NFC North: Cade McNown
- The starting quarterback is the most important player on any football team.
- The Chicago Bears finished the regular season 11-5, won the NFC North division title and will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
- Jay Cutler is the biggest reason why.
So, in this case, does 1+2=3? Did the Bears need Cutler as their quarterback to advance this far? Was he the key to their resurgence this season? Or could they have followed the same path without making the 2009 blockbuster trade that cost them three high draft choices? In today's Double Coverage, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert discuss that very question.
Kevin Seifert: Jeff, you've been covering the Bears for years. You saw them go to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. You've lived through Kordell Stewart, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. You've seen a team win in spite of its quarterback, and you've seen quarterbacks single-handedly lose games. Let's start it off this way: How much credit do you think Cutler should get for the Bears sitting one step from the Super Bowl?
So if the most important player on the field was arguably the best player on the field nearly half the time, I find it impossible to minimize the positive impact Cutler had on the Bears' playoff run. Is he going to run for public office after he's finished playing football? No. Does he care that we're talking about him today, either good or bad? No. But to sit back and say Cutler was simply along for the ride wouldn't be doing his contributions much justice.
And by the way, thanks for bringing up Chad Hutchinson. I was trying to suppress that memory. What's next? Are we going to break down the NFL career of Jonathan Quinn? I could talk bad Bears quarterbacks all day.
KS: Any time. How about this: Cade McNown, Henry Burris, Shane Matthews and Steve Stenstrom. That pretty much covers it for our generation, I think.
Anyway, I agree it would be wrong to overlook some of Cutler's individual performances this season. He bounced back from some early hits in Week 2 to throw three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys in a 27-20 victory. He forgot about the early interception against the New York Jets and went on to throw for another three touchdowns in a 38-34 victory. His performance against the Philadelphia Eagles -- four touchdown passes, 146.2 passer rating -- was superb. And don't forget his late-game drive against the Detroit Lions in Week 13, the one that locked up the division title.
But I think the question at hand is whether the Bears would have won 11 games with, say, Orton at quarterback. To me, Cutler was not among the top two reasons for the Bears' success this season.
More important was the defense, which limited opponents to 17.9 points per game, and the best special teams in the NFL. As a result of those two factors, Cutler and the rest of the Bears' offense had the best head start in the NFL. No offense had a better average start of its drive (33.7-yard line) than the Bears'.
Do you think the Bears win those games with Orton?
JD: I must first admit to being a card-carrying member of the Kyle Orton fan club. Is there a more underappreciated quarterback in the NFL? That being said, I think you could make the playoffs with a guy like Orton, but the Bears are in a better position to potentially win a Super Bowl with a guy like Cutler.
Let me explain.
I firmly believe if Orton quarterbacked the Bears in 2009 they probably would have won three more regular-season games (against the Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers). They would have finished 10-6 and perhaps earned an NFC wild-card playoff berth. Cutler cost the Bears those games because of a barrage of turnovers and terrible decisions. But that's where the ride would've ended with Orton, in my opinion.
Could Orton have beaten the Cowboys, Eagles or Jets in 2010? Maybe. But with apologies to Jim Mora, we're talking playoffs, Kevin, playoffs!
That's why the Bears are better off with Cutler -- because Orton hit his glass ceiling as an NFL quarterback. Cutler has not. Look at how Cutler tore up the Jets. The defense struggled, and it needed a lift from the quarterback position to beat a tough opponent. Cutler delivered. I'm not saying Orton is incapable of leading a team to victory over playoff-quality teams, but the chances Cutler can do it are greater.
Sorry, Kyle. I loved your neck beard. But I have to go with Cutler on this one.
KS: It's all fantasy talk, of course. We'll never know if Orton would have played well enough last year to compel the Bears to keep offensive coordinator Ron Turner this season. We also don't know if Mike Martz would have wanted Orton this season.
But the Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Cutler. Has he provided them enough value for those picks? Or could they have used those draft picks to improve themselves in other areas?
It would be wrong to say that Cutler hasn't had a positive impact on the Bears this season, but I'm not willing to say he was the key to the Bears' division title, either. But if the Bears go to the Super Bowl, no one is going to care about that distinction.
JD: And you know Cutler is happiest when nobody cares!
I guess it's possible Jerry Angelo would have turned those two first-round selections into starting-caliber players. But I've seen the Bears use high draft choices on the likes of Michael Haynes, Roosevelt Williams, Mark Bradley, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Michael Okwo, Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias. So to assume Angelo would've waved his magic draft wand and taken the right guys? Well, that would be misguided, to say the least. Despite all the warts, I'm happy with Cutler and feel the Bears are now in a better position to win their first Super Bowl since the 1985 season because of him.
