Monday Brunch: The boom-and-bust world of Jay Cutler

We're five years into Jay Cutler's(notes) pro career and it's still difficult to tell who he is. On the right day he looks like a potential star, but on the wrong afternoon he looks like a below-average quarterback. And I can't blame fantasy owners if they're sick of riding the swings with this guy.

Cutler's first year in the Mike Martz system doesn't look so bad when you look at some of the bottom-line numbers. Cutler's 7.6 YPA was a career-best, and while an 86.3 rating won't put you in the Pro Bowl, Hawaii-bound Matt Ryan(notes) and Drew Brees(notes) weren't much higher. Cutler managed 24 total touchdowns despite a very ordinary supporting cast, and his 232 rushing yards were sixth at the position. If this is a push-off point to better things, maybe we should be interested.

If you gambled on Cutler in the right weeks, you were richly rewarded. He had four games with three touchdown passes, and then there was the four-score beauty he posted against Philadelphia. There's no question that he can win for you on his best day, but what about the afternoons where Cutler doesn't have it?

Ah, there's the rub. Cutler had five games with no touchdown passes in 2010 (not counting the one game he missed with injury), and he had another three games with just one scoring toss. A boom-and-bust player doesn't help a fantasy owner as much as a consistent player does; you don't get bonus points for margin of victory, and those quiet afternoons can get you beat.

In contrast, consider that Tom Brady(notes) had at least one score in every game this year, and Peyton Manning(notes) had multiple TD passes in 13 games. Yes, they're in a different draft bracket that Cutler, but the point is that we'd like some consistency with our quarterback. Heck, Josh Freeman(notes) had just one bagel in his second season.

Cutler had a similar boom-and-bust line of production in his first Chicago season – three games without a touchdown pass, four games with just one, and four explosions (a pair of hat tricks, and then eight TD passes over his last two games). But how many Cutler owners were still alive in Week 16? And did they have the guts to start him that week? Keep in mind he was utterly horrendous in the Week 15 loss at Baltimore (three picks, 7.9 rating).

Cutler's stubbornness in the pocket – he'll hold the ball as long as anyone – and his occasional lapses in pocket awareness don't seem to mesh with the Martz scheme. Cutler was sacked 28 times in his first seven starts, in part because of Chicago's poor offensive line and in part because of how long he'll wait on a play. The Bears went with more quick drops in the second half and trimmed the sack rate, but there were less big plays as well – Cutler's YPA dropped from 7.9 to 7.3 in the final two months.

At the end of the day, our make-believe game is all about value. There's a point in my 2011 drafts where I'd bite the bullet and take a flier on Cutler, especially if the Bears upgrade their skill-position talent. But this is not a quarterback I'd be comfortable owning without a caddy, and it's also not someone I envision as an every-week fantasy starter in 2011. Bottom-line numbers tell an interesting story, but this is still a game where you have to sing for your supper, week-to-week.

I'm completely fine with the Seahawks making the playoffs with a losing record, and I'm adamantly against the idea of eliminating divisional play from the NFL. This is the first time a losing club has qualified for the tournament, so let's not overreact to what one outlier means. I do like the idea of reseeding all the playoff-bound teams, however; while the NFC West certainly has a right to represent in the playoffs, I'd prefer it didn't have a home game. The reseeding idea would also add more juice to the final-week schedule, as playoff-secure teams would potentially have more to play for.

I'll never understand the Bill Belichick mindset in these meaningless Week 17 games, exposing Brady into the third quarter of a blowout game (Brady left after the Pats had a 31-0 lead). Aren't you just begging for a frustrated defender to take a cheap run at your quarterback? The Belichick-era Patriots have done a wonderful job maintaining excellence through injuries, but if you lose Brady at this juncture, the bubble pops. There comes a point where Brady has nothing to gain on the field in the finale, and so much to lose.

Michael Turner(notes) led the NFL in carries this season with a modest 334 and only seven backs got over the 300 mark, a sign of the times. And to illustrate how quickly things change with running backs, consider the names at the top of the carries list just three years ago: Clinton Portis(notes), Edgerrin James(notes), Willie Parker(notes), LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), LenDale White(notes), Jamal Lewis(notes), Willis McGahee(notes), Marshawn Lynch(notes), Brian Westbrook(notes). Anyone build a fantasy contender with those backs in 2010?

I'm generally a Steve Spagnuolo fan but he had a dreadful game at Seattle on Sunday night (as did his entire staff). It's one thing to start a road game somewhat conservatively, especially in Qwest Field of all places, but you can't let your quarterback play the entire game in a straitjacket, especially when he's as talented as Sam Bradford(notes). Yes, the St. Louis receivers are a sorry lot, but Seattle's secondary was there for the taking and the Rams hardly tried to exploit that. (Spags also botched the clock management at the end of the game, as a lot of coaches do.)

It's low-hanging fruit to criticize the Raiders for how they run their franchise, but I can't see how Tom Cable's coaching future can be in doubt. He got his club to play its ass off on a weekly basis, and an 8-8 record (and a perfect division mark) with that ordinary talent base is a job well done. Heck, this guy deserves an extension.

Mike Wallace(notes) has a long way to go before he's a nuanced wide receiver, but nonetheless it's fun to watch him run by people. And Ben Roethlisberger(notes) has always thrown a pretty deep ball. Can we assume a slight uptick in volume and put Wallace into the Top 10 of his position next year? Or is this another boom-bust case that we have to tread carefully on?

If I ran the Vikings or the 49ers, I'd make a serious inquiry about Kyle Orton(notes) this offseason (the Broncos surely can't look back from the Tebow Experience now). Miami is another possible fit for Orton, assuming the Dolphins accept that Chad Henne(notes) isn't going to make it. And Larry Fitzgerald(notes) would surely do cartwheels if the Cardinals acquired a real quarterback.

It was validating to see Rashad Jennings(notes) collect 142 total yards and a score against the Texans, no matter that it came a week after we wanted it. There's no jig quite like the dance of the recently-eliminated.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a quarterback is remove the pressure to throw to a dedicated diva. Tony Romo's(notes) game got better after Terrell Owens(notes) left, Brady went off this year after Randy Moss(notes) departed, and the Bengals had a better passing game in Weeks 16-17 than they did for most of the year with TO and Chad Ochocinco(notes). Food for thought. Receivers need star quarterbacks more than the other way around.

Take a bow, Scott Linehan – you somehow coaxed 362 points out of the Detroit offense, unfazed by two quarterback injuries (not to mention the physical dings to Calvin Johnson(notes) and Jahvid Best(notes)). Detroit should be a winning team at some point over the next two seasons.

Let's get Anquan Boldin's(notes) mug on a milk carton. He posted an embarrassing 291 yards and two scores over the second half of the year, securing just 24 passes. Derrick Mason(notes) had a 31-403-5 line over the same juncture, and I'll have Mason ranked higher when I realize my Fantasy Playoff Rankings in the next 12-24 hours.


Images courtesy Associated Press

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