Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cutler value

Much of the speculation surrounding the Cutler trade hinges on the question of value. "Did the Bears give up too much" to get the best quarterback in their history, the chattering heads are clamoring. Obviously this question of value can be addressed in many ways, but however it breaks down I'm immediately inclined to think 'No.'

First off, according to the trade value chart NFL teams use with draft picks, Chicago ultimately sent Kyle Orton and the 4th overall pick for Jay Cutler. This could mean that the Bears lost out on someone like Michael Crabtree to pair with Orton in order to get Cutler. Or it could mean that they saved some money by passing on Cedric Benson. The trade is actually two mid to late picks instead of one high pick, which I think makes it more likely that the Bears traded two more stabs at potential starting O-linemen. The line is a much easier prospect to solve with free agents than qb. The Bears signed Omiyale, Shaffer and Pace already while no one approaching Cutler's ability has ever seen the open market. A great line with an average qb can keep a good team in games, but after watching Bears-Packers in the 90's, I have to think a great qb with an average line can win games outright.

Which brings us to the question of records. Suddenly it's super important that Kyle Orton went 10-5 with the best defense in the NFL and 11-7 from the end of 2007 on. Sure 21-12 looks great, but he's never played in a playoff game and at the end of the season he failed keep the team on pace after Daniel Manning gave up 14 points single-handedly in the Texans loss. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler has a sub .500 17-20 record in three seasons with an atrocious defense and special teams in Denver. He also failed to keep pace for his team in a final regular season loss on the road last season. Denver however conceded 52 points. On the face of it Orton would appear to be a winner who just finds a way to get it done while Cutler can't get over that hump. This could be a worrying statistic if the two teams were even remotely similar. Fortunately, from the Bear standpoint, Denver had the league's worst defense next to Detroit in every category. Chicago's defense has been widely panned since they lost the Superbowl, but continues to function at a minimum top-half level. Which means that Cutler would have won multiple games in the Motor City last season, while Orton left Ford Field trailing.

The final point that people have been parading about in Denver is that despite racking up the most yards in the league last season, Denver only scored the 16th most points. The argument is that Cutler moves the ball easily but has trouble scoring. In five more trips inside the red zone last year Denver managed two more touchdowns than Chicago and three less field goals for a total of six more empty trips. (55-30-14 vs. 50-28-17) Cutler did however account for six more red zone touchdowns than Oroton. (17 pass, 2 rush vs. 11, 2) This of course could have several mitigating circumstances, notably the lack of a short yardage running game in Denver, and even though Denver had six more empty trips, they actually scored more points and had only one less score. (222, 44 vs. 219, 45) More importantly, Denver's offense accounted for five more total touchdowns, passing touchdowns and field goal attempts than Chicago's. (40-25-34 vs. 35-20-29) Denver led the league in average yards per drive at 38.38 a full 14 higher than Chicago's almost 24; conversely the Bears average starting field position of 33.48 led the league again in 2008 while the Broncos were the worst, starting just shy of the 26. Despite this Denver dwarfed Chicago in points, touchdowns and punts per drive. (2.16, .244, .28 vs. 1.67, .182, .485) The only number comparison from last season that favors Orton is interception percentage per throw and drives per interception. (2.6, .071 vs. 2.9, .110) Again mitigating factors abound, Orton played in a safer system with a stable running game and a team that wasn't playing catch-up and didn't need to out-score too many opponents to win, while Cutler was saddled with an inconsistent running game on a team that was either behind or soon would be without putting up points. Denver also had a more successful and talented offense built around Cutler than Orton could have dreamed of in the Windy City.

In the end, Orton did almost enough of the little he was asked to do. He took care of the ball, handed it off and gave the defense and Hester the chance to win with big plays. With the worst defense and special teams in the NFL, Cutler was asked to pass over all the glaring holes. He too fell short. But when I consider if Cutler will be able to do what is asked of him in Chicago, did the Bears over-pay? Certainly not.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cutler excitement

When I heard about the Pace and Lucas visits last week I was worried that Angelo was preparing to make a trade for Cutler. Pace would free up this year's first-round pick and Lucas would provide more freedom in trading secondary players. Then Lucas said that he never discussed a contract which made it pretty obvious that his visit was a favor to his agent Bus Cook. Angelo couldn't talk to Cutler, but he could discuss him all he wanted with Cook while Lucas was in town.

Now that the trade has happened and I've had time to bone up on Cutler, I have to give Angelo a ton of credit. Getting Cutler and Pace has added more to this offence than a whole draft could. Basically, Cutler and Pace are the Bears two first-rounders and Orton and a three turned into a five. That is a great turn.

I just watched the NFL Replay of Denver's week 2 win over San Diego. Probably Cutler can't be this good every week, but basically it's ridiculous how much higher his ceiling is than Orton's. Denver hardly ever ran the ball so Cutler won't get as many throwing opportunities as he did last season, but his precision is something I've never seen with regularity, except of course when watching Green Bay march through our defense for years. Orton had a few threaded throws last season, he is capable of it, but Cutler made at least 4 throws in pressure situations in that game that Orton is simply incapable of making. There also was a running play in that game where Cutler outran the back 20 yards down field and threw a block that added 25 yards to the play; Cutler's leadership will not be a question from the moment he puts the "C" on Monday morning.
It is clear that Denver has more talent at the receiver position, but Cutler simply makes the receivers' jobs easier. He has a beautiful spiral with zip and he almost always puts his throws in the perfect place. Furthermore Cutler does this consistently while on the run. Hester and Bennett might not be as good as Marshall and Royal, but the way Cutler throws as long as they can catch the difference will be negligible. And Forte, Olsen and Clark are better than what Denver had to offer.

The Bears upgraded their offense in this deal far beyond what three higher draft picks would have done for them. They also received a fifth-round pick, which is much more of Angelo's money round anyway, and they can still add a receiver with their first selection. I also believe that Pace wouldn't have signed without the Cutler trade. He wants a shot at a ring and protecting Cutler to Hester has to look a lot better in that light.

With the changes already made on offense, and with an entirely new and upgraded defensive coaching staff, and with the draft still to come, it is an amazing off-season in Chicago and it's very exciting to think about watching this team next year.