As evidenced by Monday's loss to the 49ers, the Bears are lost without Jay Cutler. Much has been made of his record, so let's look at how the Bears have done with and without him.
Since his arrival in 2010, there has been little argument that the Bears are better without Jay Cutler than they are with him. Very few have argued that whoever the back up has been should have been on the field ahead of Cutler.
After the loss on Monday, there was a lot of discussion about Jay Cutler's record as a starter with the Bears over the last couple years and just how much better the team is with him under center versus a back up. I think that it is an interesting topic and thought it was worth looking into.
So, what is Cutler's record and what does that say about him, his rank in the league and what it means for the team?
First off, let's get to his record. It's one of the most looked-at stats for a QB and was a huge target of the criticism when the Bears traded for him. At the time, Cutler's record as a starter for the Broncos was 17-20 and many critics pointed this out, as the Bears were trading away a starter in Kyle Orton who owned a 21-12 record as a starter.
Since then, though, it has gone in different directions. Even in his first year with the Bears, when Cutler started 16 games and the team struggled to a 7-9 finish, Cutler has turned his record around. He currently holds a 31-19 record for a .650 winning percentage.
Here's breakdown of his record by season:
Now he has missed a few games in recent years and here is how his back ups have fared:
2010: Todd Collins 1-0
2012: Jason Campbell 0-1
So in the last three years alone, Cutler has a 24-10 record while his replacements are 2-6. This also takes into account the games Cutler started but did not finish (New York Giants in 2010 and the Texans this year). So whether you want to count those or not, it shows that his record is quite a bit better than his back ups.
Even if Jason Campbell is a more capable back up than Hanie or Collins, he's still no replacement for Cutler himself.
Now consider the team's biggest offensive weakness over this time: the offensive line. Cutler has managed to win games behind a line that beyond awful. It may be one of the three worst lines in football currently. Yet Cutler managed to win seven games behind them this year.
Here are the number of sacks Jay Cutler has taken with the number of pass attempts he's had. I also threw in pro-football-reference.com's sack percentage. This is calculated by times sack divided by pass attempts plus times sacked or written as times sacked/(pass attempts + times sacked)
2009: 35 sacks on 555 attempts 5.9% sack rate
2010: 52 sacks on 432 attempts 10.7% sack rate
2011: 23 sacks on 314 attempts 6.8% sack rate
2012: 28 sacks on 255 attempts 9.9% sack rate
For Cutler's back ups the numbers are such:
2010: Collins: 2 sacks on 27 attempts 6.9%
2011: Hanie: 19 sacks on 102 attempts, 15.7%, Josh McCown 7 sacks on 55 attempts 11.3%
2012: Campbell 6 sacks on 42 attempts 12.5%
So while the sample size is much, much smaller for the back ups, it appears that the numbers say Cutler makes the line better. He may get sacked a lot, but he somehow avoids a lot of pressure and gets the line to play better or at least "look" better.
Not only then, does Cutler have a .650 winning percentage as a starter with the Bears, but he also gets the most out of the guys blocking in front of him. Cutler has been criticized for holding the ball too long, but his couterparts are, at least numbers-wise, worse than he is.
Furthermore, the Bears score more with Cutler at the helm. Again here are the numbers:
2009: 20.4 points per game
2010: Cutler - 20.7, Collins - 23
2011: Cutler - 26.8, Hanie and McCown - 14.1
2012: Cutler - 34.6, Campbell - 7
Now, in 2010 Cutler missed only the one game against the Panthers and the Bears just ran Matt Forte a bunch of times and Collins wasn't asked to do much. The numbers end up virtually the same, but clearly 2011 is the best indication that Cutler is better at running the offense.
For the team, this means Cutler is clearly the franchise-level QB the Bears expected him to be when they traded for him, even without winning Super Bowls or throwing for 4,000 yards. He wins games and that is all that matters in this league.
With his contract setting to expire after next season and extension discussions looming, perhaps these numbers will creep into the conversation between his agent and the team. Clearly, Cutler is worth more to the Bears than his back ups.
The Bears are in capable hands with Jason Campbell, but with the offensive line the way it is, they may not win with him.
The sooner the Bears can get Cutler back, the better off they will be. At least the numbers say so.