Chicago Sun-Times

Going deep: Putting Jay Cutler, Brett Favre side-by-side in 2008

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The post made here on Friday before the contract signing party commenced at Halas Hall generated quite a bit of buzz.

Football Scientist author KC Joyner made a case that Jay Cutler was too mistake prone and that ultimately that would limit his success with the Bears. The majority of responses were negative and the general consensus was figures lie and liars figure. We feel compelled to study all sides of an issue and another study by Joyner has been brought to our attention that perhaps will better explain his opinion that is shaped by statistics.

Back in mid-March when the Cutler trade winds were blowing, Joyner analyzed his performance vs. that of Brett Favre in New York. The Jets were rumored to be one of the teams pursuing Cutler and Joyner took their 2008 numbers and put them side-by-side in a blog post for the New York Times. Everyone knows Favre fizzled down the stretch, ultimately leading to his departure and the exits of others, including coach Eric Mangini. The results here might surprise you.

Joyner points out that both quarterbacks worked with solid receivers and also had quality pass-catching tight ends. He calls both quarterbacks "vertically inclined." His study measured the yards per attempt for each quarterback at different depth levels (how far the ball was thrown downfield). Here is how they matched up:

Short passes (0-9 yards) - Cutler 6.2, Favre 5.8

Medium passes (10-19 yards) - Cutler 8.8, Favre 9.5

Deep passes (20-29 yards) - Cutler 11.2, Favre 9.6

Bomb passes (30+ yards) - Cutler 11.9, Favre 9.1

Overall YPA - Cutler 7.3, Favre 6.5

Vertical passes (medium, deep and bomb combined totals) - Cutler 9.8, Favre 9.5

The only category Favre was better than Cutler was in medium-range throws of 10 to 19 yards, and Cutler held an edge of 0.8 yards per attempt overall.

"He led Favre by only .3 of a yard on the longer passes despite presumably having better vertical targets than Favre,'' Joyner wrote. "Another way to look at this is to put Cutler's totals into a leaguewide perspective. The median overall YPA for QBs last year was 7.0 and the median vertical pass YPA was 10.1. Cutler was only slightly better than average in overall YPA and was slightly worse in the vertical category.

"Those numbers take into account Cutler's potential upside, but we can't forget the risk-taking downside. I use two categories to measure this. The first is the combined interception/near interception total (a near interception being a pass that was almost picked off)."

Here are those totals:

Interceptions/near interceptions - Cutler 51 (8.1%), Favre 44 (8.0%).

Bad decisions (defined as when the quarterback does something ill-advised with the ball that leads to either a turnover or a near turnover. Some common instances of this include staring at receivers and not seeing linebackers in a passing lane.) Cutler 30 (4.6%), Favre 21 (3.7%)

We're not suggesting Cutler is doomed to struggle by any stretch, but it is interesting to look at the numbers. He's similar to Favre here and most agree that was far from a vintage Favre effort in 2008.

Realistically, the Bears do not offer the same receiving targets Cutler had in Denver. They certainly do not have proven downfield threats so it is fair to wonder how that will impact his numbers. We didn't use this to belabor the point but to try and better explain where Joyner's opinion came from last week when we highlighted it as one of the voices out there that is not sold on the Bears' move. Sure, you can do a lot of things with numbers but no stats are going to take away from the live arm, quick release and athleticism Cutler has in the pocket.

Joyner puts together some terrific work too. He studied the difference between Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin after the season ended. His results showed that Fitzgerald was far superior when it came to making plays against top cornerbacks. Fitzgerald and Boldin has similar overall YPA and their vertical YPA was also close. But when facing an average or good cornerback (Joyner defines that as one who allows 7.0 YPA or less, and the average is 7-9), Fitzgerald had a YPA of 8.7. His teammate Boldin was at 6.3. It was further evidence Boldin did a lot of his work underneath in the Arizona scheme vs. linebackers and safeties. Perhaps it's one reason why a trade market never really developed for Boldin. He's viewed as a terrific possession receiver, not a dominant No. 1.

At any rate, in late May these numbers can be quite compelling. The Bears will return to work at Halas Hall on Monday and resume OTA's. They run Monday through Thursday this week and for the two following weeks.

On Monday, we'll see if some numbers comparing the Broncos to the Bears are what you think they are. On Wednesday, the Bears will open the doors to the building to media so we'll get another look at what is going on.

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36 Comments

While I am a huge proponent of the trade, the numbers are pretty convincing. Cutler made a lot of mistakes last year.

two points:

* Denver was really bad last year and Cutler was constantly in shoot-out type football games. He had to take risks because his defense is giving up 6 either way.

