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.