Given an either-or, one-for-one choice, who would you choose as your team’s quarterback (leave Fantasy Football out of it for now): Philip Rivers or Jay Cutler?
Think carefully before you answer. And read all the way to the bottom.
Rivers’ career body of work even impresses Cutler: “Over the years, I’ve gained a lot of respect for his game and the way that he plays,” Cutler said. “He’s been a staple in the league for a long time and has put up huge numbers year-in and year-out.”
Indeed, the Bears face one of the most prolific passers in the NFL Monday night in Rivers, who has thrown the San Diego Chargers to the No. 1 ranking in passing yards per game. But the Chargers have little to show for it where it matters (two wins) and scarcely more than that in the next-most-important category: points.
But in a league where the bromide “pass to score, run to win” still holds some sway, the Chargers are neither scoring nor winning. They go impressively up and down the field, then score less than 85 percent of the time they get inside opposing 20-yard lines (the Bears score on 90 percent, New England 100, Arizona 97).
San Diego is one of four teams in the top 10 in passing yardage per game that are also mired in mediocrity or worse when it comes to getting into the end zone. All are losing teams:
The answer is not as simple as assuming that losing teams pass more because they are so often behind. Passing-yardage teams New England (2), Arizona (4) and Cincinnati (7) are a combined 21-2 and lead their respective divisions.
No, the Chargers’ problems lie elsewhere.
Rivers is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, has thrown for 340 more yards than the NFL’s No. 2 yardage thrower (Tom Brady), and stands seventh in passer rating (102.1), meaning among other things that he does throw excessive interceptions (seven in 348 passing attempts — 2.0 percent).
He isn’t even being overly sacked; the Chargers rank a respectable 15th in sacks per pass play.
But for all of the apparent firepower, Rivers is a pedestrian 19th in third-down passing (rating: 81.3), the down that sustains scoring drives. Rivers has been good in fourth quarters but that has served more to bring the Chargers back from deficits — they have trailed after three quarters in six of their eight games.
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By comparison, Cutler has been nothing if not consistent. His overall passer rating is 87.5; his rating in fourth quarters is 86.7; but on third downs, Cutler is throwing at a 107.5 clip, better at this point than Aaron Rodgers, Teddy Bridgewater and Andy Dalton.
All of which means that Bears players, particularly defensive backs, need to accept that Rivers and the Chargers are going to put up big plays. Period. It will happen. How the Bears respond, however, is the key.
“I think just with football there's a lot of ups and downs, there's going to be plays you get beat,” said coach John Fox. “If you haven't been beat in this game you haven't played, so I think that's a pretty general understanding they have and we're learning and understanding and when you play a high-powered offense, sometimes they do move the ball pretty well between the 20s.
“I think what's critical is not giving up explosive plays, getting pressure on the quarterback, making some plays — it is more of a high-risk proposition from their standpoint, trying to create turnovers — and then playing well in the red area.”