On the NFL
11:54 PM CDT, August 24, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If the third exhibition is a porthole to the regular season, Jay Cutler is going to be a disappointment.
In the Bears' 20-17 victory over the Giants on Friday night, his performance paled next that of Eli Manning, who had a 111.9 passer rating compared to Cutler's 72.7.
Cutler completed only 43 percent of his passes and led just two scoring drives in eight tries. Too many of his passes were off the mark.
But you really shouldn't start calling for Jason Campbell. Even if the third exhibition is the most important of the preseason, it's still a practice game. And the next one that means something will be the first in history.
There were enough flashes of light in Cutler's performance to keep hope alive. Two of his better passes were dropped, and both could have been touchdowns.
Late in the first quarter, Cutler threw the kind of pass that makes everything all right. He found the perfect spot in the Giants' zone and threw a ball with just the right balance of touch and zip. It was high, where only Brandon Marshall could have caught it.
And catch it he did for a 21-yard touchdown.
Those types of pretty throws are great when they help the Bears win. But they don't mean much when they lose.
In that regard, the contrast between Cutler and his Giants counterpart is interesting.
Cutler makes more pretty throws than Manning. It's not that Manning, the first pick of the 2004 draft, lacks for talent. But Cutler has a better arm and is more athletic.
Up to this point in Cutler's career, the numbers that quarterbacks usually are judged by say he has been better than Manning.
Cutler's career passer rating is 84.5. Manning's is 82.1. His completion percentage is 61.1 compared to 58.4 for Manning. Cutler has averaged 7.3 per yards per attempt; Manning is at 7.0. Cutler has passed for 234.4 yards per game; Manning is at 227.9.
But the reality says something different.
Manning is Exhibit A in why statistics and breathtaking throws are overrated. What matters is Manning has two Super Bowl rings and Cutler has none.
One reason why is Manning has been better at critical times. And the reality is Cutler has to get where Manning is to be considered an elite quarterback.
Manning has been a star in the postseason. He has an 89.3 passer rating in the playoffs. Cutler, in only two playoff games, has a passer rating of 84.8.
He also has been better at key points in games. On third downs, Manning's career passer rating is 81 compared to 76.3 for Cutler.
On third downs Friday, Cutler actually was pretty efficient. He completed 4 of 8 passes, and one of them was the Marshall touchdown. One of his incompletions would have been a touchdown if Earl Bennett had made a tough catch.
In fourth quarters of his career, Manning has a higher passer rating than in any other period (84.6). It's Cutler's worst (76.8).
What it all adds up to is Manning has helped his team win more. In five of Manning's eight seasons, his teams have had winning records. But Cutler's teams have had a winning record in only one of his five seasons as a primary starter.
Those records aren't all about the quarterbacks though. Manning has played on better teams.
Manning has been sacked on 4.7 percent of his dropbacks throughout his career. Though Cutler was protected reasonably well Friday night, he has been sacked on 6 percent of his dropbacks through his career.
Manning also has had another very significant advantage over Cutler. He has played on the same team, with many of the same players, with the same basic offensive system.
Cutler, meanwhile, has played on two teams and has had five offensive coordinators. It's almost impossible for a player like Cutler to compensate for the lack of continuity early in a career.
Manning also has a two-year head start on Cutler. Two years ago, Manning was nowhere near as respected as he is now.
So the 29-year old Cutler remains a work in progress. He need not be limited by what he has been up to this point. Cutler is hitting the sweet spot of his career, and he has a wonderful opportunity this season
Cutler never will be "Easy E." He is a different type of player and person. But Cutler is capable of being Manning's equal.
All he has to do is win.
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