Air and Space: Cutler's big picture

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler probably has received the short end in recent editions of our Air and Space statistical analysis. After taking a quick look at the numbers, the reason is pretty clear. Cutler

Cutler fails to stand out in most NFL rankings because of one 30-minute stretch to start the season. I’m sure you remember it: He threw three interceptions before halftime in the Bears’ opener at Green Bay. But when you look past that half, Cutler has been one of the most efficient and productive NFL quarterbacks ever since.

Consider the chart below. Since halftime of Week 1, Cutler has a 107.8 passer rating. That figure trails only two other quarterbacks over that stretch: Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning (119) and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning (110.4). Cutler’s 70.1 completion percentage in the same time period ranks second to Peyton Manning’s 73.8.

You can safely draw a few conclusions. First, a relatively small sample can minimize the big snapshot of a player’s performance. (Overall this season, Cutler ranks 14th among NFL quarterbacks with an 89.3 passer rating.) Second, Cutler has been arguably the NFC North’s best quarterback over his last 14 quarters -- which represents 87.5 percent of his season.

Cutler’s interceptions were the difference in the loss at Green Bay, but he was a big part of their successive victories over Pittsburgh and Seattle.

There has been a lot of discussion about how the Bears might implement his skills this season. In perusing the exclusive statistics we get from ESPN Stats & Information, one category jumped out.

Cutler is working primarily from a set formation rather than in the shotgun, especially when you compare him to other NFC North quarterbacks. About 65 percent of his passes have come on plays that start under center. Thirty NFL quarterbacks have thrown more shotgun passes than Cutler.

As you can see in the chart below, his passer rating is 80.2 on shotgun throws. When he’s under center, it’s 94.2.

It’s not unusual for NFL quarterbacks to have lower ratings in the shotgun; a high percentage of those plays are in third-and-long situations, which are difficult conversions. But the disparity for Cutler is significant enough to draw a reasonable conclusion about his comfort level.

Frankly, I like the idea of limiting the shotgun unless you’re running a spread offense. The shotgun restricts your options in the running game and gives defenses a jump on the likelihood of your play call. To me, it’s always preferable to succeed from under center.

A perfect example will come Sunday night at the Georgia Dome. In a loud environment, it’s usually better to operate closer to the line of scrimmage so you can communicate best with offensive linemen. Cutler, in fact, dealt the Falcons their only home loss last season while playing for Denver, throwing a game-winning 9-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham with 5:35 remaining.