On the NFL
9:42 PM CDT, September 18, 2012
Forget, for a moment, that Jay Cutler might not exactly be Alexander the Great in the leadership department.
Let's focus on the fact he had another performance meltdown last week in one of the biggest games he will play this season. No one, it seems, does the spectacular flameout better than the Bears quarterback.
So gifted, he is. So enigmatic, he is.
What happened against the Packers in Green Bay has become a trend. Cutler often is not at his best when the stakes are highest.
I looked at what I consider the 12 biggest games of his Bears career, based on what could be gained or lost and the interest level in the game. Cutler went 4-8 in those with 13 touchdown passes, 19 interceptions and a 67.7 passer rating.
In his other 33 games as a Bear, he is 22-11 with an 86.1 rating.
Five of those "big" games were against the Packers, and four were losses. He is 1-6 as a Bear against the team that has been the most important for him to beat.
Of course, the Packers are good. But the best quarterbacks can beat good teams, or at least give their teams a chance to win.
We know Cutler can pummel a tomato can. That's all well and good, but it's not going to win a Super Bowl.
These are the tests he needs to pass this season: visiting the Cowboys on Oct. 1; versus the Lions on Oct. 22; versus the Texans on Nov. 11; visiting the 49ers on Nov. 19; versus the Packers on Dec. 16 and visiting the Lions on Dec. 30.
In his career, Cutler has played 33 regular-season games against teams that made the playoffs that year, according to STATS. His winning percentage in those games is .303 and his passer rating is 78.9.
Let's compare that with the two quarterbacks most relevant to Cutler's career. Aaron Rodgers has played 22 such games and has a winning percentage of .590 and a passer rating of 99.8. Philip Rivers has a winning percentage of .379 and a passer rating of 83.7.
Cutler has struggled against top defenses more than he has struggled against playoff teams.
A defensive passer rating of 80 or below is considered outstanding. In 36 career regular-season games against teams that had defensive passer ratings of 80 or below, Cutler has a .194 winning percentage and a 59.8 passer rating.
Rodgers is at .222, 63 in the same circumstances while Rivers is .432, 63.
Part of the reason Cutler's numbers are worse than those of some of his contemporaries' is when things go south for him, they really go.
Since he became a Bear, Cutler has had a passer rating below 60 in 10 games, including the postseason. In nine more games over the same period of time, Rodgers has had six fewer in which he had a passer rating below 60. In six more games than Cutler, Rivers has had only one sub-60.
Cutler's defenders will point out, accurately, that he has not benefited from system stability, Pro Bowl wide receivers and consistent pass protection — especially consistent pass protection.
But he isn't the only quarterback who needs to spend some time in the whirlpool on Mondays.
Since 2009, Rodgers has been sacked six times more than Cutler in regular-season games. Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 11 more, and his rate of one sack per 12.2 dropbacks is higher than Cutler's rate of 12.4.
That has not prevented Roethlisberger from making it to a Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl in that time span.
When Peyton Manning was given an opportunity to blame his three interceptions Monday on playing in a new offense, he simply said, "The quarterback signs the check at the end of the day."
This year, Cutler finally has a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver in Brandon Marshall. He has more influence over the offense than ever. He's 29, an age at which physical blessings and mental clarity should be intersecting.
It is high time for him to start signing some checks.
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