* Maybe Denver's receivers are not all they've cracked up to be. This I have been saying since the deal got done, in light of all the scrutiny of the Bear receivers. Eddie Royal may be Rashied Davies for all we know. The Bears have not had the level of QB play to really assess what the the team has in the way of receivers.

When sport writers start using statistics it scares me. As someone who has studied statistics, there are a lot of ways to misinterpret data.

It would be nice to see a similar comparison btw Cutler and Orton. A thereby quantify the cost/benefit impact.

I like I lot of things about Orton and wish him the best etc, I do believe he was an upgrade from Grossman and will continue to prosper in Denver.

Having written that, I still think the move is a good one for the following reasons.

1. Offensive philosophy - the bears are much more conservative than Mike Shanahan and have a better running game. Perhaps Cutler was encouraged to take chances, I dont see the Bears doing that with him. Cutler brings more balance and upside to this offense

2. Defensive response - opposing defenses will need to respect the vertical passing game more in a Cutler lead offense. Orton may have been a good decision maker, but I doubt Defensive strategists would say "We need to watch out for the long ball on this guy". So other aspects of the offense should improve

3. Mobility - I can't comment on Favre's mobility last year, but Orton wasn't the shiftiest guy in the pocket.

4. Bears use of first round picks. Historically, the bears haven't done well in the top half of the 1st, but better in the 2nd half. But even hear there record is iffy. Only 2 WR's were off the board when Denver drafted 18th, so you could have gotten Maclin, Harvin, Robiskie, Hicks, or Mossaquo. None of which (including Iglesias) will have a strong impact until two years from now. What sounds better.

Orton & Maclin (or name your guy)
Cutler & Iglesias

5. Entertainment - Cutler will take chances and you're going to have occasions where you're upset for an INT, but we've seen how many years of conservative play in Chicago? How many journeyman QB's? Would you rather have Farve or Orton or Grossman or Krenzel, on and on.. sometimes you get a chance and you have to take your shot. I love watching Farve play because he's a playmaker; Cutler brings this same excitment.

6. 2009 is going to be fun; aggrevating at times, but lots of fun. If we go down this year, at least we're going down swinging

This is a very interesting comparison, but it begs the question: how much "better" could Cutler's receivers have been than Favre's? If the QB performance is similar, isn't the same true for those catching the ball? Conversely, if both Cutler and the Denver receivers ranked high in the league, why was Cutler's YPA so ordinary? Did Denver throw so much more than everyone else?

Also, how did both QBs compare to Orton?

Cutler had NO running game and threw many more passes than Farve. Farve had a great running game and didn't need to throw as much. These stats are foolish, every quarterback is in a different position with different levels of talent around him.

Cutler will have a great running game with a very good offensive line. I think his weapons will be just fine this year, there is talent around him. Angelo said it best - the QB makes the reciever not the other way around.

These stats do not tell the whole story. cutler had arguablly the least effective running attack in the league and one of the worst D units. He did take chances against pass oriented defenses but he had to. He will be in a more balanced, more play action oriented attack with the bears. I also agree with the posters pointing out that the bronco WRs may not be nearly as effective without Cutler's ability to extend plays and fit the ball in to the tightest quarters. I understand the writer trying to play devil's advocate but it is hard to argue that the Bears don't now have one of the most skilled people in the league at the most important position. If Angelo picks up either Burress or Jones he will have completed the best offseason of any Chicago GM in any sport in my memory. Then it will be up to Lovie and his staff to get the team to play to its now considerable potential.

Absolutely, POSITIVELY we will have a MORE competitive and FUN team to watch with JC than without.

Hey Rance, would you sign for that ... in blood?

DougR only missed one pt - Cutler makes everyone on the team better - Forte will see a lot less 8 men in the box, Olsen and Hester are going to have breakout years, the O-line will look better because Cutler is so mobile. Even the defense will see fewer 3 and outs by the offense, and be under less pressure to pitch a shutout.

The statistical analysis is flawed in that it doesn't take into account a lot of other variables, including the running game.
Go back and look at the tape from 2008 - Cutler has a cannon, with laser accuracy. And several of his picks were tips or batted balls.

We were 9-7 last year. This season is going to be a blast!! I waited 6 months for winter to end and now I can't enjoy summer - I want it to end so football season can start.

Go Bears!

Of course, the Joyner quote that prompted the last post was that Cutler would make Bears fans miss Grossman, which even the most realistically pessimistic reading of these (fairly shallow) statistics would not bear out. Football Outsiders rather more in-depth metric ranks Cutler's performance last season as fifth best in the league, while Favre is down at 25th, right above Orton at 26th. Expecting Cutler to be a cure-all for the Bears is of course unrealistic, but so far there's no good reason for not expecting him to improve the offense, and claiming that he's going to be worse than Grossman is just Joyner trying (successfully) to get his name mentioned in the presses. Furthermore, like a few others have said, the problem here is not with statistics but with poor interpretation of them.

