Pick A Pair
Cutler tips balance to Bears
That's not to say Stafford isn't a very good NFL quarterback.
Stafford had a fabulous 2011 season as he passed for 41 touchdowns to just 16 interceptions to help lead Detroit to its first playoff berth in ages. But Cutler has been doing it longer and better with Marshall in both Denver and Chicago.
While dangerous, the Stafford-to-Johnson connection has been derailed at times due to the quarterback's injuries, which forced him to miss six games in 2009 and 13 games in 2010. That Johnson was able to put up such solid numbers without his starting quarterback on the field is a testament to his greatness, but it doesn't help the Lions win this argument.
Marshall went over the 100-reception mark two straight years in Denver (2007,08) with Cutler as his quarterback and has caught 35 passes for 496 yards and three touchdowns so far during his first year with the Bears.
Johnson's statistics this year are almost indentical, with 35 catches for 558 yards and one touchdown.
For his career, Marshall has five 1,000 yard receiving seasons to Johnson's three, which is another indicator that the gap between the two receivers is razor thin.
But again, this is more about Cutler and Stafford. I'm the first to admit Cutler has faults, but he's had four quality NFL seasons (2007,08,10,11) and has recovered nicely since the disaster in Week 2 at Green Bay to stack up a couple of nice games in a row.
Even though Stafford was incredible last year, I'd still take Cutler as my quarterback.
And that's why I side with Cutler and Marshall as the more dynamic quarterback-receiver duo.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
Stafford-Johnson a safer bet
If I had to pick a couple today, I'd go with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and not look back. Perhaps Cutler and Marshall will catch up by the end of this reunion season, but I still lean toward the pair of Lions.
Why? For one reason, consistency. Stafford is less erratic, more accurate, and Johnson drops fewer passes, a bugaboo for Marshall. Also, it's Megatron.
So far this season, both quarterbacks are off to modest starts, given their talents. If you go by quarterback rating, Stafford is 24th (79.2) and Cutler 25th (78.7). Cutler has thrown two more interceptions (7-5) and three more touchdown passes (7-4) despite throwing 62 fewer passes. Stafford has a better completion percentage (62.4-57.7), though Cutler has a higher yards per attempt (7.75-6.85).
The Bears have a better running game and, amazingly, probably a deeper group of complementary receivers, when healthy.
While you'd be hard-pressed to find any general manager, coach, quarterback or fantasy football player who would take Marshall over Johnson, their stats this season are pretty comparable.
They each have 35 catches and a near identical amount of targets (Marshall leads 56-55), with Johnson a slight edge on yards (558-496). Marshall has more touchdowns (3-1) while Johnson has more catches of 20+ yards (12-8) and more first downs (26-22). Marshall leads in yardage after a catch (160-93), but that's probably attributable to him running more quick slants.
It's fair to say there are no losers in this debate. Most teams would be happy to have either of these duos. But no one would pass up a chance to have Calvin Johnson on their team, and Stafford's not so bad either.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.