Jay Cutler's Injury: Caleb Hanie's Inexperience and What It Means for the Bears
As you've likely already heard, Jay Cutler is likely out for six to eight weeks with a broken thumb that requires surgery.
Coming off a five-game win streak, the Bears were primed to make a run for the playoffs, if not the division. But how do things change now that Cutler will be watching from the sidelines?
Caleb Hanie has played well when called upon, but he has never made an NFL start.
Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, there is a big difference between coming in and relieving an injured starter and being that starter.
When a player enters a game in relief, he is facing a team that didn't game-plan for him and that didn't spend the week watching film of him.
In Hanie's case, there isn't much film to watch. He's thrown 14 regular-season passes in his career, leading to eight receptions and one interception.
There is that film of the NFC Championship game from last season, but even that is fairly useless, considering that the Packers didn't game-plan for Hanie. In that game, Hanie went 13-of-20 with a touchdown and two interceptions.
So the league doesn't know much about Hanie, and neither do we.
Here's what we do know. Hanie is a confident kid. His arm is decent, but he's no Cutler. His legs are decent, but again, he isn't Jay. He doesn't have the mobility to escape pressure that Cutler has.
We know that he can make good decisions and some good throws. However, we also know, as BJ Raji and Sam Shields could tell you, he can make some really bad ones, too.
We also know that Mike Martz hasn't ever been sold on Hanie. In fact, Martz was down enough on Hanie to bring in Todd Collins last year and down enough to leave Collins in the second-string position, even after the horrible four-interception effort against the atrocious 2010 Carolina Panthers last season.
Almost immediately upon the world waking up and reading the news of Cutler's injury, we'll see speculation of the Bears looking for another quarterback to bring in.
Don't be fooled. Martz thinks highly of Nate Enderle. The Bears aren't going to chance dropping Hanie. And Jay Cutler will not be placed on injured reserve under any circumstances short of Cutler being absolutely positively certain to be out until after February. And the Bears aren't going to carry four quarterbacks.
But the biggest reason you can forget the Bears adding a QB is this: There isn't anyone available to play that is assured to be a better gamble than Hanie.
Who are they going to bring in? They can't trade for another team's backup as the trade deadline is long passed. So that leaves little out there.
Are the Bears going to try to talk Chad Pennington and his busted shoulder or Marc Bulger and his busted head out of retirement?
Behind them, the cream of the crop would be JP Losman, Charlie Frye, Jim Sorgi or Jake Delhomme. Would the Bears sink that low?
God forbid, would this be the time we start hearing about the possibility of another Brett Favre return to the NFC North for one last chance to crush the dreams of his former team and ruin his chances of ever mending the fences in Green Bay?
Even worse, could Martz still have Todd Collins' phone number?
The speculation will be out there, but it will die down quickly.
So what does this all mean?
The Bears won't panic here. Remember 2005? Kyle Orton was hot garbage on fire. But the Bears set him up to manage games and they won 10 straight with Orton at the helm.
Hanie might be an unknown, but he can't be worse than a rookie Kyle Orton. He's shown the poise and guts to lead. And Mike Martz can plan a game around his weaknesses. And remember that Hanie is as unknown to the league's defensive coordinators as he is to us, which makes him hard to game-plan for.
How many of the six remaining games do you think the Bears will win with Hanie at the Helm?
It is often said that it takes around five to six straight games to get enough film on a quarterback to accurately portray them as a player and build a somewhat reliable game plan for them. Think Grossman in 2006. After teams got five games of film on him, they were picking him apart. But before that point, he was the NFC offensive player of the month for September 2006 and was widely—and prematurely—being discussed as the league's future MVP.
Well, teams don't have film on Hanie. And they have no idea what Martz will do with Hanie. This gives the Bears an additional advantage, as long as Hanie and Martz can execute and capitalize on it.
Fear not, Bears fans. The Bears are still in playoff contention and they still have a serious shot at a deep playoff run.
This team is still led by a turnover machine of a defense and the best special teams unit in football. The offense still has Matt Forte and Marion Barber. And Hanie proved he could move the ball down the field against the best team in the league in the highest pressure situation imaginable last year in the NFC Championship Game. He's inexperienced and raw. But he has good potential and has been sitting behind Jay Cutler for two-and-a-half years learning and growing.
The Bears will be alright. And Cutler may be back for the playoffs.
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