Some Truth in Those Damned Lies

As many long time readers of this blog know, I’m a firm believer in the well known Benjamin Disraeli proverb that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

But having said that, it can be interesting to take a look at what statistics complied from a neutral party can tell us. Such is the case, I think, with Pro Football Focus‘s look at 37 NFL starting quarterbacks from the 2014 season when they were or were not under pressure, especially when it comes to quarterback Jay Cutler. These stats were spit into two posts – one about how quarterbacks handled pressure of any type and one about how they handled the blitz.

The first surprise that I got was that Cutler rarely faced pressure ranking 26th in this category. That jibs with the fact that teams rarely blitzed him – he was 32nd. It seems that teams saw no reason to blitz Cutler and that they were right.  Those are two miserable statistics for a quarterback that led the league in interceptions last year.  Notably he was equally bad whether he was blitzed (32nd) or not blitzed (34th).

But here’s where it gets interesting. Cutler wasn’t actually that bad when under pressure of all types, ranking 16th. In fact, he was much worse when NOT facing pressure – 36th out of 37 QBs rated.

What does this tell me? It looks to me like Cutler is better when he faces pressure because the play breaks down unexpectedly. In fact he’s great at it. Those plays actually make up the difference in the rankings between when he’s facing pressure simply due to the blitz and facing pressure of all types. It’s probably no coincidence that these are the plays that Cutler doesn’t have to think about. The protection just falls apart and he’s forced to react, usually by running. But the minute that you ask him to think – read a blitzing defense or, probably even worse, having a defense drop into coverage and make him find the open receiver, he’s helpless.

The Bears aren’t going to go far with a quarterback who can’t read a defense and my first conclusion is that Cutler has to eventually go – no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog. But there’s more to it than that. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has spent his recent years working with quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is strictly a pocket quarterback and is well known for reading a defense and making adjustments at the line. He’s practically a coach on the field.

But the stats seem to me to confirm what many fans have said for some time now. While there are serious disadvantages to relying on it long term, in the short term, Cutler is probably going to be better if you make him think as little as possible with no audibles and if you roll him out and let him create. This is going to make him the anti-Manning. The first problem that Gase faces is simply recognizing this. By all accounts, Cutler comes across as being very intelligent in the meeting room and its only when you get him out on the field in a game situation where he has to make decisions on the spur of the moment under pressure that his weaknesses come out. Even if Gase sees the problem its going to be interesting to see how he makes the adjustment to a quarterback whose strengths are diametrically opposed to what he’s become used to.

Bottom line, the Bears offensive is going to have to be radically different from what the Broncos ran last year if they are going to see any success. Whether Gase comes to that realization and how he executes the change if he does is something that Bears fans will want to keep an eye in the coming year.

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