KC Joyner received such a spirited response from Bears and Jay Cutler followers last week in his online chat at ESPN.com that he's back with more analysis, this time on the New York Times' blog The FIfth Down.
Joyner's comment that Cutler "will make Bears fans remember Rex Grossman'' has sparked controversy here and in plenty of other places, including ProFootballTalk.com. Joyner says that Cutler is a risk taker who will win some games for the Bears with his aggressive approach and lose some for them as well. Cue the fireworks.
"I understand that fan scrutiny comes with the territory, so I don't mind that, but what I don't understand is why those fans are treating Cutler differently than they did either Grossman or Kyle Orton. Grossman was on fire during the first part of Chicago's Super Bowl season, and yet as soon as he had the bad game against Miami, it seemed the entire city turned on him. It didn't go that much differently for Orton. He had a tremendous start to the 2008 season, but when he struggled down the stretch, the populace seemed to say goodbye and good riddance without much of a second thought."
Joyner points out that while Cutler passed for more than 4,500 yards in Denver last season, he was second in the league with 616 attempts and his yards per attempt on vertical throws was 9.8 yards, 20th in the league. The stat that has readers here most agitated is the bad decision rate of 4.6 percent with Joyner defining a bad decision as one that leads to a turnover or a near turnover. Presumably (we're interested in learning more about this), it doesn't include a ball that goes off a wide receiver's shoulder pads and bounces 10 feet to the nearest defender before being intercepted. The bottom line is we don't have those numbers in front of us other than the 4.6 percent rate for Cutler was worst in the league.
One of the common replies, at least here, to all of this has been that Cutler played with one of the worst defenses imaginable on an 8-8 Broncos team and had to keep chucking the ball to try to keep his team in games. (Every quarterback is going to make more mistakes when they are playing from behind). Denver's defense was 29th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. The good folks at Football Outsiders ranked the defense 31st in the league, so we can agree it was sufficiently lousy.
What we do have are some interception totals and to best look at the information we pulled the numbers for the 20 quarterbacks with the most attempts in the league last season, and we grabbed the 2006 numbers for Rex Grossman just for the sake of comparison. To help put it in perspective, we also list the record of the quarterback's team to try and give and idea how often they might have been playing in a game with a lead. For instance, St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger threw only one interception with the lead last season. He had 12 when the Rams were trailing and one when the game was tied. Well, St. Louis won only two games. How often did Bulger even play with a lead? The chart shows how many picks each quarterback threw with the lead, trailing and when the score was tied.
QB (Team Record) Pass Attempts Interceptions Leading-Trailing-Tied
Drew Brees (8-8) 635 17 1-13-3
Jay Cutler (8-8) 616 18 5-12-1
Kurt Warner (9-7) 598 14 3-9-2
Donovan McNabb (9-6-1) 571 11 2-7-2
Peyton Manning (12-4) 555 12 3-7-2
Aaron Rodgers (6-10) 536 13 2-10-1
David Garrard (5-11) 535 13 0-11-2
Brett Favre (9-7) 522 22 9-9-4
Matt Cassel (11-5) 516 11 3-5-3
Jason Campbell (8-8) 506 6 1-4-1
Eli Manning (12-4) 479 10 4-5-1
Philip Rivers (8-8) 478 11 1-6-4
Chad Pennington (11-5) 476 7 2-4-1
Ben Roethlisberger (12-4) 469 15 6-6-3
Kyle Orton (9-7) 465 12 4-7-1
Tony Romo (9-7) 450 14 5-4-5
Marc Bulger (2-14) 440 13 1-12-0
Matt Ryan (11-5) 434 11 3-4-4
Joe Flacco (11-5) 428 12 2-7-3
Tyler Thigpen (2-14) 420 12 3-8-1
*Rex Grossman (13-3) 480 3-12-5
* Grossman's 2006 numbers
What does it all say? Well, we're not convinced any definitive conclusions can be made from the chart but maybe you can draw something from it. Only Favre and Roethlisberger threw more picks while their team was in the lead than Cutler did. During the Bears' 2006 Super Bowl season Grossman had 20 interceptions and only three came with the Bears in front although five more came with the score tied.
The bottom line is the Bears are better with Cutler, and Joyner and others believe the quarterback still needs to improve. Imagine what it would be like if they still had a quarterback being ignored by the masses. No one was rushing to break down the three-headed monster that was Jonathan Quinn-Craig Krenzel-Chad Hutchinson. Who paid attention when the Quarterback Clown Car had a parking spot front and center at Halas Hall?
"The only reason I can come up with as to why Bears fans are reacting like this is that the quarterback position has been such a headache for them over the years that they will do just about anything to make it go away,'' Joyner wrote. "If that means ignoring Cutler's shortcomings so that at least one off-season goes by without having to wonder if their quarterback's play will measure up, they'll do it just for the temporary peace of mind. I do admire that kind of team passion and loyalty, but I'd admire it a bit more if it were done by hoping that Cutler could improve his game rather than by backing his mixed bag of performance history."