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Breaking down Jay Cutler’s interceptions

| October 30th, 2014

Jay Cutler has gotten a lot of criticism for turning the ball over too much this year, and rightly so.  Through 8 games, he has thrown 8 interceptions and fumbled 9 times, losing 4 of them.

I want to go through each of Cutler’s interceptions and break down what went wrong.  I will be splitting the blame into one of three categories:

  1. Poor decision.  This is when Cutler makes a poor decision to force a ball into traffic.
  2. Poor throw.  This is when the decision to throw is not necessarily a bad one, but the throw is inaccurate.
  3. Miscommunication.  This is when Cutler and the intended target are not on the same page, leading to a ball going to nowhere and a turnover.

I’m not going to bother with Cutler’s most recent interception, which came on a hail mary against New England last week.  That’s a play where you don’t care about the turnover but are just chucking it up hoping for a miracle.  I will however, break down the other seven, showing gifs of the plays (hover over gif with mouse to get it to play) and assigning where I think the blame is due.

Let’s get right down to it.

Interception 1

Cutler’s first interception of the year came in the 2nd quarter of their first game.  On a 1st and 10, he looked to tight end Martellus Bennett deep up the seam.  The pass went well behind Bennett, who ran down the field while Cutler seemingly threw it thinking he would stop. Cornerback Corey Graham saw the pass and cut in for an easy interception.

Note: At one point, all of these gifs worked. But alas, they are now just pictures of the first frame of the gif. Sorry. 

Oct 27, 2014 10_44

Verdict: miscommunication

Interception 2

This one came later in the Buffalo game.  Rolling out to his right, Cutler forces a pass to Bennett back into traffic that goes right to defensive tackle Kyle Williams.  It is a ball that should have never been thrown.  This play also does feature a miscommunication, as wide receiver Santonio Holmes blocks for a run instead of running the clear out he was supposed to, but it doesn’t directly feature in the interception (though Cutler likely would have run for a 1st down if Holmes had run his route).  Still, that does not excuse this pass, which simply cannot be thrown.

Verdict: Poor decision

Interception 3

After going more than 2 games without an interception (though he did have a couple potential ones dropped in that span), Cutler jumped back on the wagon in week 4 against Green Bay.  With the Bears trailing 24-17 in the third quarter, Cutler tried to squeeze a 1st down pass in to Josh Morgan on a slant.  Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams had lined up inside of Morgan and was sitting on the slant. He did not get the interception himself, but he did deflect it to linebacker Clay Matthews.

Oct 27, 2014 10_47

Verdict: Poor decision

Interception 4

On the very next drive of the Green Bay game, Cutler looked for Brandon Marshall down the right sideline.  He thought Marshall was running a comeback route, while Marshall ran a go route.  Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields ended up catching the pass with nobody within 10 yards of him.

Oct 27, 2014 10_48

 Verdict: Miscommunication

Interception 5

In the first quarter against Carolina, Cutler threw a pass to Brandon Marshall deep down the middle of the field with three defenders around the ball.  Some people argue this was pass interference, but you can never throw the ball over the middle of the field with that many defenders there.

Culter Interception vs Panthers

Verdict: poor decision

Interception 6

Late in the Carolina game, Cutler targeted Santonio Holmes on a slant over the middle.  The pass was a little high and behind Holmes and the safety behind the play was able to catch it.

This is a bit of a tough one to decide on.  It wasn’t a bad decision to throw it, as Holmes was open.  But I’m not 100% sure whether Cutler missed the throw or Holmes was rerouted from where he was supposed to be by the linebacker in coverage.  It looks as though Cutler steps into the throw with solid mechanics, but the pass is too high for a small receiver like Holmes to catch in stride.  I’ll say this is a combination of both and split the blame between miscommunication and poor throw.

Oct 27, 2014 22_09
Verdict: 0.5 miscommunication, 0.5 poor throw

Interception 7

This is the trickiest of the interceptions to figure out.  Cutler tried to get a pass in to Bennett, who was double covered, and overthrew him by a mile.  The safety coming in behind the play (a good 8 yards behind it) comes up with the interception.

On the surface, this seems like both a bad decision and a bad throw by Cutler.  But he was adamant after the game that he threw it to the spot it was supposed to go to, and Trestman indicated the same the next day.  This makes it seem like there was a miscommunication between Bennett and Cutler on what route to run, and Cutler thought Bennett was heading farther up the field.  Either way, it was still a throw into more traffic than I’d like, so I’m splitting the blame on this one.

Oct 27, 2014 16_01
Verdict: 0.5 miscommunication, 0.5 poor decision

Final tally

Here’s the final tally for Cutler’s 7 interceptions looked at here (again, I am excluding the hail mary against New England because it doesn’t really fit any of these categories):

  • Poor decision: 3.5
  • Miscommunication: 3
  • Poor throw: 0.5

Let me be abundantly clear that I am not doing this to make excuses for Cutler.  He is obviously turning it over too much, and at that point it doesn’t really matter whether the interceptions come from miscommunications, poor throws, or poor decisions.  They have to stop, or more realistically be significantly reduced.

Rather, my intent is to try to figure out where the interceptions are coming from.  What has to change to limit the turnovers?  Let’s look at the three factors.

Poor decisions

Cutler has a penchant for forcing passes into traffic, and we see that here with half his interceptions coming from poor decisions, with several more poor decisions that featured dropped interceptions or interceptions called back by penalties..  He’s always going to be a guy who takes some chances, and that’s never going away.  With that said, one interception every two games from poor decisions is something you can live with (which is good, since that will always be there for Cutler).

Poor mechanics

The plays that need to be eliminated, or at least vastly cut down, are the miscommunications and poor passes.  I’ll talk about the poor passes first.  These usually result from poor mechanics, which has been an issue at times for Cutler this year.  It didn’t show up much in this study, but it is a big reason he is struggling so much to complete passes downfield this year.  According to Pro Football Focus, Cutler has been accurate on only 36.7% of his deep passes so far this year, 21st out of 30 quarterbacks with 15+ such attempts.  He is throwing off of his back foot too often instead of stepping into his throws, a regression back to 2012 and before habits, and that needs to change.

More relevant to turnovers are Cutler’s 9 fumbles in 8 games.  This is also largely due to poor mechanics, as he is not properly protecting the ball when the pocket collapses around him.

Miscommunications

Perhaps most troubling is the startling number of miscommunications on Cutler’s interceptions.  Four of his seven interceptions (again, not counting the Hail Mary) have involved at least some sort of miscommunication, with a 5th having a miscommunication on the play that was not directly involved in the interception.

It is baffling why there are so many of these issues on an offense that returns pretty much every key figure from last year.  Sure, two of the five miscommunications mentioned above relate to Santonio Holmes, who is new to the offense and was brought in late in the preseason.  But the other three are with Cutler and either Martellus Bennett or Brandon Marshall, who he has been playing with for a while.

I don’t know where all these miscommunications come from, but somehow Cutler needs to make sure he is on the same page as his receivers going forward.  Limit these miscommunication turnovers and avoid the rash of fumbles caused by poor mechanics, and suddenly Cutler’s play seems a lot better.

Find a way

It’s one thing to say what needs to be done.  Doing it is a different challenge. But somehow, some way, Jay Cutler needs to improve his mechanics and Chicago’s offense needs to avoid the miscommunications leading to turnovers that have plagued them through the first half of the season.

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