Scouting report: Bills' Gailey breaks down four QBs in NFL title games
"To me, Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler are very similar players in many ways. They both make as many plays out of the pocket as in the pocket. They're very good at getting away from tacklers and escaping pressure. Ben is bigger and stronger, and Jay's more elusive, but they both make a ton of plays out of the pocket.
"Aaron Rodgers stays in the pocket more, and he's probably the purest pocket passer of the four quarterbacks playing this weekend. Don't get me wrong. He can get out and get some yards for you with his legs, and he's probably run more this year than in the past. But he is to me the best pure pocket passer of them all.
"The Packers, they're in an empty set [no backs] a little bit more than most teams, and he'll stand there and pick you apart a little bit. He's the one that doesn't fall in the same category as Roethlisberger and Cutler. They both will look to get out and make something happen with their legs at the slightest hint of trouble.
"With Mark Sanchez, you're looking at a second-year guy who they ask to manage the game and then make a few throws to help you win it. They're not asking him to win the game outright with his arm. They've got a good running game and a good defense, so he's not asked to do the same thing as those other guys. At least not at this point in his career.
"But I did see real improvement in his game from last year to this year. He's much more confident and more knowledgeable about their offensive system. The first time we played them this season [Week 4], Sanchez didn't have Santonio Holmes to throw to. [Holmes was serving a four-game league suspension.] He had to learn Santonio, and get a feel for him, because last year, Braylon Edwards was the guy. But you could see him and Santonio getting on the same page and starting to get it going. That was coming on as the season went along, and you saw what they can do again last week in the win against the Patriots.''
"The day we played them [a 19-16 overtime Week 12 loss to the Steelers, in Buffalo], I thought Ben was above average, but that was about it. He was a little bit beat up. We caught him limping a little bit with that foot problem. But he still made a huge play in a critical situation. We had him 3rd and 17 in their own territory [with the game tied 13-13 in the fourth quarter] and he got out of there and scrambled for 18 yards and the first down. And it made a difference in the game.
"It was vintage Ben. He just has a knack for making those kind of plays when you need them most. Like the 3rd-and-19 throw he made the other night against Baltimore, he can look kind of average for three quarters, and then make a couple plays to win the game for you. He has always done that sort of thing.''
"We played the Packers in Week 2 in Green Bay, and it was a six-point game at halftime [Green Bay 13-7]. Then Aaron got hot in the second half and things just started to snowball after that [Buffalo lost 34-7]. He threw for a couple of touchdowns in the second half [7 yards to Donald Driver and 30 yards to James Jones], and ran for another [from 9 yards].
"I thought he was extremely accurate with his passes. I was coaching in college [at Georgia Tech] when Aaron came into the NFL [in 2005], so I don't know if he was always that accurate, or if it's something he's really improved on. But he knows where to throw the ball and he can put it into tight spots.
"To me, all of these guys have a great understanding of where to throw the football, and how to throw it to the spot where the receiver is going to be, not the spot they are. And that's what a quarterback has to do in the NFL. You can't throw it where they are. You have to know where they'll end up.''
"The Bears played pretty well against us, but not great. [Chicago won 22-19 in Week 9 in Toronto.] They had three good drives in the game, but really, other than that, they didn't play consistently that day. With Jay, the inconsistency factor has been his MO his whole career. I'm not saying anything new. That has been the issue. He can look great at times, but at other times he has struggled. Until he does it, the issue for him will be can he consistently do it all the way through? Can he get to the Super Bowl and win it?
"I was supremely impressed with him coming out of college, because a guy who can win games at Vanderbilt, with not much else around him, that's really rare. We played him when I was at Georgia Tech and he was in his first game as a [redshirt] freshman [in 2002], and you could see then he was a good player. But the question with him has always been can he stay away enough from the bad plays? Because he's going to make some big plays for you, you know that.
"I thought the Bears really helped him out this year by having a good plan and sticking to it. They fixed most of their early offensive line problems, got him delivering the ball quicker, and started running the ball and playing defense. They didn't have to press offensively, and that suits Cutler better if he's not forcing things.''
"Sanchez didn't really play much at all against us in our second game [a 38-7 Jets win in Week 17] against New York. He started, but played only the first series, because they already had their playoff berth locked up. But we saw him in Week 4, at our place [a 38-14 Jets win]. I thought he managed that game really well for them, and didn't make mistakes. He uses everything at his disposal. To me, they've got you in a bind with receivers on both sides [Holmes and Edwards], with a tight end [Dustin Keller] and a running game [of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene].
"With all that, he doesn't have to manufacture much. It's not that he can't. He probably could. But he doesn't have to. He's really learned how to manage a game from year one to year two, and he's doing a much better job of running the whole show. Does he have the ability? Yes he does. But are all the intangibles there? I don't know. I don't know how I can know.
"You can definitely see his confidence growing. But it should if you continue to win. That's a natural progression of things, as you succeed. He can struggle with his consistency, but then he'll come back and make some big throws for you. You saw it against New England. The first couple passes the other day, he threw high and wide. Then all of a sudden he hits three in a row, right on the money. And he's got some mobility as well. He can do some things out of the pocket for you, like Ben and Jay can.''
"With all four of these guys, all you can do is go by what they have done. And so far, Ben is the only one of those four who has won the whole shebang. He's the one guy that has done it. The rest of them are trying to do it. And that's the true test of all these guys, and all quarterbacks.
"Aaron's been more through the fire than anyone except for Ben, because he's been around for a while. But with Cutler and Sanchez, it's the sort of thing where they're taking steps in their career. If they get to the next step, we'll find out even more about them.
"At this level of the playoffs, you learn a lot about quarterbacks. If you're fragile and you have a bad game, it can hit you hard and affect you for a long time. It really can. If you don't handle it the right way, it can knock you back and knock your career back. But the guys still playing at this point in the playoffs, they get rewarded for playing well. The guys who take it all the way in the playoffs, and lead their team and get to the Super Bowl, those quarterbacks get rewarded. But there's only one guy that gets to do that every year.
"As well as they've four guys have played this year, don't let one other thing get lost in this, and that being there are four pretty good defenses playing this week. Between the Steelers, Jets, Packers and Bears, I'll bet you they're all in the top 10 on defense. [They're all in the top 9 in yards allowed.] That really helps a quarterback. You don't have to score 36 points a week to win. If he makes a mistake, he knows his defense will stop them and he'll get another chance. Not having to score every time he gets the ball, you can't imagine how much that helps a quarterback do his job.''