By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) There are a couple of elements missing from Marc Trestman’s decision to let Jay Cutler return to the starting lineup against the Detroit Lions less than three weeks after injuring his groin against the Washington Redskins.
Those two elements are common sense and long-term planning.
Cutler suffered another injury against the Lions, and that high ankle sprain that will keep him out of this week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens may or may not have been related to the groin injury. But the main reason that Cutler was back in the lineup against Detroit is that the Bears wanted their best quarterback to be in the lineup against a tough divisional opponent.
That only made sense if Cutler was completely healthy. Common sense says that a player needs time to return from that kind of injury, and no matter how much rehab work that player does, he’s still going to have limitations or put himself in a position to reinjure the muscle.
Trestman’s problem is that he looks at each game on the schedule as an entity unto itself. In his view, the Bears don’t play a 16-game regular season. They play 16 one-game seasons. That’s why he had to be in the lineup against the Lions.
That’s the wrong way to look at the season. In the past, the best coaches err on the side of caution. Those coaches included Hall of Famers Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells.
Shula’s 17-0-0 1972 Miami Dolphins won 10 straight games with backup Earl Morrall at quarterback in place of injured starter Bob Griese.
Walsh wanted Joe Montana in the lineup, but he was not going to rush him back to soothe the quarterback. He knew that the 49ers were better off with a healthy backup in Steve Young than an injured Montana.
OK, Young may be one of the top five quarterbacks in NFL history, and that could have skewed Walsh’s thought process. But Parcells faced the same problems when Phil Simms was injured and he had to play Jeff Hostetler.
Parcells didn’t moan about Simms’ broken bone in his foot. He just played the backup and won Super Bowl XXV over the Buffalo Bills.
There should have been no hesitation in playing Josh McCown against the Lions. He was coming off a superb Monday night performance against the Green Bay Packers, and if he could beat the Packers in Lambeau on the Monday night stage, he was certainly capable of beating the Lions at Soldier Field.
Going into that game, Detroit had lost 17 of its last 18 road games against divisional opponents.
The idea is to make sure your best players are healthy down the stretch. Rushing Cutler back before he was ready was the mark of an insecure and immature coach.
Trestman had a stellar night in the win over Green Bay when his fourth-quarter play calling was brilliant and allowed the Bears to come up with the victory that they needed so badly.
But instead of capitalizing on his decision making, Trestman gave into weakness and allowed Cutler to start against the Lions.
It doesn’t matter what Cutler told him or what he saw from his quarterback in practice. Giving Cutler one more week of rest would have been better long-term for the team.
I am sure Cutler was not worried about losing his job to McCown. Cutler has a much stronger arm and he is a very talented passer. McCown is an ideal backup. There’s a big difference between the two.
Cutler, though, needs a new contract at the end of the season. Getting back in the lineup sooner, rather than later, may have impacted Cutler’s thought process on that issue.
Cutler also may have been concerned about his reputation. He is still feeling the stings of critical barbs fired by uninformed players and media members who thought that he “opted out” of the 2010 NFC Championship game against the Packers when he was injured and could not play.
Cutler tends to shrug criticism off, but it bothers him the way it would bother 99 percent of us.
That’s not Trestman’s issue. Coaches have to be able to weigh the short-term vs. the long term. The game against Detroit was just the ninth of the season. The Bears still have seven more games to play. They won’t have Cutler against the Ravens and now they may not have him the following week against St. Louis.
If there’s any question, Trestman must sit him in that game as well, and maybe the following week at Minnesota.
If there’s any question, Trestman must learn to err on the side of caution.
Trestman failed his first test in that area, but he will have a chance to pass it again in the next two weeks.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.