Stas are just something to guage by. They are not the whole answere to the topic. Cutler is an awesome qb and I wouldn't take anyone else over him. I remember watching him play a game last year and thinking to my self wow if the Bears could only have a QB like that! It totally blew me away when they got him. He will elevate everyones game on the team and I think he'll have just as much influance on the defence as the offence. If you practice against a average guy at QB you can only go so far. When you practice agains a Probowler everyday it's goin to bring up you game on game day! Weres the stat on that??

Is there anything more ridiculous than the "that should have been intercepted" mantra?

I mean, if you're going to consider that, then why not the "that should have been a TD" stat? Include that too.

BTW, I "should have won the LOTTO" a long time ago.

Except I didn't. Just like the CB didn't make the pick.

Instead of making up stats to justify his existence, I suggest KC just do some real reporting.

One thing that drives me nuts with all this statistical analysis is how often people just assume how great Brandon Marshall (4th round draft pick) and Eddie Royal (2nd round pick) are. Isn't it possible that Cutler made them great? Marvin Harrison was a decent receiver, but he became a Hall of Famer when Peyton Manning was his quarterback. Wes Welker was meaningless in Miami (other than as a returner), but became a pro-bowler with Tom Brady.

Cutler's not necessarily Manning or Brady, but he's a ton better than Orton. Is it any wonder Marshall wants a contract extension NOW instead of waiting for the season to begin? He knows how much worse his numbers will get with Orton.

Conversely, Cutler will improve the receivers the Bears have.

About the comparison- who cares? The Bears are clearly a better team across the board now than in 2008. I like the QB, O-line, LBS, and even the WRS better. The one area that has taken a big step back is backup quarterback; and that leaves the Bears very vulnerable to a total collapse if Cutler goes down to an injury. The Bears ought to bring back Grossman or Griese, two guys that know the offense and would require less practice reps. This would avoid a potential disaster if Cutler is out for any extended period of time. With all the great work done to enhance the roster this off season, having 2 inexperienced guys one play away from the starting QB position is more than risky... its just plain stupid.

Um who made the probowl by votes? Jay Cutler. that is all I have to say. He made the ProwBowl in the AFC which has Peyton Manning, Big Ben, Carson Palmer, Phillip Rivers, Bret Farve, Kerry Collins, Joe Flaco, Matt Cassell and Chad Pennington. He ranked 3rd of all NFL quarterbacks in rate and is second to only Drew Brees in attempts per game. He is 10th in yards per attempt. What more do you want from this guy. He is 25 years old. What we Peyton doing at 25 what was Brett doing at 25? If you want to critize fine but the fact is Jay Cutler is the best young quarterback in the league right now. He might be the best quarterback in the league right now. We will find out. He has a running back and a defense now. The sky is the limit.

Brad.. As always great article.. I totally disagree with Joyner though.. Thanks to NFL Game Rewind I have gone back and watched about 50% of Cutler's games last season (yes.. I know I need a life).. First off Favre had a running game..which having a lack of did put alot of pressure on cutler.. which forced him into some situations where he took some risks..Secondly, 1/3 to 1/2 of the interceptions I have seen so far can be attributed to bad receiver play...especially Marshall...he is not as bad as Rashied Davis, but gees he had a lot of drops which surprised me.. Royal is a stud.. Yes Cutler takes risks, but I tell you he is accurate as heck..no over throwing or under throwing like we are a customed to seeing with other Bear qbs...he is able to thorw on the move with amazing accuracy... the more you see the more you love..I tell you we are going to have big fun watching this guy this year...Hester is gonna have an amazing year..

Who cares??? The only question Bears fans should care about is if Cutler is better than Orton. Answer: Yes.

Just think of all the misses on the deep ball last year. You figure that if those were made, we'd have gone to the playoffs.

Totally agree with Doug R., Shaun and Bob k.

Message to KC Joyner:

thanks for your brilliant statistical analysis. Without it, we never would have realized that this particular 3rd-year QB was mistake prone in comparison to a guy who by nature is mistake-prone. Favre is an anomaly in that he never developed an academic appreciation or mastering of the game, which is what the greatest QBs do. But that's besides the point... the point is that Cutler in particular is mistake prone...

