After an offseason full of sports pundits roundly criticizing every move the Denver Broncos made, a 5-0 start has finally silenced the critics. Most of the controversy in Denver has been replaced by the sheer joy of winning.
The few hardcore Bronco haters out there are reduced to mumbling drivel about luck and making excuses for the teams that should have beaten the Broncos and couldn't.
Only one argument has yet to be settled. Was Cutler for Orton really the trade of a franchise quarterback for a mediocre quarterback?
The numbers say some interesting things about the trade.
Kyle Orton has quietly moved into a seventh place ranking among quarterbacks in the NFL ahead of such notables as Favre, Rivers, Romo, and Flacco. Meanwhile Jay Cutler's 25th place ranking has him keeping company with the likes of Byron Leftwich and Matt Cassel according to Football Outsiders.
Given the criticism of Orton, that he has a weak arm and only throws short passes, one would expect Cutler, well known for his more powerful arm and deep passes, should have a higher yards per attempt. Instead, it is Orton whose yards per attempt stands at 7.49 while Cutler's is 6.98.
Cutler's 89.3 quarterback rating equally suffers next to Orton's 97.4 rating. Cutler's 901 yards through four games compares to Orton's 906 yards on his first four, but Orton had no interceptions in those games to Cutler's five and Orton was playing with an injury.
One oddity in the numbers is the changes in ratings both quarterbacks are experiencing this year. Kyle Orton's rating shot up 17.8 points while Cutler's rating of 89.3 represents an increase of 3.6 over last year.
The increase in Kyle Orton's numbers is part of a pattern. His quarterback rating has risen every year since his rookie year when it was only 59.7. At 97.4, if Orton's numbers hold up, he would have a quarterback rating better than the career ratings of guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Orton's play during the New England game was the kind of play that one would normally expect from Tom Brady. Was this just a one game fluke or can Orton continue that all season? The answer to that question may just be that Orton has emerged as a franchise quarterback in his own right.
Jay Cutler had a remarkable 88.5 rating as a rookie and has substantially the same rating now.
The perception of Jay Cutler as a franchise quarterback was formed early on from the remarkable skill set he showed as a rookie. Cutler's powerful arm, ability to throw touch passes, accuracy, and pocket presence were all evident from his first start. Cutler has skills that many good quarterbacks never develop.
The main thing holding Cutler back, and the main reason Orton is leading him in the rankings, are his interceptions. Last year Cutler was second in the league in interceptions with 18, the year before he threw 15 interceptions.
So far this year Cutler has thrown five interceptions, but four of them came in the first game of the season. If that game was a fluke and Cutler throws relatively few interceptions then he becomes the franchise quarterback so many people think he is. Brett Favre has made quite a nice career for himself with a career quarterback rating just under Jay Cutler's at 85.7 and he overcame similar interception problems.
There is no doubt at all that Kyle Orton gained more than Jay Cutler in the trade. Orton moved into an offense that gives him a lot of targets and gives him the freedom to choose which one he thinks is the most open.
Jay Cutler went into a situation that gives him fewer targets, but Cutler has managed to play efficiently and get the most out of the targets he has. The result for Cutler has been less yardage, but he still finds ways to keep his team in games with his ability to get the ball to his receivers in key situations.
The Broncos stand 5-0 and the Bears at 3-1. Both teams are entering very tough stretches during which we will find out a lot about these players. They just may both prove to be franchise quarterbacks.