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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is Jay Cutler's Job in Danger? No. No It Is Not.

I know we get down on Bears fans for being dumb a whole lot, but I really don't think I've heard anything dumber in my time overreacting to fan and media opinions than the idea that Josh McCown should be the Bears' long-term starter.  Nevermind that he's older than Cutler and half as talented, the mere fact that he has only even played more than 10 games in a season once at the age of 34 should be a dead giveaway.

Mark Potash of the Sun-Times disagrees with that idea, as well. But not as much as he should, apparently, because he let this nonsense see the light of day. "Josh McCown's Success Makes Jay Cutler Expendable" may be the single biggest concentration of stupidity in a single sentence ever written by a Sun-Times reporter, and it wasn't even somebody named Rick!

I had intended to do this column in customary point-counterpoint style, but there’s just not enough substance there to bother with. It’s just a few tepid arguments that kind-of-support the headline, it’d be like fighting a handicapped man. And not like that guy from Eagle vs. Shark that kicked the shit out of Jemaine Clement. 

Pictured: Not Mark Potash

Instead, I’m just going to take a couple of the highlights of this argument, which is sadly not contained in Potash’s column like some sort of ancient curse, but instead echoing from all corners of Bears fandom.

I’m going to say right off the bat that none of this is a diss on Josh McCown. I think he’s worked his ass off and become quite possibly the most dependable backup QB in the NFL. Excluding a Kaepernick-type situation where you’re grooming a guy to take over and get forced to use him early, this is exactly what you hope for from a backup. I’m proud of Josh and glad we can count on him. With that said, here are a bunch of reasons to shut the fuck up about Josh McCown:

First, the idea that Josh McCown has “succeeded” in his games is way overblown. His numbers look good, for sure, and I’m glad of it.  He’s had 60% completions, 7.7 ypa, 4 TDs and no picks. He’s clearly spent a lot of time studying the playbook, he goes through his reads well, and he’s maintained his poise very well (some credit goes to the line for keeping him clean). He’s even made some really difficult throws like that under-pressure TD pass to Marshall against Green Bay.

But let’s break out the terms of that success. First, the opposition has not been especially staunch. Washington is currently vying for “worst defense in the NFL” honors. Green Bay’s defense has rented an entire wing of a hospital in Milwaukee, and even at their healthiest that secondary is no match for the Bears’ receivers. And the Lions gave both Brandon and Alshon a 10-yard cushion on the final drive, which basically means they let him score. So he’s not exactly throwing against the most dedicated opposition here.

And it’s true that you can only play the guy across from you, it’s not like Josh has had an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with a good defense yet. But still, nobody feels good about blowing up the Jaguars. I’m not going to crown Josh McCown the starter because he beat up two shitty secondaries and a pseudo-Prevent with the best healthy wide receiver duo in the NFC en route to one victory.

Second, the Bears have had to limit their playbook considerably to essentially remove all liability that stems from Josh McCown’s presence. You see a lot of slants and comebacks that basically allow our huge-ass receivers to just make the play and Josh’s throw is a formality. Again, he gets credit for making the throw accurately, but literally anyone in the league could stand in a clean pocket and put the ball pretty close to a wide-open Brandon Marshall.

Even on the last-minute Lions drive, it’s not like McCown blew it up and raced down the field to score. He got the ball at the 26 and was handed another 15 yards on a penalty, meaning his first actual snap of the drive came at the 49-yard line. He made passes of 12, 14 and 15 yards to wide-open receivers, and then put a decent but high ball in the endzone where Brandon Marshall was able to jump and grab it.

Now they needed a score on that drive and he got one, but the idea that there’s anyone who couldn’t have done basically the same thing is just ludicrous. I get pulling Jay if you don’t think he can run fast enough for a two-minute drill, that’s fine. That’s what you have a backup for. But the backup succeeding in that scenario in no way means you don’t need the starter anymore.

If a backup digging a few TDs out of the dirt means you don’t need a starter anymore, somebody probably ought to tell Matt Flynn, Nick Foles, Jason Campbell, Matt Cassell and Chad Henne.

Last, and worst, is the idea that Josh McCown’s ability to succeed means we don’t need or want Jay Cutler. The whole thrust of this column is that “if Josh McCown can succeed, who else can succeed? And does that mean Jay Cutler’s time is limited?” Because as you know, NFL GMs are infamous for not trying to make their teams better in any way.

You’re arguing that they intentionally limit their ability to produce to “good enough” levels, because otherwise you might have to… what? What exactly is the scenario you’re avoiding by having a “good enough” player at quarterback? If a guy gives you a better chance to win football games, you pay that guy to help you do that. That is the core concept of football team ownership. And in today’s NFL, quarterbacks have a bigger effect on your team’s overall ability than basically anyone else on the field.

And then he starts talking about Rich Gannon and Josh McCown interchangeably despite reminding the reader that “McCown is not Gannon.” Because this argument is partly predicated on the idea that you can just “replace Cutler with somebody else who’s not Josh McCown,” and also that Rich Gannon was the ideal NFL quarterback. The idea that guys who have as much impact on a game as Jay Cutler just grow on trees has gotten way too pervasive in recent years.

