Cutler Has Everything Needed To Succeed
When you think about the Denver Broncos, you think about the Quarterback. Such is life when the words "Legend" or "Greatest of All Time" precede someone who played the position on your team for over 15 years. The shadow of John Elway has been a long one, towering over Broncos' signal callers for nearly a decade.
Mike Shanahan tried the young QB approach with Brian Griese, then went the experienced veteran route with Jake Plummer. Both were successful in getting the Broncos to the playoffs, with Plummer having the Broncos on the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2005. Then something happened. As the losing coach in the 2005 AFC Championship Game, Shanny's runner-up prize was the honor of coaching the AFC team in the Pro Bowl. His starting QB was Peyton Manning of the Colts. Being up close and personal with Manning, a QB that showed alot of the same qualities as Shanny's own Hall of Fame quarterback Elway, showed the coach what he was missing in Plummer. Something that in today's NFL is as crucial to winning as physical talent.
Shanny saw that he needed a quarterback that loved football. Peyton Manning has made his life, 24/7, about football. If he isn't on the practice field, he's in the film room. Jake Plummer, who I have contended was as physically gifted as any quarterback in football, lost the love of the game somewhere between playing for a NFL black-hole and the death of close friend Pat Tillman. Coming to work appeared to be a chore for Plummer. Shanny knew it and when the opportunity arose to go grab one of the three franchise-type quarterbacks in the 2006 draft the Broncos did it, trading up to nab Jay Cutler with the 11th overall pick. A new day had dawned in Denver.
That move, more than any, signaled what I have called a 5-year "re-tooling" plan. The Broncos, or any intelligent team for that matter, would never say rebuilding. Draft a young QB, however, and there are going to be growing pains. It has been no different for the Broncos, who enter 2008 with a losing record in games started by Cutler(9-12). That is a testament to the rest of the roster, more than of Cutler, and while he has made the mistakes young players make I think we have seen enough flashes of brilliance to know that if the Shadow of #7 was ever going to shorten a bit, #6 is the man to do it. Diabetes be damned.
In Cutler We Trust, and we should. While Cutler didn't have to take over the Broncos immediately after John Elway, he did take over as the starting quarterback under controversial circumstances, circumstances that divided the fanbase and still has some fans thinking it was the reason the team didn't make the playoffs in 2006. Sometimes in life, however, you have to take a couple steps back to take 10 steps forward and the Broncos did just that.
Shanahan knew he did not have a Super Bowl team, and he knew he didn't have a Super Bowl quarterback. With the security that comes with an owner's complete faith, and two Super Bowl rings, Shanny was able to make the tough, though 100% correct, decision to bring in Cutler. Yes, the kid struggled at times. Yes, he threw some crucial interceptions(Seattle/San Francisco), at bad times, that on the surface cost the Broncos a playoff spot. Like I said, one step back.
In 2007, the Broncos came into the season with high hopes, but Red Zone struggles, coupled with injuries to key contributors(Travis Henry, Javon Walker) and a decimated O-Line, pulled the rug from the Broncos playoff chances. Oh yea, and there was this serious medical condition that sapped Cutler of much of his strength and energy. The result? 3500 yards passing, while completing 64% of his passes. 20 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. If this is what Cutler can do sick, imagine what he can do healthy! Despite Cutler's numbers, the Broncos still struggled to a 7-9 record and a second straight playoff absence. Like I said, a couple steps back.
Now we start taking steps forward. Heading into year 3, his second as the full-time starter, Jay Cutler is primed for big things. With his health under control, as well as much of the offense around him, Cutler is ready to take that next step towards the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and having a star under center can improve a team's results in a big way, and fast. A look at Cutler's numbers, with chaos around him, when the game was moving 10,000 miles per hour has me giddy with thoughts of what this kid can do when the game slows down and the world around him stabilizes a bit. Watching Cutler play quarterback in the orange and blue for the next decade or so should be a blast and may just shine the sun on the dark shadow. Like I said, 2 steps back to go 10 steps forward. Let the forward steps begin!
2007 Season Notes: In his first full season as a starting quarterback, Cutler completed 297-of-467 (63.6%) passes for 3,497 yards with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for an 88.1 passer rating... Ranked ninth in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (7.49), 10th in passing yards (3,497), tied for 10th in completions (297) and 12th in passer rating (88.1)... Placed seventh on Denver’s single-season list for passing yards with the first 3,000-yard effort of his career while ranking third in club annals for completion percentage in a single campaign... Added 205 yards on 44 rushes (4.7 avg.) with a score to rank fourth in the league in rushing among quarterbacks... Compiled a 92.1 passer rating on third down (73-125, 901 yds., 8 TD, 3 INT) to rank 10th in the NFL... Posted two 300-yard passing games, five multiple passing touchdown efforts and five games with a completion percentage of at least 70 percent... Completed his first 16 career games as a starter following Denver’s game at Chi. (11/25) and totaled the fourth-most passing yards (3,385) and passing touchdowns (22) through a player’s first 16 games among those who entered the league since 2000... Extended his club-record streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass to begin a Broncos career to nine games through Denver’s contest at Ind. (9/30)... Became just the second quarterback in team history to record 11 consecutive completions in a game twice during the same season (vs. Jac. 9/23 and vs. Min. 12/30), joining Brian Griese (2000) with that distinction... Recorded the first 300-yard passing game of his career at Buf. (9/9) in the Broncos’ season opener with his 304 yards marking the eighth most by a Denver player in an opener in club history... Completed 5-of-6 passes, including all three third-down attempts, for 54 yards on the game-winning field goal drive against the Bills while finishing the contest with one