I could talk bad Bears draft picks all day.
KS: Spoken like a longtime Bears follower. Basically what you're saying is that while Cutler has demonstrated some flaws, his acquisition nevertheless prevented the Bears from making another series of draft mistakes! Perfect. I love it.
On that note, Jeff, this has been fun. I think we can agree Cutler has made a positive impact on the Bears' run to the NFC Championship Game. Could they have done it without him? That's up for debate.
|Allsport and Getty Images|
|According to a formula measuring college performance, Matthew Stafford, right, scored between NFL first-round busts Akili Smith and Cade McNown.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
The experts are hedging. The fans are sweating. The team is making clear it is considering all of its options.
There are 47 days remaining until the 2009 NFL draft, giving the Detroit Lions some 1,125 hours before they are required to make the No. 1 overall pick. The Lions might need every minute of that span, especially if their internal discussion at all reflects the raging public debate on Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford.
A classically built, strong-armed quarterback, Stafford has not yet caught on as the consensus No. 1 pick. ESPN.com draft analyst Todd McShay, for example, said recently the Lions face a "nightmare" decision because Stafford is "not mentally ready" to take on the pressures of being the No. 1 overall pick. McShay said that scouts from at least 10 teams agreed with that assessment and added: "I just don't feel great about building my organization around him."
|Find out which QBs impressed scouts with their performance at the combine.|
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock told a Detroit radio station that "there are some things about him that bother me," and even Stafford's biggest supporter advocates with a negative argument. Yes, Mel Kiper Jr. said the Lions should select Stafford primarily because "there is nobody else to take."
Matthew Stafford? Why are people thinking he is a good fit for an 0-16 team? I have seen Stafford play. He gets rattled easily. His arm is ok but his leadership skills lack. Next year they can get a much better QB. This year they need to fill in the holes on defense and on the line.
Why all of this generalist hate against Stafford, who by all accounts offers fine character as well as the draft's strongest arm?
Our friends at ESPN Research have developed a method for fleshing out the debate with statistical analysis. Using time-honored performance standards to predict future success for "blue-chip" quarterbacks, the formula placed Stafford between Akili Smith and Cade McNown in a category reserved for busts.
Does this mean Stafford is guaranteed to crash and burn? Of course not. But this evaluation documents in specific fashion the previously ill-defined criticisms of Stafford, helping to explain why there is so much disagreement about him with the draft little more than six weeks away.
The formula takes into account three statistics: Career starts, completion percentage and touchdown-interception ratio. The theory is that experience, accuracy and production versus mistakes can provide substantive indicators for college quarterbacks.
For those mathematically inclined -- it took me 10 readings to get it after having nightmare flashbacks to eighth-grade algebra -- below is the formula itself. (Note: This is the updated, corrected version. The formula in the original post was incomplete. Thanks to SwampThing86 and a few others for the heads-up.)
For BCS quarterbacks
(Career Starts x 0.5) + [(Career completion pct. - 60)x5] +[(Career touchdown-INT ratio - 2.25)x10]
For non-BCS quarterbacks
(Career Starts x 0.5) + [(Career completion pct. - 60)x2.5] + [(Career touchdown-INT Ratio - 2.25)x5]
(For a complete explanation of the formula, see the text box on your right.)
To test the formula, ESPN Research plugged in the 31 quarterbacks taken in the first round over the past 12 drafts, dating back to 1997. The results are below.
You'll see the quarterbacks broken into three categories. If their college statistics translated into a value of 20 or more, there was a strong likelihood for success. (Alex Smith and Tim Couch notwithstanding.) A value between 1 and 19 essentially meant "iffy."
But the most revealing category were those quarterbacks who finished with a value of 0 or less. Every one of them failed as NFL quarterbacks. Take a look:
Stafford scored a -4.45, putting him in unflattering surroundings to say the least. You never want to be on a list that includes Jim Druckenmiller and Akili Smith. Stafford's career completion percentage of 57.1 percent and his touchdown-interception ratio of 1.55 were primarily responsible for his poor showing. That left him rated well below USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and slightly behind Kansas State's Josh Freeman.
39;s numbers were dragged down by a freshman season in which Stafford completed 52.7 percent of his passes and threw 13 interceptions against seven touchdowns.
When McShay, Mayock and Jim from Cincinnati express their concerns about Stafford, it's primarily for these reasons: College quarterbacks don't typically improve their accuracy in the NFL. If his decisions were at all suspect against SEC opponents, then it's reasonable to wonder how he will react to professional defenses.
Throw in the state of the Lions, who are coming off an 0-16 season and might feel pressure to start him immediately behind an offensive line that needs help, and you understand the genesis of the Stafford debate. Where will it lead? Luckily, we have 47 days to find out.