We're going to spend the next few weeks debating a ton of different players at a ton of different positions. Who is better, who you would rather build a team around, who looks better in a tale of the tape.
Football Steel Cage Death-Matches as it were.
As Rodgers is the top dog, the question becomes, who is second?
Today we pit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford against Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Two men enter. One man leaves.
As we look at our two combatants' 2011 seasons, it's hard to get a proper comparison. Of course, Cutler was out for six games. It was his first year since his rookie season where he played fewer than 15 games and first since his rookie year that he had fewer than 3,000 yards or 20 touchdowns.
Stafford, of course, has a much smaller sample size, having been in the league just three years compared to Cutler's six.
For the Lions quarterback, it was a flip of Cutler's 2011—Stafford finished a full season for the first time in his career and had career highs in touchdowns and yards. His 5,038 yards was the top in the NFL for 2011 and he also threw more (663 times) than any other quarterback.
Now let's toss that out the window because stats will only get you so far. We have something to point to, sure, but there's more to this than who threw more.
We're going to use similar criteria as was used for my look into why Aaron Rodgers is so effective. We'll add a few things, but that's the foundation.
After all, if it works for the best, it should work for the rest. We will, of course, add in some discussion of weapons, depth and supporting cast in general as well.
We've touched on this before in that Rodgers article, so I won't belabor the numbers too much.
Cutler has thrown 2,521 pass attempts in his career (and it'd be higher if he hadn't missed so many games in 2011) with 86 interceptions to show for it or 3.4 percent. Just 4.6 percent were completed for touchdowns.
He ranks 23rd all time in completion percentage (61.1 percent), 12th among active quarterbacks.
Stafford ranks 38th and 23rd in those categories, with far fewer years and passes.
Stafford's completion percentage is at 59.7% over his career while Cutler's is at 61%. Again we're talking about numbers where Stafford threw 1,385 fewer passes.
As for the percentage of interceptions vs. touchdowns, 3.2% of Stafford's passes have been interceptions while 5.2% have been touchdowns.
While Stafford's percentages are better, it's hard to say he's a more accurate quarterback since there isn't that much space between the two of them and Cutler threw almost twice as many passes.
In fact, given the volume, it's sort of amazing that Cutler's stats are what they are.
Accepting the fact that Stafford's career represents far too small a sample size to get too excited in either direction, I give the edge to Cutler.
He's done it longer and just as well.
It's a funny thing, poise. All quarterbacks who make it more than a few years in the NFL have it, and the better guys have it in spades.
There's a difference, however, in how much they have.
Both quarterbacks have it, but neither of them are perfect.
Stafford got a bit wild in the middle of the season and it was often when the offensive line let him down, but not exclusively. There were games where the defense did a spectacular job of taking Calvin Johnson away and clogging the routes, resulting in timing issues with the quarterback and his receivers.
That said, even when he imploded (as he did against the Bears in Week 10), he generally bounced back. He seems to have a short memory for his mistakes, and is able to bounce back play to play and week to week.
Cutler has an equally short memory week to week—it's his play to play memory that let's him down. It's hard to say for sure if he's getting hung up on his own mistakes or just frustrated, but you can read his emotions on his face all too often.
That doesn't preclude greatness in a quarterback—Eli Manning pouts more than almost anyone per game but he has a pair of rings and some very good seasons under his belt.
Cutler seems to get rattled, though. When things starts falling apart, there are times where Cutler falls apart as well. Not always, but often enough.
This could totally change this year without Mike Martz putting Cutler in the position of getting blasted every game.
If that's the case, this area would probably be closer.
As it stands though, Stafford is able to weather the ups and downs a little better.
In this case, Cutler is a clear-cut winner. he scrambles well—he has had to in order to survive the last few years—and is a little better at finding room to run.
Of course, you don't want Stafford to run if he can help it, since he's spent so much time on the Injured Reserve.
Both quarterbacks are solid enough in this category. Stafford brought his team back several times this year and was helped by actually being on the field rather in the trainer's room in 2011.
Cutler was hurt, but in previous years had done plenty to engender some support.
Who is the better quarterback now?
Don't believe me? Let's travel back in time to 2011, just after the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs. Cutler was hurt in their loss to the Packers and sat out most of the second half. He got killed for it, especially by former players and non-Bears players.
His teammates rallied to his cause.
You don't get that if they don't believe in him, and he doesn't get that if he doesn't deserve it.
Both players have shown moments of true leadership.
Stafford, as the early picture for this article says, finally finished a full season in 2011 after ending two on injured reserve.
Cutler finally ended up on I/R after years of pretty consistent health.
Looking back at the Bears line the last few years, I am stunned Cutler wasn't on the injured reserve years ago.
Stafford has a lot to prove in this area.
Now we're going to take a look at the people around the quarterbacks and how they are used and help both guys. While there are some things outside of the control of a quarterback (is it their fault when they don't have any weapons?), how they use the tools they have and how they deal with what they don't have or can't control says a lot about them.
As there is so much in these situations out of Stafford and Cutler's control, I won't mark a victor in any of the following columns. We will break down how each quarterback uses their weapons though as in the end, that factors into the equation.
Hard to argue with the fact that Stafford has the better group of pass-catchers—though I would bet money people will in the comments. Calvin Johnson is tremendous, but Nate Burleson and Titus Young are both very good and rookie Ryan Broyles could be a factor if he is healthy.
Cutler finally has his own big-play guy in former Denver teammate Brandon Marshall. The two did well together in the Mile High City, so it's safe to assume they will do so again in the Windy City.
