Jay Cutler is a sack-magnet.
Cutler led the league in sacks last year with 52 and is currently the 2nd most sacked quarterback in the NFL with Sam Bradford taking that crown after a 7-sack performance Sunday. Most of the blame usually falls either on his offensive line or on himself for holding the ball too long. Both of these contribute to his sack-a-licious resume, but the biggest contributing factor may be the system in which he plays.
First, let’s look at the evolution of the shotgun offense. In 2000, just under 20% of all pass plays were taken from shotgun. As of 2010, almost 55% of all passing plays were taken from shotgun (57% so far this year!).
In fact, before 2007, it wasn’t too rare for a team never to pass from shotgun in an entire season:
In 2000, 5 teams went the entire year without a pass from shotgun and no team had more than 300 pass plays from the gun. Last year, over half the league (19 teams) had more than 300 pass plays from shotgun. Already this year, every team has at least 30 shotgun pass plays.
Which is what brings us to Jay Cutler. Last year, the Chicago Bears had the lowest percentage of shotgun passing plays at 15.1%. They were the only team to have less than 150 shotgun plays, and 1 of only 2 teams to have less than 200 shotgun plays. Now for Cutler’s sack numbers: 84% of Cutler’s sacks came under center.
This should be qualified, though. The sack rate for Cutler both under center and in shotgun is nearly identical. The general thought, however, is that quarterbacks under center are sacked more often. This may not be true. In 2010, a QB was sacked from shotgun 6.3% of the time, while a QB under center was sacked 5.7% of the time.
That being said, there is a correlation of -0.16 between shotgun rate and sack rate. If we look at a scatter plot between the rates, the correlation is due mostly to some outlier cases.
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While a low shotgun rate does not immediately explain Cutler’s high sack rate, it is definitely noteworthy. There has clearly been a shift toward the shotgun offense, but the Bears seem to be behind the curve. The high sack rate could be due to different defensive strategies when rushing against a QB in shotgun versus under center.
On Sunday against the Panthers, Cutler had 20 passing plays, 0 out of shotgun. Once again this year, the Bears have the lowest shotgun percentage, throwing from the gun on only 20% of plays.