Maybe Marc Trestman was the problem in Chicago, not Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler has a positive grade this season. Joe Flacco is PFF's second-worst QB. Was Marc Trestman the problem in Chicago?

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Maybe Marc Trestman was the problem in Chicago, not Jay Cutler

Remember when Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was nicknamed the Quarterback Whisperer?

Hired by the Bears as their head coach in January 2013, Trestman won his first two games and finished the season 8-8. Things appeared to be headed in the right direction in Chicago, especially as much of that success came with Josh McCown at quarterback.

McCown had been out of football a couple of times before catching on with the Bears as a backup to Caleb Hanie once Jay Cutler went down hurt. Haine was a disaster starting, and so McCown eventually became the primary backup, bouncing on and off the roster before coming in for a hurt-again Cutler in 2013 and subsequently put together probably the greatest seven-game stretch of his life to end the season and convince people that Trestman was a quarterback genius. The wonders he produced with McCown became the center of attention.

That season Cutler, when he wasn’t injured, also had a lot of success within Trestman’s offense, which strengthened his case, but the interesting thing is that Cutler didn’t really adjust his play to fit the offense in the way the Bears asked him to the following season.

In 2013 Cutler had wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery stretching teams down the field, as well as tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte to work the shorter areas of the field. That year Cutler’s average depth of target was 10.0 yards down field, which was fourth in the NFL but just marginally lower than the 10.4 yards Cutler averaged the year before Trestman got there. By contrast, McCown, in the same offense, was averaging just 8.6 yards, which was 26th in the NFL. The following year Trestman and the Bears tried to rein Cutler in to limit the poor plays he makes, and his average depth of target fell to just 7.7 — 35th in the NFL.

The problem is that he still made as many poor decisions as before, only now they weren’t being offset by the spectacular plays that Cutler is capable of making because he was being limited by the conservative offense.

Trestman’s Chicago career ultimately crashed and burned, with Cutler taking much of the blame for Trestman’s firing as well as the firing of the man who signed him to an expensive, long-term contract extension, GM Phil Emery. Trestman is now in Baltimore running his offense as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, where a certain Joe Flacco suddenly finds himself suffering a period of very poor play.

Flacco’s average depth of target has seen a similar drop from pre- to post-Trestman, dropping from 9.0 a year ago to just 7.4 this year. The problem isn’t necessarily the very deep shots down the field, since Flacco takes a deep shot (20-plus air yards) at roughly the same rate this year as opposed to last, but rather how the Ravens are stretching the field by working the intermediate routes. Last season Baltimore attempted a pass 10 or more yards down field on 32.3 percent of their attempts. This season that figure is down to 27.3 percent.

While the route profile for Flacco actually looks pretty similar from 2014 to 2015, it does appear that the passing offense is simply looking more toothless this year. Flacco, who was our 16th-graded quarterback a year ago is now 36th, ranked below every quarterback in football other than Matthew Stafford, who was benched in Detroit’s loss to Arizona this week for Dan Orlovsky.

Cutler, by contrast, is sitting in the 16th spot in our grades that used to be occupied by Flacco, after having been 31st when running Trestman’s offense a year ago. He currently has a positive grade after posting his best game grade since Week 6 of 2014 in Sunday’s come-from-behind win over the Chiefs, during which he made some spectacular throws and didn’t throw any interceptions.

The two quarterbacks have seen their fortunes flip almost exactly, and it happens to coincide with each working with or without Trestman.

Maybe Cutler wasn’t ever the problem …

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Jacob Spriggs

    Phil Emery was the GM that gave Cutler the extension, not Angelo.

    • Sinclair Phos

      but Angelo was the one who traded for him … one of the worst trades in franchise history

      • Andrew Creer

        worst trade? remember when angelo gave a second rounder for a guy that died? I would say that was the worst trade I’ve seen as a Bears fan

