Jay Cutler made a return to the NFL on Thursday night, but this time in the aqua green of the Miami Dolphins instead of his usual Chicago Bears blue. Many feared he would have a lot of rust on him after Cutler retired earlier this offseason to join Fox Sports NFL coverage. Even before his retirement he was coming off shoulder surgery after playing only five games last year.
He has familiarity in the system of his former offensive coordinator, and now Miami Dolphins head coach, Adam Gase’s system. There were still many wondering why the Dolphins would pull him out of retirement after quarterback Ryan Tannehill saw his season end with a knee injury in training camp. The former Bears quarterback was never much more than an average quarterback anyways and after a few abysmal years before his retirement, many criticized the Dolphins for betting on him to lead them to playoffs for the second straight year.
Cutler managed to hit the ground running, though, and seemed in control of the offense on the first few offensive possessions of Miami’s game against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday. Miami ran a no huddle offense under Cutler for the most part and he was effective.
The quarterback showed his veteran pocket presence on his first pass of the game.
His first check is on Julius Thomas (#89), who is covered on the right side of the field. He then turns towards the middle of the field where both Jarvis Landry (#14) and Jay Ajayi (#23) ran. His eyes instantly turn towards Landry, looking off the middle and weakside linebacker. Ajayi is open for a decent pick up, and is able to turn up field for the first down as the weakside linebacker was late reacting because he was looking at Landry.
It is a small move, but it earned his team an easy completion and a first down.
He also showed a bit of fancy feet in the pocket later on the drive.
Cutler takes the snap out of shot gun and drops to pass. He looks to his left, but his first option in covered. Baltimore’s edge rushers wrap around the pocket, forcing Cutler to scamper forward. The interior of Baltimore’s pass rush gets pushed around the edge as well, though, giving the quarterback room to step up in the pocket. He runs forward and then launches a pass towards the sideline to Devante Parker.
He stays composed and his pass to Parker was near perfect. It was in a spot where only his receiver can make a play on it. It also allows him to quickly turn up field for a few extra yards after the catch.
This play was called back for holding, so it did not show up in the box score. It still is an early sign of the potential Cutler-Parker partnership we will see this season.
He was very calm and collected in the pocket all day.
On this play later on the same drive, Cutler calmly completes a pass while standing strong in the pocket as the pressure reaches him. After a fake to Damien Williams (#26) in the backfield Cutler turns around to almost instant pressure. He does not panic, or even try to leave the pocket. Cutler quickly scans the field and sees an open Parker streaking over the middle for a huge gain.
Cutler has always been a tough player who never was scared to take hits. He does not panic in the pocket and knows when to rid of the ball. He rarely extends a play when he doesn’t have to, but also is not scared to leave the pocket.
There were always a few issues with Cutler, though, and they did rear their head in his Miami debut.
He always has had the gunslinger label attached to him, and his poor decision making has haunted him for years. Cutler’s reputation may have outgrown him a bit over the years, but he does have plays, or entire games, where his entire brain seems to shut off and he makes awful decisions.
Cutler seemed to have a lapse in judgement and almost threw an interception into double coverage.
This first quarter pass was his worst of the game. Parker was the intended receiver on the play and was being smothered by the defensive back. The deep safety read Cutler, and quickly got over to the sideline to break up the play and almost come down with an interception. Cutler failed to read the safety coming over the middle, a mistake a veteran quarterback of his caliber should not be making.
Later he threw a pass away dangerously on a broken screen play.
The Dolphins allow the pass rushers to quickly speed by them towards Cutler to set up a screen for Williams. The running back is slow getting off of his route, though and Cutler is forced to throw it away as the play breaks down. While usually a quarterback in this scenario would throw the ball towards the feet of his running back, instead Cutler threw it away over his head into the flat.
It’s a very simple error that can easily lead to trouble. If the Ravens were playing zone coverage and had a linebacker drop into that area it may have led to a Ravens pick 6.
Cutler is a good quarterback who was never truly as bad as his reputation suggests. He does mentally switch off sometimes, and make the same mistakes you would expect from a college quarterback. The Dolphins will be willing to take the good with the bad this season as they desperately hope to reach Ryan Tannehill and reach the playoffs again.
As Cutler gets more and more familiar with the offense and his new teammates he should only get better. He obviously comes with baggage, but the Dolphins only need him to be just above average to repeat their success from last season.
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