Except Peyton Manning, who threw 100 interceptions his first 5 years, including 23 and 19 in his 4th and 5th season

Except that Big Ben threw 15 interceptions despite just 460 passes compared to 18 and Cutler's 610 or whatever (Big ben had higher interception %) just this past year

Except that in the year preceding Drew Brees' breakout in San Diego, he threw 15 interceptions in 11 games (his 3rd year in the league) despite having the best TE and best RB in the game. A year before he became one of the best QBs in the NFC, 4% of his passes were interceptions

Except that Eli Manning threw 18 and 20 in his 3rd and 4th years, yet he cost MORE to acquire than Jay Cutler because even just to get to that point, he rode the pine for a year and had a very bad 2nd year. Not to mention the high draft pick cost.


This is what happens when you over-analyze one specific aspect of the statistics but forget to broaden your perspective before you make your argument. You sound stupid. A third year QB with a very bad defense, a very VERY bad defense, is forced into an all-out air battle and becomes mistake-prone? No kidding. Never would have thought that would happen to a 3rd year pro at the game's hardest position.

Cutler's interception rate (2.9%) was very close to the league average (2.8%). How did he get so many near-interceptions? Based on Joyner's numbers, Cutler had way more near-interceptions (33) than actual INTs (18), while Favre had equal numbers of each (22). Did Cutler just get lucky, with defenders dropping the ball? Does he throw so hard that his passes are harder for defenders to catch? Did his receivers do a great job of breaking up passes that were nearly interceptions? Or is something funny going on with the count of near-interceptions? Cutler's interception rate in 2007 was also pretty close to average (3.0%), so I doubt that it's all luck.

As someone who has worked with statistical analysis in several industries AND with the NFL, I really do not know what KC Joyner's credentials are aside from being a below-average sportswriter.

For anyone who has played football beyond JFL, I would like to know how KC quantifies a "near interception". If you've ever been a QB you know that a lot of things can lead to an intercepion: bad initial read, late throw, bad mechanics, bad late read, a defender out of position (amazingly that was one that bit me the most :-), a WR giving up on a route, a receiver off on a route, a batted ball, etc. Let's of course not rule out the plain old "throw a jump ball, hail mary at the end of the half\game and hope the defense don't catch it."

The point is that a bad decision is usually only judged by the OC. Only he knows what was called, what the defense was in, and where the ball should have went when looking at the tape. Unless KC is in the minds and huddles of every OC in the league his idea of a "bad decision" or "near interception". I wouldn't get too worked up over this "research".

I second Mike's "Who cares?" When will you commentators get off of the Favre kick and let the all-time interception leader play his "Now I'm retired, now I'm not" game all by himself. His real claim to fame is his durability, which is and was phenominal.

If your point was that Cutler last year was a little better than the 2008 version of Favre, then I have to ask ...you feel GOOD about that? That Cutler played a little better than Favre did in what most acknowledge was one of his poorer seasons, including playing with an injury almost half the season?

Oh boy, do I feel good about Cutler now!

Denver had no running game with a defense that could not hold a lead. Cutler turned into a gambler in order to get points. A different situation.

was Favre at the Pro Bowl last year? wow I did not even know that.

http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/9623078/Jets-RB-Jones-back,-but-stiff-arms-media
nice article on Jones.
Is it any wonder we went downhill when we let him get away? But Favre had this top RB and still had a bad year,
No way does anyone compare QB to Favre, I respect Favre but he def. had arm problems late, and Jay? Get off the Cutler/Bear hatin sports writers! Alot of sports people want to put down Cutler, my gosh look at his games and you see the total package,
and add in the sacks and 1,000! extra yards kc for the real comparison
and I agree with WR R. Davis, we need someone to step up

Cutler
4,526 Yds.
62.3% completion
25 TD
11 SACKS

Favre
3,472 yds
65.7 % completion
22 TD
30 SACKS

Before anyone else wastes any more time on KC Joyner, let's remember who KC Joyner is: he writes a FANTASY football columnist. And that's the problem. Over the years, people like Joyner have attempted to statistically analyze football like it was baseball so as to predict the outcome of games. Football, however, is not a sport that lends itself well to prediction by statistics only. Football has many more variables and a much smaller sample size than does baseball. This is why no one has been able to come up with a sabermetric or PECOTA system for football that can predict outcomes with a modicum of success. In other words, a football player doesn't always play to the numbers on gthe back of his "football card."

The numbers Joyner cite do not take into account the effectiveness of Denver's running game; the down, distance, and game/score situation; the defensive personnel group and base (4-3, 3-4, nickel, dime, etc.); how many picks were the fault of the receiver; and so on.