      • Bruce Fowler

        Excuse me. Did you just say that trading FOR Jay Cutler was one of the worst trades in Bear history??? I’ve been a Bear fan since 1965 when I first started watching NFL football at 8 years old. I’ve pretty much seen ’em all in the past 51 years. Few will argue that since Sid Luckman, the Bears are at the BOTTOM of collective QB talent for the ENTIRE NFL! In fact, Cutler was already breaking franchise QB passing records during only his 3rd year with Chicago! That occurred during a period when the Bears had one of the worst OL’s in the HISTORY of the NFL! The NFL actually said THE WORST in history! He also had Mike Martz who would not allow Cutler to audible which was moronic (don’t play the “can you blame him” card here, because YES, I DO blame him!). Martz, like that other genius, Trestman, tried to FORCE Cutler to be a “pocket passer”. With THAT OL!!! Are you kidding me?! WHAT POCKET?!! I think Jay set an NFL all time record for most TD passes thrown WHILE WEARING AN OPPONENT!!! (Can we make that an official NFL stat? No? Oh well- should be!) The Bears made it to the NFC Championship game (shame he had the knee sprain-double ligament tear!) with THAT OL line? Are you kidding me?! WHAT A FEAT THAT WAS!!! He now owns most franchise passing records and he and Jim Mc Mahon are EASILY the 2 best QB’s (Jay being #1) the Bears have had in the past 50 years! My God man! Where were you when the Bears traded for Kordell Stewart!!! Cutler is a mobile QB. USE THAT like OC Adam Gase did this year! Jay had his BEST QB rating this year and did this with often NOBODY to throw to! Marshall-gone! Jeffrey started 8 games and only appeared in 9! Kevin White, last years promising #1 pick at WR- NEVER DRESSED for a game, Eddie Royal, Marquess Wilson, and both TE’s- Bennett and Zach Miller (love that guy!) were often injured in 2015 leaving Cutler to throw to, “who is THAT #@&%ing guy?” for much of the season! STILL, he had his best year! WAKE UP Chicago!!! Jay Cutler not only has the strongest arm in the NFL and can make ANY THROW, the guy can ball! Since coming to Chicago he has not had a single season where his supporting cast (coaches AND players) has been good! Now, 2014 was a decent year before teams saw through to Trestman’s formation “give away” problem, but some idiot hired Mel Tucker as the DC which meant we lost some games when we put up 40 burgers! I like Fox and Fangio given the MESS that Trestman left them with. Cutler? Not Chicago’s problem nor has he ever been THE problem while in Chicago! Some of these posts must come in from a braille keyboard I guess? Give this guy a healthy cast of receivers, more guys like Kyle Long (Dude! You rock!), and for heaven’s sake, an OC that builds an offense USING Jays skill set and NOT forcing him to be something he’s not doing from a place that often hasn’t existed; a POCKET (Adam, SORRY to see you go!!!)! I think Fangio will get us back on the better half of the league’s D stat board starting even as early as next year with some adjustments in personnel. IF next year my last two REALIST sentences manifest into a reasonable reality, Jay Cutler WILL LEAD the Bears to some rarified air in Chicago! May be the year after but we will see something surprising good next season! Book it! Just don’t do like Martz and Trestman constantly were trying to do; force Cutler’s round peg into a square hole!

  • CB

    Hanie was released by Chicago in March 2012; Trestman joined the Bears ten months later.

    • Chiryder

      Who said they were ever on the same team?

      • CB

        The original version of this article did.

        Unfortunately PFF have fixed the mistakes without acknowledging they were there, so people pointing them out look a bit odd :)

        • Vic Hedges

          Yes, this is true. At the very least, PFF should acknowledge the original article was edited and corrected for mistakes. Now, on the other hand, maybe they need some new writers who do their homework BEFORE putting together an article.

        • Chiryder

          I see that now.

  • Mike

    Caleb Hanie played his last game with Chicago in 2011. Lovie Smith was the head coach and Mike Martz was the OC. Hanie never played for Trestman. McCown was the backup when Trestman was hired.

    • Chiryder

      No one said he was. That’s a new paragraph. They started with a history of McCowns time with the Bears, when he was signed as a backup to Hanie.

      • blackhawk915

        They must have edited the article. Earlier it said Trestman had no success working with Hanie

        • Mike

          They did edit the article. It originally blamed Trestman for not bringing along Hanie even though Hanie was never coached by Trestman.

  • GiveNoFuq

    I always thought the Bears best OC, during Cutler era was Mike Martz. When he stopped with all the 5-7 step drops Cutler played well. They actually last made the playoffs in 2010 and would of made it in 2011 if not for Cutler getting injured.

