When people hear Jay Cutler, there's two common sentiments: Pouty and Erratic Under Pressure. The former has been well documented, and regardless of your opinion, there's the second. In my travels amongst fan bases, everyone says 'pressure Cutler and make him turn over the ball' as their key to win the game, like it's something special of Cutler that a league average quarterback doesn't suffer from. Where Cutler was in 2009 to where he is today, I don't think that actually the case. It's the Tony Romo conundrum of being in the spotlight and peoples memory of certain players getting warped as the outlier being the norm.
There's two types of pressure, applied pressure and received pressure. Applied pressure is the blitz, the overload, the zone blitz, it's what the defense controls. Recieved pressure is the opposite, it's how the offense takes what the defense is doing, and responding adequately, in situations where pressure isn't received adequately whether it's a four man rush or a seven man rush.
When Cutler's blitzed, not when he's under pressure, this year (as of Week 7), he sports an 88 passer rating. That puts him in some pretty natural company, through the same time: Matt Schaub is 85, 'Clutch' Eli Manning is 92, and Tony Romo is 83. This past weekend was no illusion. When teams send extra guys at Cutler and that offensive line, they can be productive. Tennessee threw the bucket, blitz after blitz to the team. And as was noted a lot in the offseason, you can gameplan around that, you can be productive even if you're being blitzed, even if you have a subpar line. And we saw a clinic in how that worked in the second half of the Titans game, brought to you by Second Half Jay Cutler, twice as good as First Half Jay Cutler and now with more flavour. The obvious answer to why Jay Cutler is good against the Blitz has as much to do with him, as it does the quality of receivers around him. When you're blitzing, you don't cover the same zones there's more space, and sometimes free receivers have windows where they're open. The key for Cutler and the Receivers is getting on the same page and finding the holes in coverage.
Bears were showing blitz, Dallas was notating hot routes and Dez Bryant was likely going to get the ball fast on the quick release. Bryant was well covered, yes, even if he ran his route right it would have been a tough play, but there was the adjustment to recognize the pressure that was to be applied, and the reaction that the Dallas offense had to make based on the play they were running. Receivers play an integral part in QB's ability to make plays when defenses decide to apply pressure, they have to play their routes, they have to get separation early, and they have to catch the ball. One of the major differences for the Bears has been Brandon Marshall in this. We harp on Cutler for focusing on Marshall, but, contrarily, Marshall is beating the separation. Marshall is making plays, catching the ball on those routes when the defense applies pressure. Jay Cutler's been good when people decided to get aggressive and say, we're going to sack him, we're going to pressure him, we're going to cause him to make mistakes. It's just not the way this season has gone.
When teams blitz, it's a double edged sword though. The Bears keep in more and more blockers, and going out on less and less routes, but there's less defenders to cover the WR's on routes. When the Bears play max protect, sometimes defenders can rush to coverage. If you're unfamiliar with rushing to coverage, it's where a player has a responsibility, like the strong side LB in a 4-3 is covering the strong side TE. The TE stays into block, the SLB reads the TE and blitzes as well. Where this is good for the defense is that it can confuse responsibility and bring additional pressure, and we've seen this happen even when Max Protect happens, a 5 man rush can bring down Cutler, which brings us to the real problem: Received pressure.
Cutler suffers when he receives pressure, but you can't conflate that in order to create pressure, you have to blitz. The mentality is common, that blitzing is important to create pressure, but as Bears fans know, it's not. Rewatching the Panthers game, there was so many times where the Panthers did on defense, what the Bears like to (blame Ron Rivera for that). Look like their going to Blitz, fake the pressure, confuse the line and Cutler before the snap, pick up pressure. I don't have an accurate count, but my numbers tell me that most of the sacks didn't come from blitzes. A majority of sacks have come from a few concerning ways: Cutler holding onto the ball too long which is both on Cutler and the Receivers, and Linemen failing to engage correctly, especially on the outside in four man rushers. Covering the receivers though, taking away Marshall is considerably more important for defenses to do than exploiting the offensive line through blitzing, because the receivers haven't been able to get adequate separation from their coverage, Cutler holds onto the ball, he fails at making quick decisions, and he's creating pressure on his own with his feet in the pocket over the past few weeks. And those things, with or without the Blitz, create 'received pressure'.
Cutler has thrown 2 or more interceptions once this year. And in those games that he's thrown one, only a few were damaging, like two weeks ago versus Carolina on that deep shot to Marshall that just didn't get there, or against Jacksonville was a 4 man rush on a botched snap that Marshall couldn't hold onto but Derrick Cox could, or against St. Louis where it was a 4 man rush, and it bounces off Marshall, or against the Colts where it was a bad read that wasn't on a blitz that caused a turnover. What about Green Bay?
When people say 'Blitz Cutler, Get into his head, make him turn over the ball'. It has only been relevant in one game this year: against the Green Bay Packers. And people remember this game, people recall this game on the big stage on Thursday Night Football in the beginning of season. They recall how Green Bay beat Chicago, but what they don't recall is: Green Bay dropped 7 most of the game. First Interception by Green Bay was a 4 man rush, the second? A three man rush, the third? 7 guys sticking in to block, and a delayed blitz by AJ Hawk while initially rushing 4, and the very last one, 4 minutes left in the fourth, Green Bay sends the house against a max protect, protection breaks down, and Green Bay comes up with another interception. People remember that moment of the Bears line getting overwhelmed, just that sea of green and gold overwhelming the line.
Green Bay did what Chicago does, which is drop 7, and create pressure. Green Bay brought extra pressure from time to time, not consistently, and took advantage of the poor playcalling by Mike Tice, and there you have it, what is imprinted on peoples mind. Cutler didn't throw significantly more interception on blitzes, Cutler didn't fumble the ball significantly more on blitzes. The way to get Cutler to throw into bad situations this year? Play like the Chicago Bears defense.