NFC North: Daniel Graham

Final Word: NFC North

October, 16, 2009

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

George Rose/Getty Images
Dieter Brock is the last quarterback to lead a new team to a 6-0 start (and eventually, 7-0).
Atlanta has won nine of 10 home games since the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era started in 2008. The lone loss? Then-Denver quarterback Jay Cutler led the Broncos to 10 fourth-quarter points to leave with a 24-20 victory. Cutler’s 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Graham was the game-winner. The Georgia Dome isn’t usually considered among the NFL’s most hostile indoor environments, but to this point Cutler has been the only quarterback in the past 10 games there to be triumphant. Overall in his career, Cutler is 1-2 in three indoor starts. In those games, he’s completed 35 of 52 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Here’s the final installment in this week’s discussion about Chicago’s defense. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been sacked only twice this season, tied for the fewest in the NFL. Matchups like this are why the Bears revamped their defensive coaching staff and rededicated themselves to aggressive play from their defensive line. It almost goes without saying that they won’t win Sunday night if they let Ryan stand protected in the pocket. If they do, he’ll carve them up like he did last season in a 301-yard performance.

Talk about instant impact: If he can defeat Baltimore Sunday, Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre will have produced the second-best early-season win total for a new quarterback in NFL history. A victory would make Favre 6-0 in his first six starts with the Vikings. Dating to the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, only one quarterback has won more consecutive games in his first year with a new team. Dieter Brock started 7-0 for the Los Angeles Rams in 1985. Surely you remember the Dieter Brock era.

Two weeks of talk about the timing of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ throws likely will be moot at Lambeau Field. Detroit enters the game with one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses, including a pass rush that hasn’t scared too many people. The Lions have 10 sacks this season, but that hasn’t been enough to prevent quarterbacks from completing an NFL-high 73.3 percent of their passes. Detroit has also given up 15 touchdown passes and has only three interceptions. If Rodgers doesn’t have a sparkling performance, then you can legitimately say he needs to address his timing.

It’s time to update an annual statistic: Detroit has now gone 18 consecutive games without a victory in Wisconsin, a span that has featured seven Lions head coaches and includes a 1994 wild-card playoff loss. The Lions’ last road victory over the Packers came on Dec. 15, 1991. In regular-season terms, it’s the second-longest active losing streak in the NFL. Stranger things have happened, but with a sprained knee expected to keep receiver Calvin Johnson on the sidelines, it’s hard to imagine the Lions not extending this streak to 19 games.

Air and Space: Cutler's big picture

October, 15, 2009

Posted by’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 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.

Jay Cutler: First Half at Green Bay
Comp. Att. Pct. Yards TD INT Rating
8 22 36.3 127 0 3 16.9
Jay Cutler: 14 Quarters Since Halftime at Green Bay
Comp. Att. Pct. Yards TD INT Rating
75 107 70.1 774 8 2 107.8

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.

Shotgun Performances
Quarterback Team Shotgun throws NFL rank Shotgun rating
Matthew Stafford Detroit 83 12 70.1
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay 81 13 101.2
Brett Favre Minnesota 67 21 92.9
Jay Cutler Chicago 45 31 80.2

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.