touchdown pass... Threw for 269 yards and led Denver on a 15-play, 78-yard game-winning field goal drive in overtime vs. Oak. (9/16)... Scored the first rushing touchdown (2 yds.) of his career at Ind. (9/30), playing in the RCA Dome for the first time since leading Heritage Hills High School (Lincoln City, Ind.) to a state championship victory there in 2000... Also threw one touchdown pass against the Colts, extending his club-record nine-game streak of consecutive games with at least one scoring toss to begin a Broncos career... Posted a career-high passer rating of 106.7 as he completed 22-of-29 passes (career-high 75.9%) for 248 yards with a personal-best three touchdowns along with two interceptions on Sunday Night Football vs. Pit. (10/21)... Also rushed three times for a career-high 41 yards, including a 31-yard scamper, against the Steelers while helping Denver post its highest third-down success rate (70% / 7-of-10) in a game since 1993... Made his Monday Night Football debut vs. G.B. (10/29), completing 21-of-34 (61.8%) passes for 264 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions... Left the game in the second quarter at Det. (11/4) with a contusion to his lower left leg... Returned a week later at K.C. (11/11), helping the Broncos win for the first time at Arrowhead Stadium in five seasons by throwing for 192 yards with one score... Became the first Bronco to throw two touchdown passes of at least 40 yards in the same game since 1995 (John Elway) vs. Ten. (11/19) on Monday Night Football with a 48-yarder to Brandon Stokley and a 41-yarder to Brandon Marshall... Finished the contest against the Titans with a career-high 76.2 completion percentage (16-of-21), 200 passing yards and two touchdowns along with a personal-best 137.0 passer rating in helping Denver score on its first five possessions... Eclipsed 300 passing yards in a game for the second time in his career at Chi. (11/25) with 302 yards and two touchdown passes, including a 68-yarder to Marshall, against the Bears... Set single-game career highs for passer rating (141.0) and touchdown passes (4) while throwing for 244 yards vs. K.C. (12/9)... Posted personal bests in completions (27) and pass attempts (39) in a Thursday night game at Hou. (12/13)... Finished the game against the Texans with 254 passing yards and a 12- yard touchdown pass to Tony Scheffler while also completing 11 passes for 107 yards to Marshall... Wrapped up the season with a 106.4 passer rating, completing 26-of-37 (70.3%) passes for 246 yards with two scores and no interceptions in an overtime win vs. Min. (12/30)... Served as the holder on all field goal and extra point attempts against the Vikings and also completed 11 consecutive passes during the second and third quarters.
I won't lie. Last season I was hoping the Broncos would bring in a veteran presence to align with Cutler at quarterback. It is tough enough to play quarterback for Mike Shanahan without the buffer of Gary Kubiak. I thought it very important to a backup that could work with Cutler, go over tape, go over situations on the sideline, answer questions, etc. Brad Johnson was my hope last season becuase he also brought the aura of a Super Bowl win.
While the Broncos showed interest in Johnson, it was Ramsey they settled on. Ramsey has a rocket arm and seemed to mix well with Cutler. The Broncos seem more excited about his prospects as a long term backup with reports that they are talking contract extension with Ramsey, whose current deal expires after the 2008 season.
While Ramsey didn't see a lot of action, the time he did see wasn't some of his finest work. Against the Lions, Ramsey entered after Cutler was hurt in the 2nd Quarter. With the game still in doubt, Ramsey miscues led to 14 Lions points and an embarrassing 44-7 loss. It wasn't all on Ramsey, not by a long shot, but the same types of mistakes plagued him as a starter in Washington and to say I'd be completely confident that Ramsey could win a game for the Broncos would be a lie.
The Broncos could be a lot worse at backup quarterback, I'll admit that. But they could do better as well. As it is, the Broncos look to be committed to a Cutler/Ramsey combo if they can get a new deal done with Ramsey. Perhaps another year under Shanahan will help the kid out. As it stands, the success of the Broncos season, and seasons to come, rely heavily on the health of Jay Cutler.
2007 Season Notes: Played in two games, completing 29-of-48 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown. Served as Cutler’s primary backup for the remaining 14 games. Made his Broncos debut at Det. (11/4). Matched his career high with 29 completions on 46 attempts for 262 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Lions. Connected with Stokley on a 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Lions. Also recorded the most passing attempts by a Bronco since the 2005 season opener when Plummer launched 48 at Mia. (9/11/05). Relieved Cutler late in the first half and missed two pass attempts and rushed once for two yards at K.C. (11/11). Did not play the rest of the season.
Hackney was the "winner" of the battle for the #3 quarterback after the team released Preston Parsons. An Undrafted Free Agent out of UAB in 2006, Hackney spent his first training camp with the Cleveland Browns before being released. After spending all of 2006 out of football, the Broncos signed him on 1/1/07, leading to his success as the #3 QB. Hackney is always fun to watch during the pre-season, and like any third quarterback his play is a bit of an adventure.
He was highly productive at college, however, finishing his career at the University of Alabama-Birmingham as its all-time leader in career passing yards (9,886) while totaling 71 touchdown passes in 41 career games (38 starts). He also earned first-team All-Conference USA recognition as a senior at UAB after leading the conference in passer rating (144.5) and total offense (298.6 ypg.). Hackney will find the sidelines on Sunday a comfortable place and a full season of dressing as the 3rd QB is in the future.
2007 Season Notes: Hackney began the year on the Broncos’ practice squad before he was signed to their active roster on Nov. 10... Declared inactive (third quarterback) for the eight games he appeared on Denver’s active roster.
There are alot of questions surrounding the 2008 Broncos. To me, quarterback isn't one of them. While we all wonder how diabetes will affect Jay Cutler, I'll put my trust in the medical professionals that will be taking care of him. I think the Broncos could do better than Ramsey as the #2, but they could also do alot worse, and the hope is we never see Ramsey on the field. Hackney is servicable as a #3. Your turn!