Fact or Fiction for the Jay Cutler, Josh McCown QB Controversy

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 16, 2013

The term "controversy" is a subjective one when approaching the quarterback situation of the Chicago Bears.

For the most part, any wavering on whether Jay Cutler or Josh McCown should have started in Week 15 came from outside the walls of Halas Hall. Inside, Marc Trestman and his staff never strayed from starting Cutler once he recovered from ankle and groin injuries.

McCown, playing the good soldier role all along, never once complained about going back to the bench despite outplaying Cutler during his brief starting stint.

Such a decision—benching the hot hand for the incumbent starter—could have divided a team and ruined a playoff chase. Instead, the Bears stood together behind Cutler and inched closer to winning the NFC North.

Cutler even went out of his way before Sunday's 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns to ensure that his return to the starting lineup wouldn't create a schism in the Bears' locker room. 

"No one reacted negatively, no one flinched," Cutler said, via David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. "Everyone was all-in. I appreciate that."

Trestman's decision was eventually verified.

Here's a look at the truths and fallacies of Chicago's quarterback situation, both now and looking forward.


Trestman needed to go to Josh McCown at halftime Sunday: FICTION

Cutler's two early picks gave some enough ammunition to suggest that the Bears needed to make a quarterback change at the half. Chicago was tied at 10 with the lowly Browns and Cutler had a passer rating of just 73.9.

However, such a scenario was always very unlikely. And obviously rooted in reactionary thinking. 

While Cutler's first pick took points off the board, and his second handed Cleveland a touchdown, Trestman clearly understood that a month away would develop some rust on his starting quarterback. Both picks appeared to be the result of Cutler shaking off that rust.

The first interception was thrown behind Brandon Marshall in the end zone, but the decision itself wasn't a poor one. A good throw probably ends in a touchdown. The second pick simply sailed on Cutler. Neither interception can be excused, but each could be tolerated in the grand scheme of working Cutler back into the flow of a game. 

"I started off rusty," Cutler said, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. "I had some throws that were high. The guys rallied around me, though."

Maybe McCown doesn't make those same mistakes in the first half. But reversing course and going to him in the second half was never in the cards. 

"A lot of thoughts crossed my mind. That wasn't one of them," Trestman said. "(Cutler) was a strong enough guy to overcome it."

Giving Cutler the quick hook—especially after he led the Bears down the field for the tying score in the last minute of the half—would have gone against everything Trestman had preached about his quarterback situation. That trust paid off in the second half, when Cutler threw two more touchdowns and finished with a passer rating of over 100.0.

McCown never thought he'd be entering the game. 

"I believed in him 100 percent," McCown said, via Michael Wright of ESPN. "He's the starting quarterback for us because he can do those sorts of things. He can pull himself out of that. He's that mentally tough." 


Brandon Marshall is the biggest benefactor of Cutler's return: FICTION 

Marshall certainly didn't disappear when McCown was under center, even though it's clear that Cutler has a special affinity for the Bears' No. 1 receiver. On Sunday, Marshall saw a team-high 13 targets, eight more than Alshon Jeffery and seven more than Martellus Bennett.

Over the nine games started by Cutler this season, Marshall has averaged over 10 targets and almost seven catches a contest. But with McCown under center, those averages were still 10 targets and six catches.

The biggest difference with Cutler might be Jeffery's production. Over five games with McCown, Jeffery averaged 103.6 receiving yards and scored four of his seven touchdowns.

Cutler's rapport with Jeffery hasn't been as refined. Only three times this season has Jeffery received five or fewer targets, and all three of those came with Cutler at the helm. Also, three of Jeffery's four lowest yardage games were with Cutler healthy and playing.

That said, Jeffery still caught all five of his targets and scored a highlight touchdown Sunday against the Browns.

Marshall got an uptick in targets, but his season hasn't been drastically altered by the quarterback under center. 


Josh McCown gives the Bears a better chance at making the postseason: FICTION

This is no slight on McCown, who played better than anyone in the Bears organization could have ever dreamed. He almost single-handedly kept Chicago in the playoff hunt while Cutler rehabbed his various injuries.

But Cutler's performance against the Browns provided clues for why Trestman believes so strongly in him long-term. It also confirmed why Cutler will give Chicago the best chance at winning the NFC North.

On third downs and in the fourth quarter—two of the most important situations in football—Cutler was nearly perfect. 

The Bears converted a staggering 9-of-14 third downs Sunday, thanks in large part to Cutler. He completed 11 of 12 third-down passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating on the crucial down was a perfect 158.3.

In the fourth quarter, Cutler led three scoring drives to erase a seven-point deficit. Among the three scores were touchdown passes to Jeffery (45 yards) and Earl Bennett (four yards). He completed 5-of-8 passes for 71 yards and a passer rating of 130.7.

Even McCown was impressed.

"What he did, just the resolve and the toughness to do what he did today is probably one of the most proud moments I've had this whole year," McCown said, via Wright.


Starting Jay Cutler on Sunday was the right decision: FACT

Sunday was a defining moment for Trestman's first season as Bears head coach. A disaster of a performance from Cutler would have brought a lot of blame to Trestman's doorstep, but he stuck to his guns and Cutler delivered a strong second half in a winning effort.

Many argued before Sunday's result that Trestman should have stuck with McCown, the hot hand who was coming off a five-touchdown performance against the Dallas Cowboys. There was certainly merit to those claims, but Trestman had said from the very beginning that Cutler was his starter and McCown his backup.

"There was a lot of noise about this," Trestman said. "We addressed the team about it, but the team stood strong and through the adversity, he embraced it."

McCown flourished as a middle man for Chicago's numerous offensive playmakers. Cutler, for all his faults, can be an elevator of talent. And with so much at stake for Cutler's future, Trestman had no other option than to stick with his original assessment of the position.

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. Cutler's play late in the game justified the decision.

But even if Cutler had thrown a game away, Trestman's decision was the right one. He committed to a player and then stuck by that commitment.


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