If the oldest rivalry in professional football wasn’t enough to stir the pot for Bears and Packers fans, there’s a side story ongoing that will figure to make things even more interesting for the foreseeable future.
After decades of erratic quarterback play, the Bears finally landed a signal caller who has all the physical tools to play the position at a high level for many years to come. And after years of watching one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Packers fans didn’t have to wait long to usher in a new era.
With both teams having solidified the most important position on the field, a new chapter of the greatest rivalry in sports has begun.
Barring a trade, major injury, or outright release, the Jay Cutler-Aaron Rodgers quarterback duel amounts to a minimum 5-year, 10-round fight. The Packers extended Rodgers’ contract through 2014 last year and the Bears did the same for Cutler earlier this season through 2013.
Rodgers was awarded Round 1 in the season opener at Lambeau Field. With only 184 yards and a touchdown on 17 of 28 passing, it’s difficult to say he outplayed Cutler, but Rodgers’ team won while Cutler threw four interceptions and eight more incompletions than Rodgers.
The similarities between the quarterbacks run deep. Both have great pocket awareness and can extend plays with their feet. Both can read the field well and put the ball in places where their receivers can make big plays. Both have good accuracy and football intelligence.
The areas in which Cutler excels more than Rodgers is arm strength and accuracy on the deep ball as well as more of a knack to fit the ball in tight windows. Rodgers, on the other hand, makes better decisions with the ball than Cutler as evidenced by his 13 fewer interceptions.
Through 12 games this year, Rodgers has compiled 3,399 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions on 275 of 420 passing. He has a completion percentage of 65.5 and a 103.3 quarterback rating while helping his team to an 8-4 record. Cutler, meanwhile, has 2,814 yards, 17 touchdowns and 20 interceptions on 261 of 421 passing. He’s completed 62% of his passes and has a 75.3 quarterback rating while taking his team to a 5-7 record.
While it appears Rodgers is off to a better start in this battle, let’s be clear that the playing field is hardly level. Rodgers has the benefit of working with one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, the current No. 1 defense, and the No. 13 rushing offense.
By comparison, Cutler is throwing to young, inexperienced receivers who have speed but not enough talent to complement it, the No. 15 defense in the league — or No. 26 if you prefer the more accurate Aikman Efficiency ratings — and the No. 31 rushing offense.
It’s as clear as day that the pieces are in place for Rodgers to succeed while Cutler enters a fight with an unloaded gun. It’s my hope that the Bears will rebuild quickly to give Cutler a fair chance to compete in this quarterback duel, but more importantly, an opportunity for the team to amp up the rivalry and make the division race ultra-competitive over the next half-decade — if not beyond.