There are comparisons aplenty between Brett Favre and Jay Cutler.
Both are equipped with cannon arms and aren't afraid to zip balls into tight windows. They'll unload on the run when the pocket breaks down. And each man will lead a first-place team into the Meadowlands today as Favre's 8-3 New York Jets host Cutler's 6-5 Denver Broncos.
"He reminds me of a younger Brett Favre," Jets safety Abe Elam said of Cutler. "He makes all the throws, he has a very strong arm, he's able to read coverages and he likes to get the ball deep."
The 39-year-old Favre — the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes (462), completions (5,622), attempts (9,105), yards (64,122) and victories as a starting quarterback (168) — has proved his worth time and time again, while the 25-year-old Cutler has the makings of a special performer.
"The guy can be pretty darn good. He has been good up to this point and he'll continue to get better," Favre said this week. "He has the right mentality. He has all the physical tools you need — he has a real strong arm and moves around well. Barring some injury, he'll have a great career."
Cutler, who grew up in Indiana and was a Chicago Bears fan as a kid, witnessed a number of Favre's NFC North beatdowns over the years.
"I watched a lot of Brett Favre growing up. I still admire the way he plays and the things that he's able to do on the field," said Cutler, whose agent, Bus Cook, also represents Favre. "He sees the field extremely well, better than most, and makes throws that a lot of guys probably wouldn't attempt. A lot of times he fits it in there and he's always been fun to watch."
The Broncos are an entertaining team particularly because of Cutler. They have a pass/run ratio of 60 to 40 and Cutler has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 3,036 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He's got a number of talented weapons to throw to, including powerful wideout Brandon Marshall (67 catches) and rookie speedster Eddie Royal (58 catches).
"He is a guy who can drop back and throw the ball in the pocket and he can move around," Elam said. "He's very athletic and he can make plays running the ball as well, so he's a very athletic quarterback."
But there is a lot of pressure on Cutler because Denver rushes the ball for just 109.5 yards a game. And the Broncos will probably find it tough to get their rush game going again today against the NFL's third-ranked rush defense, yielding 78 yards per contest.
Favre and the Jets have a much more balanced attack and their run attack could control this game. In the Green & White's past three games, all wins, he has completed 77.4 of his passes for 649 yards with five TDs and one INT for a 113.6 passer rating.
"The key in all of this is the fact that our running game has really dominated — no different than our defense stopping the run," Favre said. "The fact we've been able to run the football at our discretion has made all the difference.
"For any quarterback, if you can run the football the way we're running it, you can dictate to defenses how they have to play you. Do they bring an extra guy in the box? If they do that, then a slant should be there, a go route or a back-shoulder throw."
Thomas Jones, coming off a tough 96-yard effort against the Titans, is the AFC's leading rusher and will reach the 1,000-yard plateau with another 50. Leon Washington, who scored twice at Tennessee, is averaging a flashy 5.5 yards per attempt and if he reaches the second level against the Broncos' 27th-ranked rush defense — watch out.
Favre resists the word "manager" to describe his game, but he also knows exactly what's happening here. The Jets, averaging a robust 29.4 points a game, can just crush opponents' wills, as their 27 drives covering at least five minutes are unmatched in the league
"One of our best assets right now is our patience offensively. I'm not just talking about me. I'm talking more about the guys around me," Favre said. "I want to get 50 yards right now, but we're OK getting 2, zero, 10. That's what it's all about, holding onto the ball and eating up the clock."
While the clock is ticking on Favre's career and Cutler figures to be around for a while, it will be fun to watch them go head-to-head. There isn't a team out there playing better than the Jets and Cutler is going to have to produce a memorable afternoon to spoil another Favre win.
"I have a long way to go. You're talking about Brett Favre, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He's accomplished a lot throughout his career," Cutler said. "I'm just kind of getting started. We'll see. Hopefully I'm still a starter five to 10 years from now."