Jay Cutler's stubbornness hurts Bears' offense

Jay Cutler's stubbornness hurts Bears' offense
Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

If you would have told me this time last year that at the conclusion of the Chicago Bears’ 2012 season I’d be sitting down to my computer to complain about how Brandon Marshall came to town for a couple measly third-round draft picks, checked his off-field baggage at the door, caught 118 passes for 1,508 yards and 11 TDs—all career highs for the Pro Bowl wide receiver—I might have said you were nuts.

Then again, I’ve been a Bears fan long enough to know how things go around here.

The Chicago Bears won their tenth game on Sunday against their division-rival Detroit Lions but couldn’t get any help from the Minnesota Vikings, who bumped the Bears for a playoff berth with a win over the Packers later in the afternoon.

And so, the Bears' season is over. It’s time to start focusing on the state of the team and its future, and how general manager Phil Emery will continue to bridge the talent gap in the NFC North and bring his team, not one, but multiple championships, as is his stated goal.

With quarterback Jay Cutler heading into the final year of his contract, one of the things Emery will have to consider is whether or not Cutler is a part of that championship plan. I suspect he is. But for the Bears to be successful, Jay Cutler has to be successful. And for Jay Cutler to be successful, I think he has to take a good, hard look at his current philosophy.

Professional football is the ultimate team sport. At the NFL level, rarely can any one single player on the field, aside from the quarterback, put a team on his back and carry them to greatness. It especially doesn’t come from any single wide receiver, as evidenced in Detroit.

Having a player the caliber of Brandon Marshall in Chicago is something this team has lacked for a long time. In fact, it seems like it’s been so long, that we’ve forgotten that said “No. 1 WR” can’t be the end-all be-all. The proven formula for offensive success in the NFL these days has a large portion of ball distribution in the recipe.

It’s important, and it’s worth noting because while we know the offensive line needs to be better, and we know the tight end position needs to be upgraded, it’s still a change that can take place regardless of those things.

It’s something that could have taken place weeks ago.

I know, I know, the rebuttal will be that Cutler’s other receivers were either bad, or hurt, or not open. But that’s only been true some of the time, and the fact is that no team has a handful of high quality receivers; only passers who can make the ones they do have better. I still have to wonder if Chicago has a passer like that.

Just a few days ago, when asked why the Bears have struggled to spread the ball around more, Jay Cutler told the Chicago Sun-Times this: “I think in an ideal world you’d like to get some other guys in the mix. If you can have three guys at 70, four guys at 50, 60, 70, and really spread it around.”

But I take issue with that statement when Cutler, in his very next game, forces, and subsequently overthrows and incompletes, at least the two balls in Brandon Marshall’s direction, into double-coverage, with Earl Bennett wide open.

Say what you want, Jay. Unless you make an effort to the get it done on the field, those words will hold little value.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with Cutler targeting Marshall when the duo is having success. But even in those situations, it only makes sense to take advantage of the other opportunities in the passing game and keep the opposing defense honest.

On Sunday, against the Lions, not only were Cutler and Marshall not having success connecting, both Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett were beginning to show marked improvement.

So, when I see Jeffery and Bennett having that success, and Cutler still forcing incompletions to Marshall, it makes me wonder if what he really means is what he said earlier in the season; that it didn’t matter what defenses did to take “B” away, he was going to throw to him anyway.

Cutler’s refusal to lead his offense and get other players involved is prototypical of his attitude and stubbornness, and it’s a perfect example of why people believe that attitude can indeed prevent him from leading a team to success.

I’m not telling you I’m completely buying that, but I have a hard time making excuses for Jay Cutler as a quarterback these days.

Take the Denver Broncos for example, currently running one of the best offenses in the NFL. Peyton Manning came to town and made ball distribution part of that team’s culture in one season. Denver is one of three teams with five pass-catchers with 35+ receptions. Any time an opposing defense pays too much attention to one player, Manning shifts focus and beats them with someone else. They’re one of the highest scoring offenses in the NFL because of it.

Other teams that make ball distribution a priority are the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots. So, having said that, am I blind to the fact that I’ve just named for you three teams with, potentially, the three best passers in the League? No, I’m not.

Those QBs make the guys around them better. But the general lack of effort from Jay Cutler to even try to do the same is what makes it hard for me to give you any reason why I believe he can.

Have a look at this chart I put together, showing just how far the Bears’ offense is from some of the better teams in the League in terms of ball distribution. Pay particular attention to the “Target %” column. The closer the grouping, the more the ball gets spread around and the more pressure that particular offense puts on an opposing defense.

If you’re having trouble viewing the complete table, switch to desktop or click here.

Team Player Pos Targets Rec Rec % Target %
NE Wes Welker WR 163 110 67.48% 36.63%
NE Brandon Llyod WR 125 73 58.40% 28.09%
NE Rob Gronkowski TE 75 53 70.67% 16.85%
NE Danny Woodhead RB 50 35 70.00% 11.24%
NE Julian Edelman WR 32 21 65.63% 7.19%
Team Player Pos Targets Rec Rec % Target %
DEN Demaryius Thomas WR 133 87 65.41% 30.30%
DEN Eric Decker WR 114 78 68.42% 25.97%
DEN Jacob Tamme TE 82 51 62.20% 18.68%
DEN Brandon Stokley WR 55 42 76.36% 12.53%
DEN Joel Dreessen WR 55 39 70.91% 12.53%
Team Player Pos Targets Rec Rec % Target %
GB Randall Cobb WR 104 80 76.92% 26.53%
GB James Jones WR 93 58 62.37% 23.72%
GB Jermichael Finley TE 77 53 68.83% 19.64%
GB Jordy Nelson WR 68 46 67.65% 17.35%
GB Greg Jennings WR 50 28 56.00% 12.76%
Team Player Pos Targets Rec Rec % Target %
CHI Brandon Marshall WR 192 118 61.46% 48.85%
CHI Matt Forte RB 60 44 73.33% 15.27%
CHI Earl Bennett WR 49 29 59.18% 12.47%
CHI Alshon Jeffery WR 48 24 50.00% 12.21%
CHI Kellen Davis TE 44 19 43.18% 11.20%

Admittedly, this is one of many problems facing the Chicago Bears’ this offseason. But it is one area that, if focused on, can have an immediate impact on their success without having to make upgrades to any personnel at any position.

Filed under: Players

Tags: Jay Cutler

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