There’s this sort of unspoken assumption in the Fire Cutler crowd that you can just nip out to the store and grab another guy who is able to do what he does. That Peyton Mannings rain down from the sky every summer and the Bears just don’t want one. Cutler has been top 10 in pretty much every stat of any value this season, even accounting for the turd he dropped in Detroit. Though Potash is quick to point out that his “passer rating when the game is within two touchdowns,” a stat so granular you can actually use it to clean tarnished jewelry, is pretty pedestrian.

Loyal listeners and shoutboxers will remember CFiHP suggesting that the Bears just “draft a good quarterback and build around him, like the Colts did,” as though the greatest quarterback of the generation didn’t just happen to fall into Indy’s lap twice. That’s the only suggestion anyone ever has for this situation, too: just compare him to Peyton Manning, because that’s the standard by which every quarterback should be measured. If he’s not the best to ever play the game, he’s horrible garbage.

If you wanted to say the Bears should just tank for a high draft pick and rebuild around a good rookie QB, wasting several years in the process, you’d at least have an argument. A dumb, incoherent one, but there’s at least the germ of an idea there. But people just have this attitude that there are dozens of better quarterbacks sitting on waivers or in the late first round that you can plug into the existing team and BOOM: Superbowl.

If there were better quarterbacks than Jay Cutler available, Brandon Weeden would not be starting. Carson Palmer would not be starting. Blaine Gabbert would be working in an Arby’s. There are so many quarterbacks who are worse than Jay Cutler in the NFL right now. Hell, there are starting quarterbacks who are a damn sight worse than McCown in the NFL right now. For all intents and purposes, saying that “McCown’s success means someone else could succeed” is the same as saying “they should just start McCown.” You’re not going to do any better, and it’s not like you have anyone better on your roster who could— hey, wait a minute.

Part of the blame for this dumbass wave of opinion falls on Trestman. I would’ve supported basically any use or disuse of McCown except the one he chose in Sunday’s game. If he had said that they wanted to err on the side of caution with Jay’s groin and start McCown, I can get behind that. If they ran a series or two, saw that Jay was a little slow, and pulled him, cool. If they take Jay out at half and put McCown in because Jay is in a noticeable amount of pain, I disagree but whatever you’re the coach.

But putting him in for exactly one series, the last series, just created this tide of horrible meatball opinions about what’s going on in Chicago. Now you’ve got people honestly believing that Cutler “heard footsteps” in Josh McCown’s success against two of the worst defenses in the NFL and rushed back to defend his job, or that McCown has the chance to take the starting job if he continues to perform.

You can argue until you’re blue in the face about who should’ve started or when Jay should’ve come out against Detroit; and I can’t really say anyone is right. I know, without a doubt, that neither of them could’ve won that game. Jay had more than 10% of his passing attempts flat-out dropped, I don’t see that Josh McCown would’ve been able to change that. Jay didn’t commit a pointless hold that called back a touchdown. Jay didn’t drop a pass in the end zone.

He wasn’t 100%, that much was clear. Maybe McCown does win that game, you can never really say for sure what would’ve happened. Butterflies and hurricanes and all that. But what I can say for sure is that Jay Cutler is a better quarterback than Josh McCown, and indeed than almost anybody out there. I can say for sure that Jay Cutler is better than anybody the Bears would be able to get, and not just by a little.

Jay Cutler is not as critical as we once believed he was to this offense’s production. And that is a good thing. The fact that our backup can even move the ball is kind of hard to wrap my head around after the last few years of lateral passes and piss-poor protection. But this offense was built for Jay Cutler. This team needs Jay Cutler. Not just because he’s a better quarterback, but because they play better when he’s on the field. If Mark Potash can look at his performance this season and say “expendable,” well, maybe Telander isn’t the dumb one after all.


Lee said...

but literally anyone in the league could stand in a clean pocket and put the ball pretty close to a wide-open Brandon Marshall

Matt Cassel: Challenge accepted!

Erik said...

Start Kyle Orton SadFact™: Matt Cassel has the highest completion percentage and quarterback rating of the three "starting" quarterbacks Minnesota currently dresses.

Keith said...

When you listen to the things many Bears fans constantly talk about and the arguments they bring up over and over, it's clear they are really, really unaccustomed to how a quality offense is supposed to be run. Yeah, McCown comes in and looks respectable. That's what quality coaching produces. THAT'S WHAT'S SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. When you have Caleb Hanie come in and sabotage a season because he's unable to beat some of the worst teams in the league, that reflects poorly on the coach, and management in general. When you have the most productive WR duo in the league, those numbers also get reflected in the QB's numbers - yes, the backup QB too. By this logic, Matt Cassel made Tom Brady expendable, and Matt Flynn made Aaron Rodgers expendable.

Or Tom Brady made Drew Bledsoe expendable... hey wait.