When it comes to quarterback play, the Green Bay Packers are fortunate. Not only have the Packers transitioned from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another, but they also possess the top passer in a division stocked with talented arms. The NFC North is one of only two divisions where every starting quarterback has led their team to the playoffs. In the modern NFL where passing and the ability to defend the pass are the strongest indicators of wins and losses, it’s important for Green Bay to keep tabs on the quarterbacks it sees most often.
With that in mind, let’s profile the resume and project the future for one of the NFC North’s other quarterbacks.
So without further adieu, the next NFC North quarterback under the microscope is …
Name: Jay Cutler
Team: Chicago Bears
Age: 29 (30 by week 1)
Experience: 93 games, all starts
Resume: In terms of regular reason starts, Jay Cutler is the most experienced quarterback in the NFC North. Cutler’s career is best viewed as the tale of two quarterbacks. In Denver, Cutler threw for more yards and touchdowns with each passing season, culminating in his 4,526 yards 25 touchdown year in 2008.
In Chicago, the reverse occurred, with Cutler sliding in each of those categories until last season.
Those numbers don’t tell the complete story, however.
Cutler’s improved throwing interceptions 4.3 percent of the time his first two seasons with the Bears to a more reasonable 2.8 percent. Unfortunately for Chicago, his touchdown percentage dropped from 5.1 percent to 4.3 percent over the same period. The latter figure is only marginally superior to Ponder’s 4 percent over the same period. Worse still, Cutler is the division’s least accurate passer the last two years, completing only 58.4 percent of his pass attempts during that time.
However, it’s only fair to point out that Cutler has been saddled with easily the worst offensive coaching in the division. It’s for that very reason that Lovie Smith’s staff was sent packing after 2012 with noted offensive guru Marc Trestman taking the reins. Cutler is more talented than his aggregated Chicago statistics suggest. It’s easy to forget that in 2010, Cutler threw for a career high 5.3 touchdown percentage and his best touchdown-to-interception ratio (counting only seasons with 12 or more starts). When the conditions are favorable, that’s closer to the quarterback he really is.
Projection: Like Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, 2013 will be crucial for identifying Cutler’s future. When Cutler had quality offensive coaches, he was a 4,500-yard-plus passer with reasonable accuracy.
That hasn’t been the case in Chicago, but with Trestman now in charge that figures to change. With Brandon Marshall and a now healthy Alshon Jeffery manning the starting receiver spots, Matt Forte still possessing great hands out of the backfield, and an offensive line that can only improve, Cutler should have the tools necessary to resurrect his career.
The only thing standing in Cutler’s way is Bears GM Phil Emery. Emery was not part of the regime that traded for Cutler. With only one year left on Cutler’s contract and a new head coach in town, Emery may use this offseason to find his quarterback. If this happens, Cutler’s 2013 season will become an open audition.
That doesn’t mean Cutler can’t succeed. In 2004, second year Chargers GM A.J. Smith drafted Philip Rivers to be the long-term replacement for Drew Brees, the inconsistent incumbent drafted by the previous administration. The added pressure pushed Brees to produce the best season he’d ever have as a Charger. While Cutler is older than Brees was then, it’s reasonable to expect Cutler to perform well even in this scenario.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Lombardi Ave. He has previously written for Hail to the Orange, College Hoops Net, Mocking the Draft, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.