What it all comes down to is in football, statistics are only part of the equation. Thus, trust your eyes as much as (maybe even more)the numbers. With Cutler under center, I won't miss Grossman, Orton, or any other Bears clown car QB. My eyes tell me that.

I would still like to know what a "near interception" is. As far as I can tell it would either be a complete or incomplete pass, both of which are already counted into other statistics (i.e. comp %).

Wow so now Cutler is perfect lol If thats the case the Bears should be winning 13+ games . Im gonna save this and revisit it in October .

I prefer the analysis of knowledgeable football people who actually watch NFL games to statistical analysis by geeks who spend all their time number crunching. Let's face it, no one has the time to watch every play in every game so most people in the media just watch highlights and parrot the comments made by other sports writers. Most real fans are much more familiar with their team's needs, since they watch every game their team plays, unlike the vast majority of the sports media.

Anyone who has watched both Orton and Cutler play realize that Jay is a major upgrade, with more upside than any QB the Bears have had since Jim McMahon.

What is a near interception, that is like a horse race where you put your money on the horse that lost by a nose but you almost won.

The fact is you lost and if you bet any money on a win, you lost what kind of s--- is a near interception. And I almost had sex with a starlet, yeah right. What the heck is this stuff?

stats are like dreams, no reality, you never see all the angles to stats. mr joyner is a idiot who needed to try to put down the greatest off season in bears history, and that's without plaxico or
jones who i believe we will get at the right time. i mean one of them not both. since sid luckman retired over a half century ago we
have only had eric kramer's great season and of course jimmy mack who was hurt at the end of most of his years or that bears team would have won at least three to four super bowls. oh, yes and the fact that management would have to have kept wilbur marshall. jay cutler is actually worth more to us than what we paid for him. the history of bears quarterbacks in the cemetery of failed qb's are many, probably more than any team period. we've wasted millions on first round busts, for us to give up two first round picks and still
have a good draft and another one to follow this one is great to me.
have you ever thought about the fact that we may not need a first round pick anymore ever cause we seem to do much better without one
especially money wise. we may have a little trouble at the begining
of the season because we have a lot of new players playing together
but this team is going places and jay will take us there. i thank all the bears fans for your wonderful comments, it seems you know way more than joyner does. you are the reason why the chicago bears are the greatest team in football.

"Denver had no running game with a defense that could not hold a lead. Cutler turned into a gambler in order to get points. A different situation."

I agree, but what's good for the goose is good for the gander: it's possible that Cutler amassed a lot more yards and TDs because Denver was often forced to air it out against prevent-defenses.

That being said, I'm pretty excited about this season.

I hope like heck that J. Angelo did the right thing when he picked up Cutler. I was against the trade when it happened and I'm still not sold on it. Only a deep run into the playoffs will convince me the Cutler trade was the right thing to do.

Greetings:

As a Denver Broncos fan since the old AFL days, I'm sad to see J. Cutler leave. He does have some "growing up" to do from the standpoint of a human however, I'm sure Lovie can handle that issue. He's a quality Head Coach and a better man. Once that issue gets settled (and Lovie WILL settle it I'm sure), the Bears should have a quality Pro Bowl (top 3 or 4) type QB for a decade or more.

I wish you guys well. OH yeah, can somebody tell me how you toss a "near interception" and what that REALLY is? Making up stats so as to make yourself sound smart usually only feeds people ammunition to prove you are something less than what you make yourself out to be.

Good luck to you guys in the NFC. The Broncos have a long road back to the top of the AFC too.

Bob Schnebly

Did I just read that someone will will only consider this trade a success if the Bears make a deep run in the playoffs this year? And another wrote that we'll revisit this in October with the implication that if Cutler is not doing well in October, the trade is bad? Seriously, you can not judge this trade for 5+ years. Cutler is going to be on the Bears for more than one season (and hopefully he will be improving each year) and the Broncos still haven't made all their picks from the trade. Actually, people may be on to something. I think that if Jay Cutler throws an incomplete pass on his first attempt in the preseason, the Bears should cut him. Jeesh, if we use the standards that some people have to determine this trade, Walter Payton would have been cut after his first season.

Bill T. I completely and utterly disagree. The last thing this team needs is Grossman anywhere near this team. Familiarity does not out weight the fact Grossman has proven he is not a NFL QB simple as that. The rest of the NFL has spoken he is still without a team, that's for a reason. Hanie's physical skills sets closely mirror Cutler's except arm strength and is now familiar with the offense. The Bears must think so too not risking placing him on the practice squad. Greise has worn out his welcome everywere he has gone why bring that back into the lockeroom. Let this staff see what it can do with better tools in key spots let's see if they are able to really coach. This should be fun.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 31, 2009 6:42 AM.

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