The return of Jay Cutler to the starting job changes everything, and yet very little for the Bears. Indeed, it might change more for the Detroit Lions than it does for the Bears.
The reason for the first is that the Bears changed virtually nothing in their offensive scheme when the change was made to Josh McCown for the second half of the Washington game and all of the game against Green Bay. The result: 51 points and 755 yards of offense in six McCown quarters.
One thought would be to stay with the quarterback who has the hot hand. That was never going to be the case, however.
What McCown did to distinguish himself was play completely within himself and within the offense. Specifically, 68 pass plays run, zero interceptions, and McCown ran five times and took two sacks rather than force balls into vulnerable situations. His average gain per pass play is in fact slightly higher than Cutler's, meaning if the ball is in the hands of his playmakers sooner rather than later.
Why that matters now with Cutler returning is that Cutler was able to observe McCown and the Marc Trestman offense with experience of his own in hand.
“I saw offensively just how good the offensive line really is and how many weapons we have on the outside and just how hard it is to kind of defend us,” Cutler said. “That being said, we still have a lot of work to do, and we still haven’t arrived where we want to be. We're definitely heading in the right direction, I think.”
That needs to be a different direction than Cutler went on in the first Detroit game, when he threw three interceptions in what arguably was his only truly bad full game of the season (65.6 rating).
[RELATED: Josh McCown knows the drill, sits back down]
Cutler also took three sacks, at least one of which was ultimately on him.
“We called a play that wasn’t, open and we didn’t throw it away,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “It was a mistake we learned from. We’ve got to get rid of the ball and move on to the next down. It was an early down in the drive, and there’s nothing wrong with throwing the ball away.”
Cutler has a positive history vs. the Lions. He is 7-3 in 10 career starts with a 94.7 rating and 14 touchdowns vs. four interceptions.
What to watch for: Cutler has dramatically reduced the amount of time he is holding the ball in the pocket, from one of the worst in the NFL to among the better at getting the ball out of his hands. He has taken 27 sacks in nine games as a Bear against Detroit, and as McCown demonstrated in Washington and Green Bay, the offense is among the NFL’s best when the ball is gone from Cutler’s grasp.