Elite Quarterback Illusion: Why Jay Cutler is Good Enough to Win a Super Bowl

cutlerIn the modern day NFL, everything is about the quarterback. It is a pass-driven league and teams cannot survive without a quality quarterback under center. That is why teams invest so much in their passers, with both money and draft picks. The Chicago Bears invested quite a bit to get Jay Cutler, trading two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and Kyle Orton to the Denver Broncos in 2008.

Throughout his tenure as the Bears’ quarterback, Cutler has been doubted by many Bears fans. There are many legitimate reasons to be concerned with Cutler. He has very poor mechanics, with sloppy footwork and questionable decision-making. Those are some of the reasons for his 1.36-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Others reasons have been out of his control. He has never had a good offensive line or great receivers Chicago, and he has had now four offensive coordinators in the last five years. It made for a toxic combination.

Given that, there are a lot of good things about Cutler as well. He has one of the strongest, if not the strongest, arms in the league, firing lasers with ease.  He is also very mobile, excelling when rolling out of the pocket, and he is capable of gaining first downs with his feet. Contrary to popular belief, Cuter is extremely tough. The only quarterback sacked more than him during the last three seasons is Aaron Rodgers, and that does not count the hits he takes after releasing the ball. Cutler has been constantly thrown around by defenders, and it is surprising that he has not missed more games because of it.

Weighing the good against the bad, Cutler comes out as a slightly above-average quarterback. He is not dominant, but he is not awful either. He has been good but not great. The question is, is he good enough to win a Super Bowl? When fans think of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, they think of the greats – Tom Brady, Joe Montana, John Elway, ect. Jay Cutler is not as good as the greats, but that does not mean he cannot win a Super Bowl. Sure, it is easier for an elite quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but it does not mean a team has to have won to win the big game.

Take a look at some recent Super Bowl winning quarterbacks – Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger. Those three are far from elite quarterbacks. Joe Flacco has yet to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season. 11 quarterbacks surpassed 4,000 yards in 2012, and 10 did it in 2011. Flacco has never thrown more than 25 touchdowns in a season. 12 quarterbacks did that in 2012. Flacco has been a non-top-10 quarterback his entire career, and now that he has won a Super Bowl, he is considered one of the best in the league. No one is saying he is as good as Brady or Rodgers, but he is in the top eight or so.

Eli Manning follows a similar trend. He has never had a completion percentage of 63-percent or higher. Nine quarterbacks were at or above that mark in 2012, or 10 if you count Drew Brees at 62.99-percent. Until 2009, two years after his first Super Bowl win, Manning also had not thrown for more than 4,000 yards or 25 touchdowns. His career regular-season win percentage is under 10 games a season, which is on the fringe of the playoffs. He, like Flacco, has not been much of a top-10 quarterback, yet very few people question his quarterbacking ability because he has won two Super Bowls.

Continuing the pattern is Ben Roethlisberger. During his first Super Bowl season, he missed four games with knee injuries, and the team still finished with an 11-5 record, going 2-2 without him while using two different quarterbacks. He was on pace for only 3,180 yards and 23 touchdowns. Roethlisberger too did not surpass 4,000 yards in a season until 2009, after his second Super Bowl victory. In each of his Super Bowl winning seasons, he threw for less than 3,500 yards and only 17 touchdowns. Those are far from “super” numbers. His team’s success despite his injuries further shows his lack of importance.

From here, more knowledgeable readers will think, “What made those three quarterbacks great was their playoff runs, not their regular season play.” That is true. All three made spectacular playoff runs. But their Super Bowl runs were all anomalies when compared to their other playoff history.

Flacco’s first playoff run, his rookie year, was messy. The team got to the AFC championship game, but not because of Flacco’s play. In the wild-card round against the Miami Dolphins, Flacco was nine for 23 with 135 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. That is good for a 39-percent completion rating. Divisional round against the Tennessee Titans was a little better, going 11 for 22 with 161 yards and a touchdown. The AFC championship game was brutal. Flacco was 12 for 30 for 141 yards and three interceptions. However, that was his rookie season.

