Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports

Bears 2015 Season Review: Quarterback

Most believe 2015 was Jay Cutler's best year as a member of the Chicago Bears. We dig deep to reveal the truth.

Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase is currently doing his Trump tour of the NFL, with teams fawning over his ability to raise Chicago's offense from 21st overall to 18th this year. 

The Browns, Dolphins and Eagles are among the franchises climbing over each other to get a shot at Gase, touting his amazing job in "fixing" Jay Cutler this season. 

Whether or not Gase - who went through this same process last year and was unable to secure a head coach offer - deserves to be the most sought after candidate in the league is up for debate, yet almost everyone is in unison regarding Cutler's dramatic turnaround this season. 

Cutler threw just 11 interceptions this season, which is the foundation for the "fixed" argument. It was the fewest interceptions he's thrown in any season in which he started 15 or more games during his 10-year NFL career. That is undeniable improvement, especially considering his final two picks were the result of him getting hit as he released the ball. 

Cutler's reduction in interceptions, as well as career highs in completion percentage (64.4) and QB rating (92.3) are positives steps in the right direction. He was also elusive in the pocket and was sacked nine times fewer than last season. His 3,659 passing yards were the third most of his career, while his 21 TD throws were his second most since 2011. 

In essence, Gase did what no one thought was possible, turning Cutler into a legitimate game manager with enhanced decision making and increased pocket presence. 

On the flip side, Cutler lost five fumbles this year, giving him 16 total turnovers. That's eight fewer than his league-leading 24 turnovers last season, which equates to 0.5 fewer turnovers per contest than 2014. 

That is definitely a sign of his development and maturity as a passer, but half a turnover per game only equated to one more victory this year over last season. Football is a team game and Cutler by no means lost any of those contests on his own but, at the end of the day, all of that supposed "improvement" did very little in terms of making the playoffs. (And before you castrate me, remember, the defense improved substantially in every single category this year, while the run game was consistent the entire season). 

Yes, Cutler played better this year but what does that mean when the offense finishes 18th overall, 23rd in passing and 23rd in points scored, and the team goes 6-10? And who is to blame for the offense ranking 26th in the league in red-zone efficiency? 

Again, the overall struggles of the offense and the team do not fall squarely on the shoulders of Cutler. The point is that while Cutler took a step forward in 2015, what does that mean for the team going forward? Is he still a long-term option at 32 years old or was his improvement this year a blip on a fairly underwhelming radar? 

Let's look deeper to answer those equestions.

Accuracy

Cutler's 64.4 completion percentage was a career high but it ranked just 14th in the league. Pro Football Focus uses a metric that cuts out balls thrown away, balls spiked, batted passes and passes that fell incomplete due to the QB being hit as he threw. Cutler's Accuracy Percentage rose to 73.4 using that metric, yet that ranked 17th in the NFL. 

Deep Passes

Cutler completed 37.0 percent of passes thrown 20 yards or further. That ranked 16th in the NFL - although in this area, the injuries to Jeffery and White played a big role, so Cutler's deep pass accuracy should improve if both players are healthy and playing in Chicago next season. 

Under Pressure

Of his 527 drop backs, Cutler was pressured 202 times. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes under pressure, which was 11th best in the league. 

Play Action

Cutler used a play-action fake on 92 of his 527 drop backs, completing 71.6 of those passes, which was 4th best in the league. That's impressive. Yet his overall QB rating on play-action passes (103.4) was just 11 best in the NFL. Without play action, Cutler's 90.0 QB rating was 16th best. 

Verdict

This was, by far, Cutler's best season as a professional, eclipsing even his Pro Bowl campaign in 2008. Yet all that did was make him an average quarterback, instead of a below-average turnover-prone passer. It was a step in the right direction but if this is good as Cutler gets, then there are still roughly 15 better QBs in the NFL. 

But that's not such a bad thing. If you have the right parts around him, an average NFL quarterback can help guide a team to a championship. Just ask Trent Dilfer. And if Cutler develops further next year - with healthy receivers, an improved defense and an upgraded offensive line - the Bears will be legitimate playoff contenders. 

I'm not saying the Bears can't win with Cutler. They absolutely can, although the team's next offensive coordinator will play a large role in whether or not No. 6 can sustain his relatively high level of play. But, based on nearly every statistic you can muster, he's no more than a middle-of-the-pack passer, even at his best. 

Again, there's nothing wrong with that, especially if he continues to improve. But if Cutler regresses at all in 2016, even in the slightest, it's going to be tough for the Bears to win on a consistent basis. 

GM Ryan Pace is full aware of this reality. 

"I think Jay played really well this season," Pace said this week. "I was happy with his performance, especially with a lot of injuries to our skilled players. He persevered through that. Jay played well. In regards to the draft, and I honestly mean this, it’s always going to be best player available. So if it’s a quarterback, it’s a quarterback. I’ve said before how important that position is and that will continue to be the case."

The Bears are tied to Cutler for one more season due to his $17 million guaranteed salary next year, but don't be surprised if Pace drafts his long-term replacement this off-season, and puts Cutler out to pasture in 2017. 


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