Jay Cutler must be better in first three quarters

Jay Cutler must be better in first three quarters
Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

Admittedly, Jay Cutler’s performance in the fourth quarter has been a fun thing to watch this year. He currently leads the NFL in fourth quarter passer rating (132.0), completing 34 of 46 passes (74%) for 517 yards (15.2 yards per completion), six touchdowns and two interceptions. The closest QBs are Peyton Manning (119.6 rating) and Aaron Rodgers (110.6 rating).

Pretty impressive, right? But while a strong fourth quarter QB is great, the fact is that there are three other quarters to each and every game, and Jay Cutler needs to get better in all of them if the Bears want a chance to realize Super Bowl aspirations in New Orleans this February.

For example . . .

What if I told you that Jay Cutler’s passer rating in the first half of games this season is 56.6? That’s the worst among starting quarterbacks in the NFL by at least ten points. Jay's stat line as a whole is not what many expected it would be. Visions of 4-5,000 yards passing and 35 touchdowns ran through the minds of many.

But in reality, Cutler’s on pace for 21 TDs, 18 INTs and 3,500 yards. Yeah . . . not even close. But, he has been a different guy when the Bears have needed him the most.

At the end of the day, Jay is still the same old Jay. He stares down Marshall most of the time, he holds onto the ball too long, and he doesn't step up in the pocket, which sometimes results in unnecessary sacks. A lot of the Bears’ sacks are on Jay—especially last week. It’s almost as if he doesn't see the field quick enough to make good decisions. He can get stuck on his first read and not go to the open options.

And that gets frustrating to watch week in and week out. Cutler should be taking the next step into the elite quarterback category, but he hasn’t. Granted, it does take years for offenses to completely click, and the offensive line still is a liability, but it’s not all on the line all of the time. And it’s hard to keep making excuses when the guy up in Green Bay got it done with a sub-par line and a one-dimensional offense.

So why does Cutler put it together in the fourth quarter so well? What is it that clicks? Does he have that "clutch gene" that Skip Bayless always talks about? Well, apparently there's something that clicks for him late in games. But when it comes to a game winning drive in a playoff game, I don't know how comfortable I am with Jay at the helm—I won’t lie for a second there.

The Bears’ victory versus Carolina was the 13th fourth-quarter comeback win of Cutler’s career and his sixth as a member of the Bears (his first since November 7, 2011 at Philadelphia). Including games in which the score was tied in the fourth quarter, it was the 17th fourth-quarter game-winning drive of Cutler’s NFL career.

Those stats are pretty good by NFL standards, some of the best in fact, but considering the Bears basically just kept hitting Brandon Marshall on the same routes vs. Carolina, I’m not sure a real defense won’t better challenge the Bears’ offense in that situation.

When the Bears play teams that can really score, no matter what defense they are playing, Jay will have to get things going from the start. Against teams like the Texans, Packers, Falcons, or any good team they might play in the playoffs or Super Bowl, Jay has to get off the bus scoring points. This defense is a great one—no doubt about it—but there is going to be a time when Cutler needs to have it for all four quarters, and I think that time is coming soon.

Cutler has completed just 47 percent of his passes in the first quarter this year, which resulted in 4 interceptions and only one touchdown pass. That’s terrible. Or, as Charles Barkley would say, “Turrible, knucklehead.”

It’s undeniable that Cutler has tallied a lot of wins lately. He is 12-1 in his last 13 games dating back to his thumb injury. The Bears have compiled a 25-9 (.735) record in the last 34 regular season contests in which QB Jay Cutler has started, dating back to Week 16 of the 2009 season, including a 6-1 record in 2012. That makes Cutler the fourth best QB in the NFL in win percentage during that time.

But how much of that is thanks to a continually stout and opportunistic defense? If the Bears want to win a Super Bowl, Jay Cutler has to get better as a full-time quarterback, from the minute he punches in; there’s just no way around that.

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Tags: Jay Cutler

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