    • Chiryder

      The stubborn one that took half a season to make that adjustment and get around to running the ball. Took him that long to give a d*** about his QB?

    • Jake Decker

      Mike martz was so damn garbage. He would be so conservative and predictable with playcalling. We would have the lead wit a few minutes left and instead of trying to put cats away with our offense he would run three plays in a row and punt. And then put the game in our defenses hands. We lost a lot of close games like that. He held back our offense bigtime.

  • Elusive7

    Not a shock to anyone who watched the Bears closely last season. Trestman’s tactics allowed opposing defenses to play more compacted. LBs played closer to the line & safeties didn’t drop as far back, making it harder to run the ball & to find spaces to fit the pass. Big arm QBs like Cutler & Flacco are better when they have a speedster threatening the go route to take the top of the defense. Trestman doesn’t seem to appreciate this in either his personnel choices or his play calling.

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  • Backinmd

    The Ravens miss Torrey Smith, Nagata . and of course T. Suggs…Flacco doesn’t have anybody to throw to deep …Smith Sr.has lost a 1/2 step the past two three years …..

    • blackhawk915

      But Cutler doesn’t have anyone to throw to this season (Jeffery’s been in only 1 game, Royal has been gimpy, White’s out for most of the season and Marshall is gone) and has improved over last year. I think Trestman is a big factor. I was actually surprised he was hired as OC anywhere after last year.

  • Backinmd

    Don’t know of Cutler was all to blame but Cutler’s attitude sure didn’t help much & and his pouting on the sideline ,sometimes, didn’t make him a fan favorite ….

    • Trevor

      The “pouting” is incredibly overemphasized, I honestly never see it during a game.

      • Backinmd

        I saw the pouting on TV three , four years ago on the sidelines ; in fact T. Bradshaw had a few comments about Cutler’s ” demeanor ” on the following Sundays pre-game show and gave him kinda of a lecture ….I’m not a ant-Bear fan but when the camera gave Cutler a 10-15 sec. shot on the sidelines during the game it reminded me of Jay Schrader ( Redskins, raiders) showed him pouting on the Redskins sideline after he threw an interception ..Schrader took Joe theisman place after LR broke his leg during a game @ RFK … Schrader was good QB but kiinda immature like Cutler is ..

        • Laura Gerbec

          I swear that is what his face looks like unless he is actively smiling, which the cameras only accidentally catch after a good play.

    • Julian Turner

      The media likes to focus in on cutler cause he is the nfls joke. But I watched this dude since he arrived in chicago and yes he gets mad cause he threw a pick but who wouldn’t? You see Jay orchestrate the offense this year you see a leader. He ain’t Rodgers or Brady but guess what. So aren’t 30 other quarterbacks

      • haydesigner

        “He ain’t Rodgers or Brady but guess what. So aren’t 30 other quarterbacks”

        EXACTLY. One big thing I don’t get about the haters is… who exactly are you going to replace Cutler with, anyway? NO ONE will trade them a better QB, and even if the Bears would miraculously find a diamond QB in the draft, it would take years to groom him.

        I still think Cutler is in the top 2 Bears QBs that I’ve seen in my 40+ years (Kramer being the other). Yes, he’s not perfect. Yes, he’s not Rogers. Or Manning (the Peyton one). Or Montana. Or Steve Young… But like Julian said, neither are any of the other QBs.

  • derek lundeen

    There has been a report that Cutler is changing his last name to Clutchler.

  • MKE

    From the same guys who said Rodgers graded out slightly below average following a 5:0 game vs. the KC team Cutler is lauded for beating.

  • Brandyn Shepherd

    Considering Cutler was on a streak of 27 wins to 13 losses before Trestman, I would say he was definitely the problem. Cutler is ELITE.

    • Scott Wallace

      He’s about to become elite again. John Fox has used the word amazing to describe Cutler two weeks in a row. That last comeback was unprecedented.

