Earlier in the week I talked about how the Chicago Bears secondary play is one of the keys to the Bears-Lions matchup on the lakefront Monday night. However, there is no denying that the play of QBs Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford will go a long way toward determining the winner of this contest.
I realize that statement is not exactly revealing news because the NFL is a quarterback-driven league now more than ever. But considering the lack of a strong running game for Detroit (Mikel Leshoure's 4.7 yards-per-carry average vs. the Philadelphia Eagles last week not withstanding), combined with the addition of Brandon Marshall to the Bears offensive arsenal, it is clear why these QBs will be critical to the outcome.
So which QB is better? While there is always going to be some subjectivity to any debate about which player is better at any position, in any sport, let's attempt to put some objective weight behind the argument.
If you look purely at statistics, especially 2011 stats, this is where Stafford clearly dominates. However, that is if you are looking at overall numbers, not the stats when the two teams play each other. When these teams suit up together, Cutler has been better than Stafford.
Cutler has won five of his last six starts against the Lions, and since Detroit ranks 16th in the league in pass defense, I expect this trend to continue.
The Lions are giving up more than 227 passing yards per game, and the addition of Marshall should help Cutler air it out against the Lions suspect secondary even better than ever.
In 2011, Cutler threw for 372 combined yards against Detroit with only one TD, but zero interceptions. Nothing to write home about, yet those zero interceptions may be the key stat for the Bears.
It is true that Cutler throws too many completions to the wrong team. His seven interceptions this season already match his total from his injury-shortened season last year. But four of them occurred in one game, and the Lions secondary is the weakest component of their team.
Add to this the fact that Cutler has limited his mistakes against the Lions in the past, and it's easy to see why I'm analyzing the two QBs based on more than just overall numbers.
Sure, the Lions had three takeaways against the turnover-prone Eagles last week, but that was probably an aberration. The Eagles lead the league in turnovers (17).
Prior to the two picks that Michael Vick threw against them last Sunday, the Lions had not intercepted the football.
So, continuing with the Cutler vs. Lions history, in 2010, Cutler was terrific against Detroit. He threw for 605 yards in the two games with three TDs and one interception, for a 113.1 QB rating.
Gong back even further, in 2009, Cutler had six TDs and no interceptions and a 112.6 QB rating versus the Lions. He also rushed for a touchdown.
As for Stafford, there is no question that the man had a superb season in 2011. If you base the Cutler-Stafford comparison on those stats alone, he is by far the better QB—I doubt Cutler will ever approach these numbers overall, especially throwing the ball in Soldier Field and with that offensive line in front of him.
Stafford threw for more than 5,000 yards with 41 TDs vs. 16 interceptions. His QB rating was 97.2 versus Cutler's 2011 rating of 85.7.
But let's look at Stafford's stats against Chicago.
In that terrific 2011 season, Stafford turned in a dismal QB rating of 64.3 against the Bears defense. He threw for 548 yards and three TDs, but had five interceptions. He rushed the ball three times for two yards.
In 2010, Stafford played in only one game against the Bears and had 11 completions for 83 yards with no TDs or interceptions, so he was not really a factor.
In 2009, Stafford was better, but still not that great. He threw for 296 yards in his one game versus the Bears, with one TD and one interception and a QB rating of 89.6. He was sacked five times by Chicago's defense.
Regarding each QB's weapons, because I've mentioned Marshall repeatedly, it is only fair to discuss the Lions' best weapon, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. He is arguably even better than Marshall, so he is the best offensive player who will take the field on Monday night.
But while Johnson is having another solid statistical campaign this season, he has scored just one TD. That's less than the Bears' Charles Tillman or Lance Briggs individually. And those are defensive players.
Against the Bears, Johnson caught 12 passes for 211 yards last season, but only one TD. In 2010, Johnson averaged just 55.5 yards in each game and had one TD. So the Bears have done a pretty good job against a great wideout.
Marshall hasn't played against the Lions since 2010, when he caught 10 balls for 102 yards and no TDs.
As for other intangibles, Cutler has had difficulty following the bye week, averaging just 198 yards per game over the last two seasons in games after the bye week. But that was against teams with a better defensive backfield than the Lions, and it was also without having Marshall as a weapon for Jay.
As far as durability, although Cutler missed the last six games in 2011 with a broken thumb, Jay has been the more durable QB overall. Last season was the first one that the Lions QB played in all 16 games.
I think there is little doubt that part of the Lions defensive game plan against Cutler is to try and intimidate him and either force him from the game or into bad decisions with the football.
Remember that the Lions talented but occasionally dirty defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ripped Cutler's helmet off last November without a penalty being called. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Nick Fairley drove Cutler into the ground in the third quarter of that game and was fined by the league for his actions.
Personally, I do feel that the Lions play dirty at times under head coach Jim Schwartz. The Bears can take advantage of their lack of self-discipline and control if they are smart.
Also, keep in mind that Stafford will be going up against a Bears defense that is tied with Atlanta for the league lead in takeaways (17).
So, overall, while Stafford put up the better numbers last year, considering his play against Chicago versus Cutler's play against the Lions, as well as the other factors mentioned, I would not give the advantage to Stafford on Monday night.
The loss of Alshon Jeffery hurts the Bears, but they are bolstered by the expected return of Earl Bennett.
The addition of Marshall, Cutler's play against the Lions historically and Chicago's running game, anchored by Matt Forte and Michael Bush, combine to give the Bears the advantage on the offensive side of the football Monday night.
But I predict a tough fight for the Bears against a Lions team that simply needs this game more than the Bears do. But in the end, the leg of Robbie Gould will win out.
Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 21.