After that, it is a bit more uncertain. Alshon Jeffery appears to have all the tools to succeed in the NFL and I expect big things from him even in his rookie year—but he's a rookie so we just don't know.
Earl Bennett is decidedly average, though he is reliable. Devin Hester—at some point the Bears will wake up and realize he's OK and that's about it. He's not much of a factor. We don't know if Johnny Knox will return.
There are a lot of question marks here.
The Lions have their own—is Titus Young done punching teammates?—but overall, the group inspires more confidence.
However, look at what Cutler has done with a lot less. In 2009, Cutler threw for over 3,600 yards with Hester, Bennett and Knox, as well as such superstars such as Devin Aromashodu.
Stafford has always had Calvin Johnson—I'm not going to ding him for that, but it's a fact that he had at least one tremendous weapon all three years he has played.
Cutler is only now getting that in Chicago.
Stafford has finally been able to take advantage of his weapons this year, spreading the ball around to Titus Young, Nate Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew effectively.
The upside on the Bears' wide receivers is pretty significant and while you can't match Calvin Johnson with Brandon Marshall, they could line up nicely otherwise. It's got a great deal of potential but right now that's all it is.
Right now, Stafford has the edge, but we may find by the end of 2012 that the two groups are much closer than we realize.
The Bears seem to think they have the right group to make this line work—that the majority of the fault lay in Mike Martz's scheme, not the players.
Perhaps—Martz ran a very complex scheme. However, the bulk of the line has struggled from a technique and strength standpoint and regardless of scheme, I have my concerns.
Who is the left tackle for the Bears? Seventh rounder J'Marcus Webb who is learning on the job? Chris Williams, who failed at the left tackle previously? Gabe Carimi, fresh off an injury?
Too many questions and too many hits the last few years.
Stafford's line may not be All-World but it's deeper and more effective. The biggest question there is also left tackle—will Riley Reiff be the guy there or Jeff Backus, fresh off a quad injury?
I do believe Reiff can step right in—and even if Backus returns to the left tackle, it's less uncertain than Chicago's line.
Chicago needs to give Cutler some protection. he may be durable, but he's not invulnerable.
We can debate if the Bears are doing Matt Forte an injustice with his contract (or lack thereof) but pairing him with Michael Bush spells trouble for opposing defenses. Bush isn't as good as Forte, but the two of them together are incredible and will help keep defenses honest for Cutler.
Add to it the fact that Cutler loves to throw to Forte and Bush can catch, too, and you have a great backfield.
The Lions' backfield could be very good as well—if it stayed healthy and out of trouble. we believe Mikel Leshoure will return 100 percent or at least close post injury and hope that Jahvid Best can avoid further concussion issues.
If all of it comes up aces for the Lions, they still aren't likely in the same class as Forte/Bush, but they'd be very effective nonetheless.
Unfortunately for Stafford, Leshoure could be suspended for a pair of drug-related arrests this offseason and Best is undersized and won't be able to carry the load.
This is a situation with a big, fat question mark on it.
Stafford could use the support of a good ground attack—lucky for him he's played well without one before, because we don't know if it will be anything different in 2012.
The Bears' defense has been the team's strength for as long as anyone can remember. It will continue to keep things close enough most of the time that Cutler won't have to heave the ball a ton to have a shot at winning a game.
I'm not saying they can't get blown out (the secondary still has issues) but for the most part, the Bears will be close enough to win at the end.
The Lions are a defense on the rise, but they need better and more consistent play from snap to snap and they have to be more disciplined.
Too many penalties for this unit holds it back right now.
They also need to do a better job earlier in games—they fell behind too early a few times in 2011, which just puts more pressure on Stafford.
So far he's been up to the task, but they want to make his life easier, not more challenging.
It's hard to judge the Bears' staff, as key pieces such as Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice and quarterback coach Jeremy Bates are new to the organization.
The positive thing here is that Bates was a QB coach in Denver for some of Cutler's best years while Tice knows his way around an offensive line.
Between the two of them, this could be a very different—and much more effective—offense for Cutler.
Some teams take on the personality of their coach—for example the New York Jets talk almost as much trash as their coach, Rex Ryan.
If that's the case for the Lions, we could be in trouble. Without a doubt, Jim Schwartz has a bit of a temper and as it stands, so does his team.
Of Schwartz wants more disciplined play from them, he needs to be more in control of his own emotions. If he wants players to stop throwing punches, he needs to avoid nearly getting into physical altercations with other coaches.
Schwartz is a fine coach and has been a big help to Stafford, and Todd Downing appears to be a pretty fair quarterbacks coach.
I believe that both teams have good coaching staff in place to help their quarterbacks—but if Tice and Lovie Smith are wrong on the offensive line, it will be Cutler who pays the price.
Looking at the above 'Victories' and taking into consideration the situations listed after, this doesn't look like what I expected it to.
Part of the problem is, Stafford's career is just too damned short to make any real solid judgments. In a few years, he could be far above Cutler.
Cutler has more of the individual aspects in his favor, while Stafford's team situation is better in many ways.
Still, Cutler has the overall edge going into this season. While I would feel more comfortable with Stafford long term, right now Cutler is the better bet, and I believe this season will bear that out.
Not that Stafford won't have a great season or even a better career—just that with the right circumstance, Cutler can be a tremendous quarterback as well.
I believe this season will be that circumstance.
I'll get killed for this but in this early preseason, the tale of the tape comes down in Cutler's favor. Stafford might be the better guy long term but he has to stay healthy and have some more experience and seasons under his belt to prove it.