Quick... off the top of your head, name the best quarterbacks in the NFL today? If you're like me the top two are easily Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Then there'll be a handful of players in the next group: Drew Brees for sure, maybe Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and some might put Aaron Rodgers in with the best playing today. Those guys are all playing at a high level, but what do they all have in common?
They've all been running the same offense for some time now, and that stability is all that's holding Jay Cutler back in his development from becoming a top tier quarterback. Cutler currently ranks 13th in QB rating and all 12 guys ahead of him have been calling plays in the same system for more than the lone season Cutler has. In fact, of the top 20 rated quarterbacks in the NFL today, only nineteenth ranked Jason Campbell (besides the aforementioned Cutler) is in his initial year with his offense. I'll never understand why this fact isn't brought up more when the talking heads criticize Jay.
If Mike Martz and his system is still around in 2011, Jay Cutler will be mentioned with those top QBs. In his Pro Bowl year with the Broncos, it was his 3rd year in the pro ranks, and his 3rd year in the same Mike Shanahan system. Then he was traded to Chicago and he had to learn the Ron Turner version of the West Coast offense, and this year he gets in the Martzfense. Three years, and essentially three different languages to learn. Each playcaller has his own language, when one coordinator calls a "Split right slot Zoom Liz 989 F Rub Sneak" that may not be what another calls it. Formations may be color coded, given animal names, or countless other options. A "slot" to some may be a "wing over" to others. A "zoom" motion might be "zip" motion in another system. Some offenses have different route trees for the split receivers and for the slot receivers. Some offenses have different protection calls, different rules for the backfield, different sight reads... different being the key word here. Give Jay Cutler another year, and his familiarity will eventually get to the point where he's reacting instead of thinking.
Now to some Cutler stuff I just want to vent on for a bit. The color analysts often praise his ability to make plays with his feet and strong arm, then in the same broadcast, crack on him for having poor fundamentals. Can they really have it both ways? I can't stand when they talk out of both sides of their mouths, and the studio guys are no better. They'll spend all pregame ripping his bad mechanics, then all post game marveling at his ability to make strong armed throws without setting his feet.
It seems that the result of the play is what determines whether Cutler is bashed or lauded. Jay delivers a perfect strike off his back foot for a TD and we hear how strong an arm Cutler has. He throws the same pass, but it's picked, and we have to sit through a 'poor fundamental' lecture.
Here's a newsflash; Not every pass is thrown in the NFL using proper footwork. In a perfect world, an offensive line will make a perfect pocket for a QB to step up and throw from, but those instances are few and far between. I don't care how the ball gets there as long as it gets there. Just last night I watched Drew Brees throw off his back foot, throw flat footed, and flip the ball towards his intended target. Some worked out well, and some bad. Monday Night Football analyst Steve Young had this to say,
"He had a couple of boneheaded things that he knows he did wrong, that would have cost most teams the Division, the playoffs, everything else. But he rallied to the issue at hand like maybe two or three guys in the world can do. And that's why the New Orleans Saints won a championship last year."
Which points to the lack of team success that Cutler has had thus far in his career. He finally got the playoff monkey off his back, but if he's one and done come playoff time, many of the experts will just assume they're right about him and continue their current critical stance. I seem to remember Peyton Manning getting blasted for his lack of playoff success, then for his inability to win a title. Cutler will have the knock on him about his sometimes reckless play until he can stack together a few winning seasons and find some playoff success, and maybe he'll hear it until his team wins a Super Bowl.
I don't mind Cutler trying to force throws on occasion, because it's that supreme confidence in his arm that allows him to make the 'did you see that' type of plays. The one area I'd like to see him improve on is having a better feel for throwing the ball away when outside the pocket. He's had a number of sacks this year that could have been avoided had he simply chucked the ball in the dirt. Jay Cutler has arguably the strongest arm in the NFL, and yes, his strong arm has led to him making poor decisions from time to time, but his arm, his mobility, and his football IQ, tells me that the only missing piece to his attaining the next level is that offensive continuity.