Jay Cutler is who the Dolphins thought he was.
And that’s a good thing.
At the midway point of his first (and perhaps only) season with the Dolphins, Cutler is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage (66.2) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (2-to-1).
Cutler is playing how Adam Gase thought he would when the Dolphins coach coaxed his former quarterback out of retirement in August.
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Cutler got off to a rough start in a Dolphins uniform — he was booed in the first half of his first game at Hard Rock Stadium — but has been excellent in his past two appearances.
Since the Jets game, Cutler has completed 46 of 58 passes (79.3 percent) for 449 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. His passer rating over that span: 120.5.
“Jay, really, the last two games he has played well,” Gase said. “The Jets game, that was probably one of the best games that he has had. Then this last game, I think he topped it. I don’t know if that has anything to do with that. We just got finally rolling a little bit last week.”
Making it all the more impressive: Against the Raiders he threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns two weeks after cracking multiple ribs.
Cutler had to sit out the Ravens game — a 40-0 defeat — but had what Clyde Christensen said was his best game with Miami the following week. Cutler insisted recently that the only time the ribs bother him is when he gets hit.
“He looked comfortable,” said Christensen, the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator. “He threw the ball accurately — more accurately. He protected the ball. He was extremely prudent with the ball. We all thought that he looked comfortable. I think some of it probably is that he’s getting more and more comfortable. If we can keep the arrow going up that way, that would be huge.”
Cutler had help in ways that he didn’t the weeks before. The Dolphins were among the worst teams in dropping catchable balls, but their receivers showed up in prime time.
Another big change: the return of the checkdown.
Yes, that has been a dirty word in these parts dating back to the Chad Henne days, but the Dolphins probably went too far in the other direction this year. Dolphins running backs had 25 catches in the first seven games of the season. Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake combined for 12 on Sunday.
“I think it’s a strength of theirs,” Cutler said. “I think it’s something they do extremely well. They’ve got a really good feel for getting out of the backfield, finding soft spots. Obviously, the run after the catch is something that they’re really, really good at. I think Adam did a good job calling plays Sunday and trying to feature that a little bit for us.”
Christensen said: “The one thing we do know about these two backs is that they’re exceptional, they have exceptional receiving skills. They’re very good receivers and they have a big-play ability in them. They have a knack for making big plays and hopefully with their numbers being up, their ratios will stay the same and they’ll make more big plays because they’re playing more snaps.”
Still, this offense has been unable to stretch the field, as Miami’s top three wideouts (Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker) are averaging 10 yards per catch.
Cutler’s yards-per-pass average (viewed by many as the best gauge of a quarterback’s effectiveness) is just 5.9 — the lowest of his career and 30th in the NFL. The task does not get easier Monday against the Panthers, who have the league’s sixth-ranked pass defense.
“Incredible, incredible defense,” Cutler said of Carolina. “[Luke Kuechly] and [Thomas Davis], they control everything. They’re incredibly smart players. They get everyone else in position. They get out of checks if they don’t like them, get out of calls that they don’t like, and get into something that’s better. The front seven is still getting after the passer. They mix up coverages and do enough on the back end to keep you guessing a little bit and bring some edge pressures. It’s a really solid group.”