Chalkboard stats: Cutler's big throw

This week’s edition of Chalkboard Stats focuses on the decisive play in the Chicago Bears win over the New York Jets on Sunday, the 26-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Johnny Knox that gave the Bears the lead for good in the third quarter.

Using the diagram above, let's take a closer look at the play and see how it defied the statistical analysis to this point in the season.

A) Cutler, under center, takes a straight dropback

Twenty-one quarterbacks entered Week 16 with at least 300 pass attempts on a straight dropback (snap taken under center without the use of play-action, rollout, bootleg, etc), and only the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers averaged more yards per attempt than Jay Cutler's 7.7.

Despite the fact that Cutler had been sacked the most (41 times) of any of those quarterbacks, the strategy played into Chicago's favor on Sunday.

Excluding scrambles, the Jets' defense averaged a sack every 15.8 straight drops compared to one one every 11.1 drops when play action was involved. The Jets defense had six interceptions and 18 touchdowns allowed entering Sunday; the minus-12 differential was tied with the Seattle Seahawks for second worst in the league.

B) Bears' 3-WR set negates Jets' loaded box

The Jets showed blitz by putting seven men in the box, but that forced man-to-man coverage on the three wide receivers, with a single deep safety (No. 22 Dwight Lowery) playing center field.

Entering Week 16, the Jets were the only team with a sub-50 percent completion percentage (48.7) versus three-wide receiver sets, and were one of only four teams not to allow a touchdown to a three-wide set while loading the box (putting more defenders at the line of scrimmage than the offensive team had blockers).

With three wide receivers on the field, Cutler ranked among the league's top five quarterbacks in attempts per touchdown (10.2), first down percentage (38.3) and passer rating (111.4), against a loaded box.

C) Key matchup: Johnny Knox vs Antonio Cromartie

Both the wide receiver, Knox, and the cornerback, Cromartie, lined up outside the painted numbers, an area of the field in which each has had plenty of experience throughout their careers.

Knox entered the game as Cutler’s go-to guy on passes outside the numbers this season with a team-high 37 targets, 16 receptions, 353 yards, three touchdowns, and 14 first downs.

Cromartie led the Jets through the first 15 games with two interceptions and nine pass disruptions (passes defensed plus interceptions) on sideline routes.

Knox's 49.3 yards per reception on passes thrown at least 21 yards downfield, and outside the numbers, ranked third in the NFL.

Cromartie had batted down seven passes entering Sunday, which put him in the top four percent of players with at least one pass defensed outside the numbers (263 players recorded a pass defensed, the average player totaled two).

D) There's no defense for a perfectly-thrown ball

The deep strike to Knox traveled 26 yards from the line of scrimmage, and 36 yards from the spot from which Cutler released it.

Jets Defense, Last Two Seasons
vs Passes 21+ Yards, Outside Numbers

Prior to Sunday, Cutler was one of only 16 quarterbacks with at least 40 pass attempts of 21 yards or longer, and wasn't one of the elite.

He had the worst completion percentage (24.4), fewest touchdowns (two), lowest passer rating (45.6) and least amount of first downs (10). Entering the third quarter of this game he was one of only four quarterbacks this season with more interceptions than touchdowns on deep passes.

The Jets held opponents to an astounding 1-for-35 on passes of this nature in 2009, and the numbers were pretty good heading into Sunday. But on this day, things went quite differently. The touchdown was Cutler’s third of 25 yards or longer in the quarter, and second when targeting Knox.