(NOTE: This is the first is a 3-Part Series To Cure you of your Jay Cutler Obsession)
Jay Cutler was a Pro-Bowl quarterback last year, in case you haven't heard.
And maybe you also heard that Kyle Orton, despite a winning percentage higher than Jeff Spicoli, isn't worth much more than an old Marcus Nash throwback jersey.
The evidence, if it's presented at all, usually rests on the following Cutler statistics: 4,526 yards passing, 25 touchdown passes, and 18 interceptions. With these stats, Cutler beat out quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, Matt Cassel, Tyler Thigpen, and Chad Pennington.
But what if I told you that, in reality, all 4 of these quarterbacks, along with Kyle Orton, probably deserved the nod over Cutler? Perhaps you would cede Philip Rivers on a day the Broncos weren't playing San Diego. But the others? Not a chance in Hell (Oakland).
The key is to make a proper comparison. Aside from simple wins and losses (which, with Orton, no one wants to do) one has to compare statistics evenly. It's the like the difference between comparing a casual drinker to a Raider fan. The causual drinker might get loaded at the company Christmas party or on New Year´s and flirt with the boss´s wife, but the Raider fan is probably getting toasted for 16 straight Sundays and is a danger to women and children. You simply can´t compare the two types.
In the case of quarterbacks, it's fairer to compare quarterbacks by normalizing their attempts. This is because someone like Drew Brees or Jay Cutler is putting up the ball over 600 times, while someone like Ben Roethlisberger is putting the ball up about 460 times. That's a huge discrepancy. Roethlisberger probably doesn't care. Of those 3 QBs, he's the one with the highest winning percentage and 2 Super Bowls. But in any event, to make a comparison between QBs with such large differences in attempts, one much ask the question, "What would each quarterback's stats look like if they had the same number of attempts?"
This is easy enough to do with math even the Black Hole can manage. By dividing a quarterback's total attempts by his total TDs, we can determine how many throws he attempted per touchdown thrown. We can do the same with interceptions. Finally, we can simply take a quarterback's yards per attempt and project that into the new number of attempts. This makes for a much fairer comparison.
Let's use everyone's favorite golden boy, Jay Cutler, and our perpetual whipping boy, Kyle Orton, as our examples. Last year, Orton attempted 465 passes. His yards per catch was 6.4 yards. He threw 18 TDs to 12 Ints. This is all we need for the following math:
Attempts/TD Ratio - 465/18 = 25.83
Attempts/INT Ratio - 465/12 = 38.75
Cutler on the other hand, would have the following ratios:
Attempts/TD Ratio - 616/25 = 24.64
Attempts/INT Ratio - 616/18 = 34.22
As you can plainly see, Cutler threw a touchdown for every 24.62 attempts to Orton's 25.83. Okay, it's a tad better. Yet, by contrast, Orton threw an Interception every 38.75 attempts to Culter's 34.22.
Since Cutler had the most throws, let's normalize Orton's attempt now to 616 and see how the two of them look side by side. We'll take the number of attempts (616) and divide them by Orton's Attempts/TD Ratio and by his Attempts/INT Ratio. Cutler's stats will be exactly what he produced last year. Orton's will change, however:
QB Attempts Y/A Yards TD INT
Jay Culter 616 7.3 4,526 25 18
Kyle Orton 616 6.4 3,942 24 16
Now, and only now, we are in the proper place to compare the two QBs from last year. Cutler has more yards and one more TD, while Orton would have 2 less INTs. Some would consider this a wash, but give me Orton. Those two extra turnovers probably result in more than the 7 points the extra TD gets you. But it's up for debate.
And yet this isn't another Cutler/Orton comparison (although I am enjoying it quite a lot), it's really more about how gaudy statistics are not all that they appear to be. For this we return again to our list of QBs that Cutler beat out for the Pro-Bowl.
Let's quickly do the same math for Rivers, Cassel, Thigpen, and Pennington in order to get their Attempt/TD and Attempt/INT ratios:
QB Attempts TD INT Attempts/TD Attempts/INT
Philip Rivers 478 34 11 14.06 43.45
Matt Cassel 516 21 11 24.57 46.91
Tyler Thigpen 420 18 12 23.33 35.00
Chad Pennington 476 19 7 25.05 68.00
This gets even more interesting. Philip Rivers threw a TD pass for every 14 of his attempts. That's pretty good in anybody's book. And Chad Pennington rarely made a mistake with the football, throwing a pick about once every 68 attempts.
Now let's do the most interesting part of the analysis, let's throw Cutler up against the other 4 QBs, along with Orton, when we normalize everyone's attempts to match Cutler's from last year:
Attempts Y/A Attempts/TD Attempts/INT TD Int Yards
Rivers 616 8.4 14.06 43.45 44 14 5,174
Thigpen 616 6.2 23.33 35.00 26 18 3,819
Cassel 616 7.2 24.57 46.91 25 13 4,435
Pennington 616 7.7 25.05 68.00 25 9 4,743
Cutler 616 7.3 24.64 34.22 25 18 4,526
Orton 616 6.4 25.83 38.75 24 16 3,942
Now how do you feel about Cutler and his Pro-Bowl? Was it so deserving? If these other quarterbacks has put the ball up as often as Cutler and simply kept doing what they were doing, they stats would have been just as gaudy--and then some.
Despite what you think about Philip Rivers (whiner), I think it's quite clear Philip Rivers was more deserving of a Pro Bowl nod. Imagine if Rivers had attempted the same number of passes that Cutler had. He would have had one hell of a season. Perhaps this is one of the reasons he just received a $93 million contract extension. What about KC bringing in Cassel for Thigpen? Looks like a good move from this chart. Five fewer interceptions. And Chad Pennington, despite the rumors to the contrary, is a pretty damn good quarterback.
It's also clear that all of the other QBs on the list would have done equally as well as Cutler with fewer interceptions. And yet Cutler is lauded as a Pro-Bowler, while the others (particularly Orton, Pennington, and Thigpen) are relegated to the average pile. This is what happens when you lose all your running backs to injury and you heave the rock 600+ times in a season. Your stats swell. And no one (particularly writers) takes the time to look under the hood for further data.
If you don't think McDaniels looked under the hood, you're crazy. I can assure you he knows that Cutler was throwing a pick every 34 attempts and Cassel was throwing one every 47 attempts. And believe me, he knows that if Orton threw as many times as Cutler did, he'd have as many touchdowns with less interceptions.
Perhaps it's for the best, however. If Cutler doesn't get to the Pro-Bowl last year, it's likely that Cutler wouldn't have been as overvalued as he was when it came time for a trade (repeat five times fast: we traded for a Pro-Bowl QB).
And the Broncos wouldn't have made out like bandits.
Go Broncos!!! Rock the Neckbeard!!