The Chicago Bears announced yesterday that Jimmy Clausen will be the new starting quarterback going forward. That means that the veteran Jay Cutler will be riding it out on the bench for the last two weeks of the season, barring an injury. This move was preempted by the comments released last week that the Bears’ front office and coaching staff was feeling some “buyer’s remorse” after signing Cutler to a big extension in the off season that has left the team both cash strapped and in an unenviable position. This is showing some signs as well that current coach Marc Trestman will not go down without a fight. Trestman’s job is rumored to be on the line and the Bears’ poor play of late is not helping his odds. Everyone has pegged this as being Cutler’s fault though. Clearly he bears the burden for the team’s failures right? Well maybe not. Let’s take a second look.
Cutler is actually in the midst of a career year in Chicago. I won’t go as far as to say that he deserved all of the money he makes right now but he is definitely a serviceable starter in the NFL. Cutler was on pace to put up over 4,000 yards, something he had never done as a Bear and he already threw for a career high in touchdowns. His completion percentage is well above his career average (66.1 compared to 61.7). His quarterback rating is also at a career high while his QBR (rating system that takes into account a quarterback’s full body of work in a game) is on par with past years. The league leading 18 interceptions jump out as an indicator of a bad year but in reality Cutler has been about as average as they come.
Does that mean that he gets a pass? Absolutely not. With an offense consisting of Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett, you should not be a 5-9 team if you are a good quarterback. But all of the blame should not fall on Cutler. The Bears defense has been one of the worst in the league. This unit is giving up an average of 6.1 yards per play, tied for third worst in the league. Chicago has given up the second most passing yards and the most passing touchdowns. The run defense has been mostly average all year falling in the middle of the pack for yards and touchdowns allowed. On the whole though, the Bears have allowed the most points per game to opponents out of any team in the NFL. There Bears’ offense might not have lived up to all of its expectations but it is not hard to see why they get outscored week in and week out.
The rushing attack hasn’t been much help either. The Bears rank in the bottom quarter of the league when it comes to running the ball and Chicago’s running backs have fallen right in line with the league average per carry (4.1). By no means is the ground attack something Cutler can rely on if he is struggling or some of his top targets, most recently Brandon Marshall, are hurt. The Bears also do not have the luxury of being able to run because of how frequently they find themselves trailing in the second half of games.
So no, Jay Cutler should not be forgiven for every mistake he has made and immediately named to the Pro Bowl but the Bears woes this season do not fall all on his shoulders. Yet, time and time again, the quarterback seems to be the one who is praised when the team does well, and the one who is scapegoated when the team struggles. That is just part of the job. Cutler’s laid back attitude probably doesn’t help his image much either when it comes to fans who think he does not care enough to work harder. Unfortunately, this team needs a bit more than just an attitude change to compete again. It might begin with Cutler, but it certainly goes much deeper than that.