Back to Cutler or stay with McCown? Not even a difficult decision when the time comes
Coach Marc Trestman on Monday joined Roberto Garza, Brandon Marshall and even Josh McCown in leaving zero doubt about what has somehow mushroomed into a bizarre debate on whether McCown should remain the Bears’ starter even when Jay Cutler has recovered sufficiently from his high-ankle sprain.
“Jay is the quarterback of our football team and Josh is our backup quarterback, and the three of us know that,” Trestman said. “And that hasn’t changed and it’s not going to change.”
The long-range inescapable conclusion is that Trestman’s comments apply to more than just the 2013 season, but that’s been addressed here in the past and isn’t the point right now.
Is there honestly a question about which quarterback direction the Bears should follow when they reach that fork in the road? Actually, isn’t really a “fork” at all.
“View from the Moon” has chronicled over the past several seasons the reasons why the franchise was amply justified in holding off on a commitment to a quarterback with suspect fundamentals, inconsistent performance levels and dubious leadership, the sine qua non at that position.
Those issues were being more than resolved before the Cutler injury hiccups that thrust McCown into his opportunity. And those steps forward seem to have been forgotten in the past several weeks of Cutler hurting and McCown hurtling.
Put another way: Have you forgotten how good Jay Cutler was?
Cutler vs. Cutler
The Jay Cutler of 2013 is not the Jay Cutler of any other time in his career, not even the 2008 Pro Bowl iteration. Speaking strictly statistically and using a couple of measuring points cited in this column in the past:
Cutler’s passer rating is higher this year than his Pro Bowl season (88.4 in 2013 vs. 86.0).
His completion percentage is better than in his Pro Bowl season (63.0 vs. 62.3).
And his interception percentage was improved before the games truncated by the groin (Washington) and ankle (Detroit) injuries (2.8 vs. 2.9). The passer rating and completion percentage are better even with those two games folded in.
The overarching reality is that Cutler was on track to becoming exactly what the Bears hoped he would morph into when the organization hired Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh to reshape him. Arrested development is never a good thing and Cutler was a top-10 quarterback before his injuries.
Is there some reason to suspect that he got stupid and back-slid during his sideline time watching and working with McCown?
Sometimes it makes total sense to stay with a player with a hot hand. If that’s running back who’s in a flow, absolutely. If it’s a wideout who has a defensive back on his heels and overmatched, by all means.
Quarterback is different. That’s the position that’s tasked with creating hot hands as well as with establishing a steadiness that every position group can feed off. In that area, Cutler and McCown have both succeeded, which is why the Bears are still in the NFC playoff discussion.
The Bears have lost the last two games that Cutler started and won the last two that McCown has started. That’s very selective vision: Cutler didn’t finish either the Washington or Detroit games.
Cutler vs. McCown
Even were there to be a change on the depth chart, Cutler would not be losing his job because of injury, which is a bogus consideration anyway. You don’t lose your job because of injury; you lose it because the player who replaced you turned out to be better.
That is not the case here. McCown said so.
It also has nothing to do with athleticism or arm strength. Both have demonstrated the ability to make plays with their legs; and for that matter, McCown averages 7.4 yards on his rushes vs. Cutler’s 5.1 (which of course means absolutely nothing, but it’s kind of amusing to regard McCown as the “mobile guy”).
And arm strength has always been a stupid criterion. It was why Cutler was overrated and why McCown was underrated at times in their pasts. Jeff George had an exponentially better arm than Joe Montana, which is why George was a No.1-overall and Montana was a third-round pick. Supposed physical talent has no place in this whole discussion.
Quality of opponent
Using the first three games of the season for apples-to-apples purposes, Cutler’s early season performances of three straight 90-plus passer ratings were questioned by some because of the caliber of opponent.
It shouldn’t be. The Cincinnati Bengals lead the AFC North at 7-4 and the Pittsburgh Steelers just took care of the Detroit Lions for the Bears and have won four of their last six.
McCown’s victories have come against the Green Bay Packers sans Aaron Rodgers, and the Baltimore Ravens, who’ve now lost four of their last five. He came up close but short against 3-7 Washington and the Lions.
None of that matters, either. Using that meaningless measure isn’t fair to either Cutler or McCown.
Lessons of history
The 1985 Bears went 3-1 and outscored those opponents 128-41 with Steve Fuller starting. They even outgained Miami in the MNF game they lost. They then went back to their starting quarterback. Period.
That will happen again this season, if not necessarily with the same ultimate outcome. But it won’t be a difficult decision when the time comes.