His next few playoff runs would not go much better. In 2009, the Baltimore Ravens got to to the divisional round, again with little help from Flacco. In their wild-card game against the New England Patriots, Flacco went four for 10 with 34 yards and one interception. His divisional round game was also rough, going 20 for 35 with 189 yards and two interceptions.

Flacco’s 2010 playoff run would go better for him, with a solid game in the wild-card round against the Kansas City Chiefs, but he would struggle in a divisional round matchup against Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers. He went 16 for 30 with 125 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His 2011 playoffs were even better yet and he was starting to show his playoff ability. Still, he was only 14 for 27 with 176 yards in the divisional round. His AFC championship game was better though, with 306 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Flacco’s dominant 2012 playoff run would come as a surprise based on his previous playoff experience.

Manning has had similar playoff struggles. His first two playoff appearances, wild-card games in 2005 and 2006 were a bit rough. In the first game, he went 10 for 18 with 113 yards and three interceptions. The second game, now 2006, was a little better, going 16 for 27 with 161 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Then he would explode in the 2007 playoffs, on his way to a Super Bowl championship.

The very next post-season, he would struggle, once again losing in the wild-card round on 15 for 29 passing with 169 yards and two interceptions. Manning would have a two year playoff drought until yet another spectacular Super Bowl run in 2011. Similar to Flacco, Eli’s playoff success came out of the blue and was not supported statistically by his previous playoff endeavors.

Surprise, surprise, Roethlisberger showed the same thing. Like Flacco, Ben’s first playoff run would be his rookie season, where the Steelers would reach the AFC championship game, with little help from him. During the divisional round, Roethlisberger would go 17 for 30 with 181 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. The championship game against the Patriots would go only slightly better, throwing for 226 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions on 14 completions on 24 attempts.

The following playoffs would be his first Super Bowl run, during which he was both up and down. His worst performance actually came in the Super Bowl, where he was nine for 21 with 123 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, somehow winning the game. The Steelers would return to the playoffs in 2007, where they would lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Roethlisberger would have a mixed performance, going 29 of 42 with 337 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

His second Super Bowl run in 2008 would go much more smoothly, although he made very little impact. He threw only one touchdown in each of the three games, but he only had one interception total. It was a solid but unspectacular run. His 2012 Super Bowl run would be mixed, much like his first one. This time he was much better in the big game, but he barely squeaked by the New York Jets in the AFC championship game, going 10 for 19 with 133 yards and two interceptions. Overall, Roethlisberger was less than stellar in the playoffs.

So how does this all tie in to Jay Cutler? The numbers show that he can be just as good, if not better than these three Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. He has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a season, albeit only once. Still, he has shown he has the capability to be a difference maker in the passing game. He has eclipsed 25 touchdowns twice, and his career high in touchdowns came during a season where his top receivers were Devin Hester and Earl Bennett.

Cutler has only had one playoff run in his career consisting of only two games, but he put on a pretty good showing. His first game was against the Seattle Seahawks, and he went 15 for 28 with 274 yards and two touchdowns. The second game was the infamous NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers, where Cutler would leave with a knee injury. He was actually having a pretty good game before the injury occurred, but after returning to the game and struggling, his final statistics were poor.

For Cutler, the regular season success has been as good as or better than that of the three Super Bowl winners mentioned. He has had a successful playoff game and a half of another. His performance against Seattle was very similar to those had by all three quarterbacks during their Super Bowl runs. Therefore, there is no reason that Cutler should not be able to win a Super Bowl. He is at or above the levels of Flacco, Manning, and Roethlisberger.

For them and Cutler, it is all about having the right players around them. All three winners had elite defenses behind them. All three had good or great runningbacks and receivers. All three had pretty good offensive lines, with the exception of the 2008 Steelers, who gave up 47 sakcs. For the first time in his career, Cutler has all four of them. He is good enough to win a Super Bowl, so it is up to the rest of the team to help him get there. He got surprisingly close with an awful team in 2010, so who knows what will happen now that he has talent around him.