'Gunslinger' OK, as long as you hit what you’re aiming at

'Gunslinger' OK, as long as you hit what you’re aiming at
July 14, 2013, 9:15 pm
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Last week in the quarterback story in the “Bears Reboot” series, the accuracy of Jay Cutler was ID’d as the No. 1 issue facing the centerpiece position group. 

One element needs to be added to the analysis: Interceptions.

The coaching triumvirate of Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh will not abide the level of misdirected throws any more than they will the sub-standard rates of completion that Cutler has posted.

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Put another way, it’s OK to be a gunslinger, which Cutler sometimes is characterized as, but only if you're hitting what you're aiming at, and especially not wrong people.

As noted in the previous “Reboot” piece, with allowances for the slight (0.8 percent) uptick last year, “Cutler has seen his completion percentage effectively decline every season in Chicago, actually every year since his first season as an NFL starter: from 63.6 in 2007 to 58.8 last year.”

But even more important, in seven NFL seasons, Cutler has only twice managed an interception rate below 3 percent. In the area of accuracy, this looms as the single most significant change the Bears will demand from Cutler.

[MORE: Bears reboot: Receiving corps needs its health and Cutler's trust]

With good reason. In the past two seasons, no team has reached the playoffs with a starting quarterback posting an INT rate higher than 3 percent. As atypical as Tim Tebow may have been as a passer in 2011, he was intercepted on only 2.2 percent of his passes. Christian Ponder had an erratic 2012 but part of the reason the Vikings were in the postseason was that Ponder threw just 14 interceptions in 414 attempts.

Only seven quarterbacks with at least 250 attempts last season were intercepted on more than 3 percent of their throws: Ryan Fitzpatrick (3.2 percent), now out in Buffalo; Brandon Weeden (3.3), now competing with Jason Campbell for his job in Cleveland; Jake Locker (3.5) in Tennessee; Chad Henne (3.6) in Jacksonville; Mark Sanchez (4.0) with the Jets; and Matt Cassel (4.3), out in Kansas City and now a backup in Minnesota.

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And Cutler (3.2).

The standard is far from absolute. In 2010:

The Bears went to the NFC Championship game in 2010 with Cutler picked off at a rate of 3.7 percent. The New Orleans Saints were a wild card with Drew Brees throwing 3.3 percent of his passes to wrong uniforms. The Seattle Seahawks even won the NFC West with Matt Hasselbeck intercepted on 3.8 percent of his attempts. Worth noting, however, was that 7-9 was good enough to win that NFC West.

[MORE: Ditka: Rodgers is 'the best in football']

But the premium in the NFL has always been on accuracy, not arm strength. And the Bears did not win any of the three games last season in which Cutler was intercepted more than once.