QBs in Focus: Cutler & McCown

More from the NFC North, digging into the 2013 Bears' QB numbers for Jay Cutler and Josh McCown.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: Cutler & McCown

qb-month-cutler-mccownThough we certainly miss football during the offseason, it’s always a good time to take a step back and analyze our plethora of data.

We’re often so busy grading and collecting data during the season that we’re unable to put a lot of the information to good use. With that said, we’ve decided to declare June as “QB Month” as we break down NFL quarterbacks every which way.

We’re going to examine quarterbacks from a number of situations before looking at each of them individually. The grades and numbers should reveal each quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses from the 2013 season.

As we go through this series, it’s important to understand the relationship between QB Rating (NFL’s version) and PFF Grade.

While QB Rating is obviously supposed to be a QB statistic, it’s actually a better gauge of what the entire offense did in a given situation. This is the type of information that is actually extremely valuable to our NFL team customers as their game planning efforts must go towards stopping an entire passing offense, not just the quarterback.

 If the quarterback throws an easy dump off pass to the RB who then weaves through the defense for the touchdown, it’s certainly not a great indicator of quarterbacking skill as it is the running back and defense accounting for the majority of the work on the play. Of course the QB Rating will look quite shiny in that situation.

On the other hand, PFF Grade is a good indicator of how well the quarterback actually performed in a given situation. Whether they throw an accurate pass that was dropped, or perhaps an inaccurate one that should have been intercepted and the defense dropped, the PFF grade will account for those situations with a positive and a negative grade respectively while QB Rating will simply reflect the 0-for-1 passing.

It’s important to distinguish between QB Rating and PFF grade, though there’s a good chance they’ll match up in most situations.

After taking a look at the entire league in various situations, it’s time to break down each quarterback individually.


Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler (2)

Jay Cutler (3)

All categories with a * are normalized so that the league average is 0.0.


•  Ranked fourth on third downs at +11.5 including a +4.9 grade on 3rd-and-Long
•  Among the league’s best on throws of 20 or more yards (+5.3), throws in the 31-to-40-yard range (+4.6). Top grade on throws of 30 or more yards at +7.4.
•  Fairly even splits on passes to the left (+6.1), middle (+6.8), and right (+5.6).
•  Second-highest grade on drop-backs of 9 or more yards (+13.5).
•  Best grade came on passes in the 3.1-to-3.5-second range (+7.1).
•  Showed well when throwing to wide receivers (by alignment) at +20.1 and tight ends lined up in the slot at +5.5.
•  Graded at +10.4 on go routes


•  Graded at -3.5 on 2nd-and-Long
•  Struggled throwing in 21-30-yard range (-1.3).
•  Graded at -4.4 when pressured including -5.3 against blitz pressure.
•  Graded at -2.1 on 7-to-8-yard drop-backs.
•  Lowest graded route was crossing routes at -0.3


•  Faced third down blitzes only 30% of the time, fifth-lowest in the league.
•  Dropped back at least 9 yards on 36.7% of drop-backs, seventh-highest in the league.
•  Threw 17.1% of passes at least 20 yards in the air, third-highest in the league.
•  Threw fourth-highest percentage of passes at least 30 yards in the air (6.6%) and third-highest percentage of passes at least 40 yards (3.3%).
•  Threw 24.3% of passes in 2.6-3.0-second range, third-highest in the league.
•  Threw higher percentage of passes outside the numbers to the left (22.7%) than passes outside the numbers to the right (19.3%).
•  Only 3.9% of targets were slants, second-lowest percentage in the league.
•  25.7% of attempts were hitches, highest percentage in the league.


Josh McCown

Josh McCown

Josh McCown (2)

Josh McCown (3)

All categories with a * are normalized so that the league average is 0.0.


•  Graded at +6.5 on passes in 11-20-yard range.
•  Showed well on 2nd-and-Long (+3.9) and 3rd-and-Long (+4.4).
•  Threw well to the middle (+9.9) and right (+6.4).
•  Posted league’s highest grade when pressured: +8.9.
•  Graded well against the blitz (+9.0) and against a traditional rush (+8.5).
•  Was at his best on 7-to-8-yard drop-backs (+15.7).
•  Excelled in the 2.6-to 3.0-second range (+12.5).
•  Graded at +18.1 when throwing to wide receivers (by alignment) including +9.5 to the slot and +8.6 to outside wide receivers.
•  Best routes were hitches (+5.9) and go routes (+7.0).


