Jay Cutler has been the man in Chicago for five seasons now, even leading the Bears to the NFC Championship Game in 2010. But, much like in that game, he may not be the man to finish the season for the Bears.
The Bears are faced with a problem as they enter the homestretch of the season — but this problem isn’t necessarily bad. Between Cutler and Josh McCown, they have two more than capable quarterbacks on the roster, both ready and willing to lead the offense. But McCown seems to be the better of the two right now.
When Cutler went down with a groin injury in Week 7, Bears fans collectively held their breath wondering if their season was over. But the insertion of McCown in his place may have actually saved their season.
With Cutler under center, the Bears are just 4-4 this season. However, in games started by McCown, Chicago has gone 3-2, including Monday night’s thrilling win against the Cowboys. In fact, McCown did something on Monday that Cutler nor any Bears quarterback since 1986 has been able to do, leading the Bears’ offense to more than 40 points in a December home game at Soldier Field. Now, that isn’t exactly a make-or-break statistic but it is just thing to note when considering that decision.
Since taking over for an injured Cutler in, McCown has been extremely effective at running the Bears’ offense — even better than Cutler, in fact. McCown is completing nearly 67 percent of his passes in his seven games (five starts) this season, compared to Cutler’s 63 percent in his eight starts. The 34-year-old backup has also thrown exactly the same number of touchdowns (13) and seven fewer interceptions (one to Cutler’s eight). Monday also marked McCown’s seventh straight game with a passer rating above 90. Meanwhile, Cutler has never managed more than three straight games with a rating of 90 or higher in his career.
An even bigger revelation for the Bears during McCown’s time under center has been the emergence of second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery. Since McCown took over, Jeffery has emerged into one of the premier receivers in the NFL, and arguably surpassing Brandon Marshall as the Bears’ best receiving threat. Jeffery seems much more comfortable with McCown, who has taken a clear liking to the 23-year-old, and is producing at a much higher level now than with Cutler behind center (more evidence in the numbers below).
Jeffery’s production with different QBs:
- Cutler (8 games): 36-67 (53.7 percent), 545 yards and two touchdowns
- McCown (7 games): 39-60 (65 percent), 648 yards and four touchdowns
While Marshall continues to be the Bears’ highest-paid skill player and one of the NFL’s best receivers, Jeffery is quickly transforming into something of a clone of Calvin Johnson — “Megashon,” if you will. He just continues to make incredible catches all over the field, and he’s turning into one of the league’s top red-zone threats, as he’s proven with miraculous end zone grabs in each of the past two weeks.
With a porous defense sputtering along of late, the Bears will need to rely on a suddenly high-octane offense if they have any hopes of winning in or even making it into the playoffs. That means having both Marshall and Jeffery at their best on the outside will be a major factor. Sure, maybe Marshall has had better numbers with Cutler this season (scoring seven of his nine touchdowns), but McCown has built a solid chemistry with him as well, unlike the one Cutler showed with Jeffery earlier this season.
Head coach Marc Trestman recommitted to Cutler on Monday night, saying that the 30-year-old was still the Bears “starting quarterback.” However, his cryptic word choice might suggest that he’s still waiting out the decision — and he would be smart to.
McCown doesn’t have the lofty status or namesake that Cutler does around the NFL, or even in Chicago, but he has been a better leader for the Bears’ offense this season. Maybe his career arc won’t ultimately mimic that of Rich Gannon, like many have been suggesting of late, but Trestman shouldn’t be worried about the future just yet. This is about the here and now, and right now McCown is the Bears’ best option.