game against Miami, it seemed the entire city turned on him. It didn’t go that much differently for Orton. He had a tremendous start to the 2008 season, but when he struggled down the stretch, the populace seemed to say goodbye and good riddance without much of a second thought.
I also don’t understand why there seems to be such excitement about Cutler. Yes, he threw for over 4,500 yards last year, but that was in large part because he put the ball up a whopping 616 times. His 9.8 vertical YPA was lower than that of 19 other QBs last season, and his 4.6% bad decision rate (a bad decision being a mistake by the QB that leads to a turnover or a near turnover) was easily the worst of any QB. He was also the offensive leader for a team that blew a three-game division lead with three games to go. . . .
The only reason I can come up with as to why Bears fans are reacting like this is that the quarterback position has been such a headache for them over the years that they will do just about anything to make it go away. If that means ignoring Cutler’s shortcomings so that at least one off-season goes by without having to wonder if their quarterback’s play will measure up, they’ll do it just for the temporary peace of mind. I do admire that kind of team passion and loyalty, but I’d admire it a bit more if it were done by hoping that Cutler could improve his game rather than by backing his mixed bag of performance history.
Note that he conflates two comparisons, and it's unclear what he's saying precisely. One is that Cutler is the better quarterback, but it is Chicago and thus his success will be pretty much on par with what the other Chicago QBs did. The other is that Cutler is simply no better of a quarterback than Grossman or Orton, and it only appears that way because he threw the ball so much.
My favorite passing stat is yards per attempt, because it sweeps in both completion percentage and the yards gained on the completion; I think it reflects the trade-off between pushing the ball downfield and taking the easier completion for less yardage. I like to adjust it, however, to account for interceptions: I subtract 45 yards for every interception thrown, as that is the basic estimate of how much field position/value you lose. No stat is perfect, but I like this one a lot.
- In 2008, Jay Cutler threw for 4,526 yards on 616 attempts. He also threw 18 interceptions. Together, that gives him an Adjusted Yards Per Attempt of 6.03.
- In 2008, Kyle Orton threw for 2,972 yards on 465 attempts, along with 12 interceptions. Together, his Adj. YPA was 5.23.
- In 2006, the year the Bears went to the Super Bowl, Rex Grossman threw for 3,193 yards on 480 pass attempts. He also threw 20 interceptions. Together, his Adj. YPA was 4.78.
Again, this is just one stat, but I think it's a pretty good indicator, and Cutler far and away scores the best. And, ironically, he does so despite so many more pass attempts: YPA tends to trend back down once a passer goes beyond being mostly a play-action type guy as a play off the ground game, like Ben Roethlisberger has been for much of his career.
Relatedly, let's take Advanced NFL Stats's "Air yards" stat, which calculates yards per attempt without reference to yards after the catch -- yards gained by receivers after they catch the ball. (This stat tends to both measure a QB's ability to complete downfield passes, as well as their propensity to check the ball down to a runningback. Young quarterbacks tend to score most poorly on the list because they struggle downfield and dump the ball off quite a bit.)
Cutler comes in at 7th in the league at 4.3 yards per attempt (again, just "Air yards"), while Orton is 29th with 3.3. In 2006, Grossman's was 3.9, and, in 2007 on much less work, it was 3.5. For comparison, Brady and Manning have spent most of the last few years hovering between 4.9-5.2 (though Peyton dipped to 4.3 this past season).
Having looked at these stats, I think the question is why does KC Joyner think Cutler will be no better than Grossman or Orton?