•  Graded at -1.4 on designed rollouts.
•  Posted an average +0.1 grade on passes in the 31-to-40-yard range.
•  Graded at -0.9 on 4-to-6-yard drop-backs.
•  Graded at -0.6 on slants and -0.9 on post routes.


•  Faced the blitz only 27.6% of the time, eighth-lowest in the league.
•  Above the league average with 21.4% of drop-backs coming in the 4-to-6-yard range.
•  17.3% of drop-backs lasted 3.1-3.5 seconds, highest percentage in the league.
•  Threw only 40.1% of passes outside the numbers, sixth-lowest in the league.
•  Threw 78.3% of passes to wide receivers (by alignment), fourth-highest in the league.
•  Threw only 14.5% of passes to tight ends, tied for the lowest percentage in the league.
•  11.6% of targets were slants, second-highest in the league.



For the entire set of “Quarterbacks in Focus” posts, click here.


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| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Chris

    I’m curious how McCown graded so well on go routes, when his overall marks on deep balls were average.

    Going by overall grades, Cutler did his best work over 30 yards, while McCown did his best under 20.

    As expected for someone who graded so well on 30+ yard balls, Cutler did his best work on go routes. The opposite should be excreted from someone who did their best work under 20 yards, yet McCown graded equally as well on go routes?

    I don’t know of many 15 yard go routes?

    • Wyzel

      Go, fade, 9 route all mean the same thing in the route tree. So depending on who’s explaining it. Also there are deep crosses, posts and corners, which maybe mccown was not as good at. Here is a good article explaining the route tree in some good detail


      There are also articles on cover 2 and 3 and more, which are pretty interesting

      • Chris

        A fade usually implies a throw to the corner, which they have listed. The only 3 deep routes they have are corner, post, and go. And McCown didn’t throw a lot of corners and posts so they don’t affect his overall grade as much as the go routes, which he threw more than twice as often.

        I just don’t see he how can have 11% of his throws be go routes, grade so well on them, but grade so average on anything longer than 20 yards. Seems to be a contradiction to me.

        • Arthuro

          Good question, I don’t get it either.

      • Chris

        Still a great article though

    • Johnny Hatelak

      Chris he was very good throwing bombs. McCown had some real good touch passing ability. Those deep outs and digs that Cutler is so good at only a few QB’s in the league can execute as consistently. McCown doesn’t have near the arm Jay has. He can spin it. I think the biggest thing we can take from this article is that Marc Trestmen’s offensive vision is very good. Also I would point out that McCown faced the easiest part of the schedule against the lowest ranked defenses. Jay faced the better defenses and the larger sample size. Lets not forget jay played the earlier part of the schedule when the offese was just starting out. by the time Josh got to be in control the offense was more familiar with the skill players, and especially with the offensive line who featured two rookie starters. Also has the most tape against him than McCown which makes a big difference. They also had the more scaled back plays of the play book and easiest to execute for a QB, and when jay was in there they went right back to the more difficult routes to execute which is indicated by the higher number of deeper drop backs to allow for deeper routes to be executed. But the biggest thing was strength of opponent. Like the one poster above who said he was impressed by the Cowboy game. The Cowboys were the football equivalent of dog shit defensively. Jay would’ve have lite them up too.

    • joe f.

      Just forget all those stats I mean you can learn a lot from them but the one stat you can’t learn from them is who is better then who in 2014. So just wait and see what happens. GO BUCCANEERS…

  • David

    How did Cutler do in the fourth quarter compared to other QB’s? I know QB rating had him very high.

  • Barron Buc

    Great to see McCown grade well on almost everything. I watched the Bears-Cowboys game on MNF and was extremely impressed

  • joe f.

    I guess in 2014 we will see who gets the best grades. I’m betting on McCown. I know that Cutler has been the starter over McCown but Josh is about to have a brake out year.
    Week 12 will be a good match up all around. Cutler has a bit of advantage being the play at home. But this is the game most bucs fans and Bears fans will be looking forward to. At least I am. ” GO BUCCANEERS “

  • Guest

    Let’s just see what happens in 2014 nothing else matters.