This offseason has been one of tremendous anticipation for Bears fans. After racing out to a 7-3 record, the 2011 season took a wrong turn at Jay Cutler’s thumb injury. Expectations for the 2012 Chicago Bears are sky high, so I thought I’d try to put some real numbers behind the hype. I’m going to go through the key players on the team and “set the bar” for what some realistic stats might be for the upcoming season.
I thought there would be no better place to start than with the trigger man for the team, quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler was having a terrific season in 2011 before he was injured in Week 10 win over the Chargers. The thumb is fully healed and now JC has been reunited with some old friends from Denver in wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates.
The Bears must be hoping to rekindle the fire that Cutler had in his last season in Denver where he put up his best numbers as a professional: 4526 yards, 25 Touchdowns and 18 interceptions while teamed with Marshall and Bates. Follow the jump and see where I’m setting the bar for Cutler and see if you agree with my targets.
To try to understand where we’re going to go, we need to understand where we’ve been. Let’s take a look at Cutler’s career passing stats:
Before he got hurt last season Cutler was on pace for about 3700 yards, 21 TD’s and 11 INT’s. Those are far from all-time highs in any category, but certainly would have been enough to get the Bears into the playoffs. With a simplified offense and some new weapons, you can expect Cutler’s numbers to improve.
It’s clear the Bears are shifting from the “get off the bus running” philosophy to a more pass-oriented attack. With Marshall in the fold, not only does Cutler have a legit “go up and get it” #1 wide receiver, but the other receivers all move up a notch. Instead of being matched up with the other team’s top corner, Devin Hester is likely to be matched against opposing nickelbacks. Earl Bennett should also be able to work the underneath stuff and help keep moving the chains with Marshall getting more attention and commanding double teams. Even though Matt Forte is pouting in a corner right now, you know he’ll be in the fold to provide his usual pass catching out of the backfield.
If Cutler plays all 16 games and averages 250 yards a game that would amount to a 4000 yard season. I’m allowing for Cutty to miss one game – maybe the finale since the Bears will have the division wrapped up – so I’m setting the bar for Jay Cutler’s 2012 yardage at 3750.
With all that yardage, we can expect Cutler to have his fair share of touchdowns. His top TD season was actually his first with the Bears with 27, but that came with a TON of unwanted interceptions. While Marshall and Cutler teamed up for a monster season the last time they were together in Denver, Marshall only accounted for 6 TD’s among his 100+ catches, so that means those touchdowns will have to come elsewhere. I expect Alshon Jeffery to emerge as a nice red zone target as the season goes on and also see Kellen Davis to be a sleeper from the tight end position. The addition of Michael Bush should give the Bears a better goal line option than they’ve had in seasons past. I think Cutler goes above the 21 TD’s that he was on pace for last season, but not a monster TD total. I’m setting the bar for Cutler passing TD’s at 24.
Here’s where it gets interesting with Cutler. As much as the Bears want to reign him in, what makes him a special player is his gunslinger mentality. Cutler has the confidence that he can make any throw, often trying to squeeze the ball into places other QB’s wouldn’t even try. Cutler is going to throw his fair share of picks. I don’t expect him to approach the nightmare 26 pick season that he put up in his first year with the Bears, but it might be too optimistic to think he can keep the pace he was on last season, when he was projected to throw 11 picks over a 16 game season. With the offensive line still a work in progress, Cutler will still be under duress, which will lead to a few errant throws. I’m setting the bar for Cutler interceptions at 15, averaging 1 per game if he plays in the 15 games that I’m projecting.
So my 2012 Jay Cutler stat line is 3750 yards, 24 TD’s and 15 in 15 games. What do you think? What bar are you setting for Cutler? If he puts up those kinds of numbers, will the Bears season be a success? Let’s hear your thoughts in the Comments.