The NFL is a quarterback league because of the emphasis on the passing game. Of all the divisions in the NFL, none has more quality starting quarterbacks than the NFC North.
Between Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler you have four quality starters. There isn't a slouch in the bunch.
When comparing the quarterbacks in the NFC North, you have to say Brett Favre is the most accomplished. There isn't even an argument. The sure-fire Hall of Famer has done everything a quarterback can accomplish, but his career is clearly winding down.
Aaron Rodgers proved last season that the Packers' decision to let Favre go was the right one for them. At this moment in time Rodgers is the most dynamic playmaking quarterback in the NFC North, if not the entire NFL. It was a decision that took guts to make, and now it is paying off.
The most surprising development of the upcoming season is that Matthew Stafford has surpassed Jay Cutler in his ability to do the things that make a quarterback effective. This statement is sure to raise some hackles among Bears fans, but sometimes the truth hurts.
Stafford has taken a huge leap forward this preseason in his effort to become a better quarterback. His command of the Detroit offense is impressive. He is making very good decisions with the ball. Stafford is far ahead of what you would expect from a second-year quarterback.
Which quarterback is better?
The most important development for Stafford is that he no longer tries to force plays that are not there simply because he has a strong arm. Matthew has progressed to the point where he understands that avoiding an interception is just as important as trying to make a play.
Put simply, Stafford has been able to make his ego less important than smart decisions. That is the mark of a veteran quarterback that "gets it." Stafford is entering only his second year as an NFL quarterback, and that has caused some NFL analysts to mistakenly underestimate him.
Jay Cutler is entering his fifth season in the NFL. At this point Cutler is likely to be a finished product. That is partly because most NFL players see their greatest development in their first few seasons, but also because Cutler's attitude is not amenable to changing himself in major ways.
Cutler is a "gunslinger," and he likes it that way. He will consistently force plays to make things happen and let the chips fall where they may. It is part of his mental makeup, and he isn't going to change.
Being a "gunslinger" is not always a bad thing. Brett Favre made a stellar career out of forcing plays. But decision-making becomes a huge factor when you take such risks, and it is clear that Cutler does not make plays as Favre did (or does) in the process.
To be fair to Cutler, his problems are not all his own. The pass blocking of the Chicago Bears has been woeful. Cutler is consistently pressured by opposing defenses into making decisions before the play has developed. But that is going to get worse this season.
Instead of getting Cutler better protection and more time to make decisions, Chicago opted to go a different route. They elected to hire Mike Martz, who is famous for the lack of protection his blocking schemes give to quarterbacks. Martz-designed offenses will place the quarterback under pressure unless he has a stellar offensive line, but Chicago does not have any equivalent to Orlando Pace.
The way that Martz-designed offenses put up big numbers is by flooding the passing lanes with options. By using minimal blocking, the offense has more players that can go out into passing routes. If the quarterback can make quick reads, he can almost always find an open receiver.
The Martz offense places a premium on fast-thinking quarterbacks that can throw the ball under pressure with accuracy. Unfortunately, those qualities are not what Cutler does best. He is a guy that needs time for his receivers to get downfield and get separation from defenders. His strong arm is often wasted in the Martz scheme, and his lack of good, quick decision-making will be exposed.
Chicago mortgaged the future to get Cutler, but they insist on placing him into situations where his talents cannot be optimized. Because of this Cutler will not be effective, and the Chicago Bears will languish. The only hope that Chicago fans have is that Cutler will not get seriously injured by Martz's porous blocking schemes.
Having a quarterback with great potential is a huge factor toward success, but the offensive scheme has to be built to suit the strengths of the quarterback. It is clear that Detroit coaches understand this but Chicago coaches do not. Because of that fact, Matthew Stafford will find success and Jay Cutler will find frustration.