Matthew Stafford is commonly heralded as a top 10 QB in the NFL. Recently, NFL.com placed him #76 out of its annual Top 100. While Stafford burst onto the scene in 2011 with career numbers, a closer look comparing him to arch-rival Jay Cutler reveals very troubling implications, as the latter QB is hardly ever included the “elite discussion”. However, if a QB must be measured on his wins, particularly against quality competition, Jay Cutler not only surpasses Stafford, he makes him look rather weak in comparison.
Often, pundits and fans alike point to Cutler’s record versus Aaron Rodgers. They use this as the basis for proving that Jay isn’t on the same level because of the head-to-head significance. While this is a fair point, the same logic must apply when comparing Cutler to Stafford. The Georgia product is 1-5 vs. Cutler, and if you look at their in-game stats as well as complementary personnel, it’s not that close at all. Most of the attention has been devoted to Stafford and his growing legacy. This piece will do the opposite.
First, however, let’s break down Matt Stafford a bit more.
THE CASE AGAINST MATTHEW STAFFORD
Many fail to concede that, despite his 5,000 yard season in 2011, Stafford failed to defeat a single team that finished with a winning record. Up until the Seahawks game in 2012, the QB had NEVER defeated a single team that fared better than .500. People point to Cutler’s struggles vs. Green Bay; however, Stafford has never defeated Rodgers, has never made a pro-bowl, has never won a playoff game, has never won a division title, has never played in a conference title game, and cannot beat quality teams. In case you’re keeping score, Jay Cutler has accomplished all of those things.
When comparing quarterbacks, fans and the media alike rarely factor wins and losses into the equation. This is the case with both Stafford and Cutler. This past season, Matthew Stafford threw nearly 300 more passes than Jay Cutler. He was only sacked 29 times the entire season despite the fact that he fired an insane 727 passes. Yet, with better protection, a legitimate Tight End, and the league’s best WR, Stafford only managed one more TD. Cutler enjoyed the better passer rating, and Stafford threw 3 more INT’S.
Jay Cutler, on the other hand, did not have a Tight End that was starter quality, and prior to 2012, the Vanderbilt alumni was throwing to glorified kick returners and converted CB’s (Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Rashied. Davis) and suffered from the worst offensive line pro football had to offer. The fact that Cutler was sacked MORE than Stafford last year despite tossing 293 LESS passes tells you everything you need to know concerning how poor Cutler’s protectors were. Adding in the fact that Mike Tice was a big proponent of max protection, and those sack figures become even more egregious.
In a pass-happy league, the Lions threw the ball 196 more times than their opponents. Conversely, the Bears threw the pigskin 107 times LESS than their opponents. This is a key point because in 2011 Stafford and the Lions chucked it 666 times, an enormous amount of drop-backs. This has afforded Stafford many more chances to succeed in the passing game. Cutler, likewise, has thrown the ball much less. This owes in part because of the presence of Matt Forte and the liability of the Bears’ O-line. Cutler was sacked 38 times in only 14.5 games, yet he still beat more teams that finished with a winning record compared to Stafford. In fact, since 2007, Cutler has defeated at least 2 teams per year that enjoyed a record better than .500. The same cannot be said for Stafford, who routinely falls short vs. premier teams and has defeated only 1 team that finished over .500 his entire career. Yet, pundits unfailingly overlook this important point, crediting him for his lofty passing numbers in favor of showcase wins.
THE CASE FOR JAY CUTLER
While some “experts” have begun to point to Jay’s promising win-loss record, others are too mired in statistical bling to give him any credit. If you look at what Jay had around him, even including Brandon Marshall, it’s clear that Stafford enjoyed much better weaponry. While Stafford benefits from the league’s best WR in Calvin Johnson, he also has a real Tight End in Brandon Pettigrew, a capable O-line, and effective coaching. Jay had one WR last year (Marshall), a horrendous O-line, no viable Tight End, a kick returner and a rookie for complementary wideouts (Hester and Jeffery). The fact that Jay is more mobile than Stafford but was sacked 9 more times despite throwing far fewer passes reveals part of the reason his numbers haven’t blown off the charts. Throw in the fact that Cutler played in nearly 2 fewer games and this appears even more troubling.
The best evidence that Jay Cutler is the superior QB rests in his win-loss record when measured against Stafford’s as well as head-to-head competition. For his NFL career, Stafford is 17-28. This is hardly an impressive record for a player entering his fifth campaign. The lack of quality wins is especially troubling, especially when compared to Jay Cutler, whose NFL career record is 51-38. In his last 38 COMPLETE games, however, Cutler is 28-10. He is 27-13 over the past 3 seasons. What’s more, nobody uses these figures to compare the 2 players. Stats rule the day, and it’s unfortunate because Cutler simply hasn’t had the players around him or the coaching to truly reach his potential.
Jay Cutler is 5-1 vs. Matthew Stafford in the NFL. If you look closer at the stats, it is pretty clear why. In these 6 games, Cutler has thrown 7 TD’s against only one INT. Stafford has thrown 8 TD’s vs. 8 INT’s. If head-to-head competition is a feasible indicator of superior talent, how can Cutler’s dominance of this rivalry be overlooked? In point of fact, Cutler was the second highest rated QB in the NFC North this past year, despite an inept OC and the other aforementioned issues. What’s even more troubling is the fact that Stafford left both the 2009 game and the 2010 game in which he played against the Bears. People still won’t forgive Cutler for the 2010 NFC Championship fiasco, yet it’s seemingly fine for Stafford to leave multiple games with an assortment of injuries during his 2009 and 2010 campaigns. It seems people only want to focus on the ebullient stats Stafford brings to the table without taking a hard look at his win-loss percentage as well as his failure to defeat quality teams like the Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons, and just about any team with a winning record. Add to that the fact that Detroit slings it more than just about any other team and it’s easy to see why Stafford puts up a lot of yards.
Matthew Stafford is a talented QB whose arm complements the Lions’ style. He can still improve, yet he and Cutler share many traits. They are both quintessential gunslingers that take chances other QB’s shy away from. They force defenses to cover the entire field. They both have a tendency to run hot and cold, yet are among the best in the business when they bring their “A” Game. However, if wins and losses define the better players, Jay Cutler has to rise to the top owing to his better record, especially considering the people he’s had around him the past 4 seasons in Chicago. This year will be a good sampling because Jay Cutler finally has two things he’s lacked since his pro-bowl days in Denver – - efficient coaching and a decent O-line.
Matthew Stafford must prove he can win big games vs. quality teams. He must be able to defeat Jay Cutler lest his Top 10 status become even more dubious. Last season, defenses figured out a way to limit him. If Stafford is truly one of the best, he must circumvent this and find a way to win. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.