  • Mark Erickson

    When discussing the depth-of-target situation in Baltimore it should be taken into consideration the loss of Torrey Smith in the offseason, who was our field-stretcher. And I would put more emphasis on our conservative approach being the result of a generally ineffective receiving corp. rather than leaning towards Trestman reining in Flacco’s play. You stated they’re taking deep shots just as often as in Kubiak’s offense, that doesn’t suggest a more conservative approach. I think the evidence suggests we have a bunch of receivers running short, direction-changing routes to get open because they lack the physical talent to beat man-coverage in a foot-race, which most defenses are likely deploying for coverage against Baltimore (I don’t know for sure, but just an educated guess). I am no fan of Trestman and I really liked what Kubiak did with our offense last year (switching to zone-blocking was a huge step for us), but I think personnel is a bigger problem right now than playcalling.

  • Aldo Gandia

    Regarding Trestman’s downfall in Chicago, it’s much more complex than this analysis.
    1. Injuries to the Bears’ OL in 2014 resulted in Cutler’s trust dissipating and the coaching staff not making proper adjustments (run more!)
    2. Injury to Cutler’s safety blanket Brandon Marshall in 2014 hurt his effectiveness and a lack of WR depth resulted in RB Matt Forte catching an NFL record number of passes
    3. The offensive-minded Trestman focused the team’s ills on the QB and not the historically poor defense and ST. Always buried in his play calling sheet, Trestman could not see what was happening around him
    4. Trestman tried to build a corporate/collegial atmosphere at Halas Hall. But, when the losses started to pile up he threw his QB under the bus. He went to his old pal Jon Gruden and complained about Cutler. His assistant coach Aaron Kromer went to a a national media reporter and spoke ill of Cutler. This was a severe contradiction to what Trestman preached and proved he was a phony.

    • Backinmd

      Been saying for years ::: QB’s get too much glory when their teams win and way too much criticism when the team loses ..One more thing : If your QB gets on the bad side of your local beat reporters nothing your QB does on or off the field is going to be to their liking ..When your NFL team is winning everybody on the team is an All-Pro ; when losing the reporters come across in their articles that the team lacks talent ,the HC is downright awful and all the free agents the team signed the past few years are washed up … Saw this with the Redskins in the early 1980’s and later … To me, the press in Chicago never like Cutler from the get go … Another thing all these local reporters do is bring the players personalities into the picture which is hard not to do …

  • Bourbonnais Doc

    Last year, Trestmans Bears offense seemed to be built around bubble screens and very short crossing routes for little or no gain. The entire offense last year looked like it was stuck in the mud. Like the Ravens do this year…

    His plays are supposed to have multiple options built in to them, run or pass, based on what the QB sees the defense is doing. My theory is that opposing NFL defenses have figured out his keys and are able to predict or even dictate what he runs based on how they set up.

  • crosseyedlemon

    There are plenty of examples of excellent co-coordinators not really being the best choice as a head coach. As far as the Bears are concerned I think both Lovie Smith and Trestman are best suited to be co-coordinators. Trestman could probably make it as a head coach in the CFL where he had some experience but in the NFL the transition from assistant to head coach is much harder to make than most people realize.

  • Jason Williams

    Cutler is the problem – I challenge you to find me a QB with worse ball security than Jay Cutler – picks or fumbles, he’s the worst.

    • Carson

      Well Matt Stafford is looking like your guy this year there bud.

      • Jason Williams

        I did the math :)

        Over their careers, Cutler turns the ball over 5.3% per pass attempts. Stafford 4.0%

        The turnover worst QBs are :

        Josh McCown

        Mark Sanchez

        Rex Grossman

        Michael Vick

        Tarvaris Jackson

        Derek Anderson

        Ryan Fitzpatrick

        Christian Ponder

        Jay Cutler

        Robert Griffin

        Matt Cassel

        Eli Manning

        Shaun Hill

        Colin Kaepernick

        Russell Wilson

        Jason Campbell

        Carson Palmer

        Ryan Tannehill

        Cam Newton

        Philip Rivers

        Andrew Luck

        Ben Roethlisberger

        Joe Flacco

        Matt Hasselbeck

        Tony Romo

        Alex Smith

        Chad Henne

        Matt Schaub

        Nick Foles

        Matthew Stafford

        Andy Dalton

        Drew Brees

        Sam Bradford

        Peyton Manning

        Tom Brady

        Matt Ryan

        Aaron Rodgers

  • Scott Wallace

    Thank you for an actual analysis of Cutler’s performance rather than 4 letter word descriptions of Cutler’s facial expressions.