It's been interesting monitoring the reaction of Dolphins fans to the signing of new quarterback Jay Cutler. Just as has always the case with Cutler, few fans are on the fence when it comes to opinions about him. Love him or hate him, he always gets a reaction.
As someone who lives in Chicago and watched almost every pass Cutler threw there, I think I can say with some confidence that the Dolphins did pretty well with this signing. They didn't have a lot of choice in terms of quarterbacks this late in the game and, truthfully, Cutler and Tannehill are almost the same guy statistically.
Cutler's career passer rating is 85.7 vs. Tannehill's 86.5, practically a dead heat. And it's not coincidence that both men had the best years of their careers under former Bears offensive coordinator and current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. Cutler threw for 3,659 yards, 21 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions with Gase in 2015 and Tannehill tossed for 2,995 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 picks in 13 games a season ago.
In particular, in drastic contrast to most of the rest of his career, Cutler was a model of consistency in 2015. He posted passer ratings of at least 88.4 in 10 of 12 starts including ratings of 151.0, 117.0, 100.5 and 100.2.
Dolphins fans would not be the first to ask why Cutler, a quarterback with a well-deserved reputation for being particularly difficult to manage, connects so well with Gase. In order to address that, you have to look at what Cutler's major problem was under other coaches.
I have contended for many years that it was the simple fact that Cutler has trust issues. He really doesn't trust anyone on or off the field. This has been historically evident evident in every aspect of Cutler's life where he even got cold feet and backed out of his engagement before evidently realizing he'd made a huge mistake and went through with marrying Kristin Cavallari.
But our business with Cutler is on the field where that lack of trust was evident in the way that he plays football. Cutler has always been a classic "see it, throw it" quarterback. He typically waits for receivers to come open, then uses his arm strength to try to force it in too them before the window closes.
This can work in the modern NFL but it only gets you so far and there is a ceiling for virtually every quarterback of this type. Good teams with good defensive backfields won't allow those open windows for enough time for anyone to be able to consistently fit the ball in.
For that reason, offensive coordinator after offensive coordinator tried desperately to get Cutler to throw with anticipation to his receivers. They had limited success primarily because Cutler never could bring himself to trust that the other players would be in the right place when he threw the ball. Inevitably, there would eventually be a mistake where Cutler threw to a spot and the receiver wasn't there. Interception. Have it happen a few more times and, poof, Cutler was back to waiting before throwing the ball.
The key to Gase's success where those others failed was that, somehow, like Cavallari, Gase persevered and got Cutler's faith to the point where he could actually execute the offense the way it was designed.
In this respect, Gase's answer when asked the reason for Cutler's success in 2015 was interesting (the emphasis is mine).
"I just see the way that he's decisive," Gase said late in the year. "He knows exactly where he's supposed to go with the ball. The thing that's been most impressive has been how he's controlled the line of scrimmage in the no-huddle setting. It's allowed him to really show who he is. I know he's been somewhat of a quiet guy around here. But I think there's more to him than what he's shown in the past, and we're seeing that.
Bears veteran tight end Zach Miller recently expressed similar thoughts.
"I think Adam gave him full reign and comfort to be himself and to be a leader and really step up," he said. "Be a little more vocal. Connect in a different way with other players and other people than he did in the past."
The results were evident in Cutler's play as receiver Eddie Royal stated quite accurately: “The word trust comes in. Sometimes the timing is not going to be there but you still have to play. You have to trust that the guy is going to be in that spot when you throw the ball. Jay has done a great job doing that, knowing where the guy is supposed to be and trusting that he is going to be there because a lot of throws are timing throws.”
Gase has a well-deserved reputation for adjusting to his players and playing to their strengths. His work with Cutler in 2015 took this to another level. Cutler is extremely intelligent but coaches by their very nature are micro-managers. Most of the best ones like to control every aspect of what goes on once players take the field. To give that up is extremely difficult but Gase did it to a larger extent than, evidently, anyone else Cutler had ever had to deal with and it paid off.
By trusting Cutler and giving him more control over his environment, Gase got Cutler to return that trust to the benefit of the entire offense and, indeed, the entire team. He threw the ball to the right spots. His turnovers dropped drastically. He was a different quarterback.
The Dolphins were extremely lucky to be able to pick up Cutler when they did and to have the right coach in place to take full advantage of his talent. Not many teams can survive the loss of their starting quarterback for an entire season. But if Gase can repeat what he did with Cutler in 2015 - and there's little reason to believe he can't - it seems evident that the Dolphins should be able to compete this season with little or no drop off at the quarterback position.
Bottom line, it's going to be alright, Dolphins fans. Trust me.
This story was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
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