Sunday, August 6, 2017

Cutler A Dolphin: Impact On New England Is Negligible

Ian Rappaport is reporting that the Miami Dolphins have reached a contract agreement with retired NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, a move that impacts the New England Patriots in a couple of different ways.

First, it means that Miami's regular starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is done for the season, but the Dolphins organization is in full panic mode, thinking they are just going to waste all of the talent that they've acquired over the past couple of years by going into battle with Tannehill's long-time backup Matt Moore.

Moore is a capable backup, and could very well have led Miami to a playoff berth as he did down the stretch in 2016 before taking a savage beating in their wildcard game loss to Pittsburgh - but even in that game he was having his way with the Steeler's secondary before linebacker Bud Dupree likely concussed him with a helmet-to-helmet hit just before halftime.

Moore apparently passed the Dolphins' concussion protocol but wasn't the same after the hit, throwing a pick and losing two fumbles that doomed Miami's chances, a performance that prompted the league to issue a warning to the franchise that they need to get onboard with the protocol.

But despite the performance in the last four regular season games and the first half against Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the Dolphins opted to bring in Cutler, reasoning that he knows head coach Adam Gase's offense, an offense that plays to the strength of his skill set, that being boundary throws to taller receivers - of which Miami has several - seam throws to tight ends and dump-offs to backs in the flat.

It's a run-and-screen form of the Erhardt-Perkins offense that Gase encountered as a wide receiver's coach under Josh McDaniels in Denver and which he brought to Chicago as their offensive coordinator and now to Miami as their head coach, the advantage of which is to draw the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to open up the mid-range options in a ball-control scheme that concentrates on moving the chains.

Under Gase as the Bears' offensive coordinator, Cutler enjoyed perhaps his finest statistical season as a professional quarterback, setting career highs for efficiency (completing 65% of his throws), and for quarterback rating (92.3), and cut his interceptions to a career-low average per pass attempt - but what matters for the Dolphins, as well as teams defending against them, is that Cutler is tailor made for the run-and-screen offense while Tannehill struggles in it.

In Cutler, Gase gets a guy that excels in the short-passing, ball-control offense and can make all of the throws required of an NFL quarterback and is deadly accurate on the short-to-intermediate throws, while Tannehill was often indecisive when going over the middle and frequently made off-target throws that put his receivers in harms way, not to mention that Tannehill was quick to pull the ball down and scramble instead of going through his progressions.

The second impact comes in the aforementioned Josh McDaniels factor, which provides Cutler with additional motivation to perform well against the Patriots.

When McDaniels was hired by the Broncos as their head coach in 2008, the first thing he did was to alienate Cutler by engaging in talks with Tampa Bay involving a three-team trade that also involved New England which, had it gone through, would have sent Cutler to the Buccaneers, Patriots' quarterback Matt Cassell to Denver and to the Patriots, a first round draft pick.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions had entered the fray and made an offer to the Broncos for Cutler and a similar offer the New England for Cassell - all deals fell off the table when Belichick traded Cassell to the Kansas City Chiefs, but while it was widely reported that the Bucs and Lions approached the Broncos and not the other way around, Cutler became incensed that McDaniels would even entertain the notion of a trade.

In a classic case of over-reaction, Cutler put his Denver home on the market and immediately requested a trade, saying that the relationship between he and the head coach was irreconcilable. Broncos' management accommodated Cutler's request and traded him to Chicago, the Bears giving Denver quarterback Kyle Orton and a couple of first-round draft picks.

The story on McDaniels became rather sordid after that contentious start, and he lasted only a year and a half in Denver.  Suffice to say that his feud with Cutler started the McDaniels tenure in Denver in the wrong way, and it spiraled into the toilet from there with claims of immaturity following scraps with his own players and those from other teams...

...while that same label followed the equally enigmatic Cutler, whose entitled behavior wore on his Bears' teammates to the point that when John Fox took over the team as the head coach in 2015, he struggled with a decision of whether to keep Cutler around, and caused former-Patriots' tight end Martellus Bennett to question Cutler's leadership skills.

So after a 2016 season in which Cutler played in just five games due to injury and indifference on the part of the Bears' coaching staff, he was released by Chicago, signing on with FOXSports as a color commentator, but has now put that career on hold to become Miami's starting quarterback.

But the true impact on New England is that the defense is built to take away the boundaries and force everything inside, so in theory the Dolphins should be easier to defend against as Cutler is more of a pocket passer compared to Tannehill, who pressured the Patriots' front seven with his scrambling ability and caused them to shadow him with a weakside linebacker or a strong safety...

...but with Cutler under center, the defense can concentrate on taking away the middle of the field and force him to the boundaries - and from what we know about him, Cutler will start trusting his arm strength more than the technique he developed on underneath routes, making a feast for New England's excellent secondary to pick off passes.

In short, it's hardly ever a positive thing for a team to lose their starting quarterback, but if Miami is getting the good Cutler who reads his progressions and takes care of the football, they can make the playoffs - but if they get the "entitled" Cutler, their season is finished.

That said, they could have gotten the same out of Matt Moore.

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