When the injuries occurred, both in the Washington game, a purely theoretical question was: Would the loss of quarterback Jay Cutler or linebacker Lance Briggs prove the more damaging hit to the Bears?
The answer has been anything but theoretical. And now the question changes to whose return projects to make a major difference for a team whose season is hanging in the balance.
Offense sans Cutler
The Bears’ offense ranked 11th in yardage and second in scoring when Cutler suffered his torn groin muscle. With him in and out of the lineup since then, the offense now ranks eighth in yardage and fifth in scoring.
Comparing turnips to turnips (apples are clichéd), the scoring during Cutler’s stewardship included four defensive touchdowns over six games, making the average 24 points per game. The offense in three Josh McCown starts has scored 64 points (21.3), although the 24 points the offense put up in the second half at Washington behind McCown makes the point production under the two quarterback just about a wash.
Defense sans Briggs
The defense lost Briggs with a fractured shoulder in the Washington game. It also lost its compass, giving up twice as many rushing without Briggs as it was with him.
Before Washington the unit already lost tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins in weeks three and five, respectively, but ranked 12th in the NFL giving up a respectable 102 rushing yards per game going into the Washington game.
It now ranks 32nd giving up 153.6 yards per game on the ground. More to the Briggs point, the Bears have allowed 204.4 rushing yards per game in the five without him.
The Bears were giving up 23.3 before the Washington game, with the offense giving up two return TDs and special teams one. In the five games without Briggs, the unit has allowed 23.8 points per game, albeit with games against Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers, St. Louis with Kellen Clemens and Minnesota under Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel.
The bigger point
The issue is not whether Briggs or Cutler is more valuable to the Bears. That question really turns on whether Josh McCown or Khaseem Greene has been a better fill-in. Easy one there.
The real issue is looking forward: Whose return projects to have a greater lift factor for the Bears, who desperately need a charge after losing three of their last four. The offense has faltered too often in the past several games but nowhere to the level of the defense’s problems.
Which makes Briggs’ possible return for Dallas or whenever a potential season-saver. And Briggs was slightly ahead of Cutler on the recovery curve.
“Lance on his shoulder, it’s healing,” coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s progressing. He got some work last week. We’ll see how he is on Thursday [when Bears resume practicing]….
“I will know more on Thursday. We’ll have to see where it is. Next couple days, I’ll have a better idea.”