By Scott Lindholm-
(CBS) As the dust settles on the Bears’ 38-31 victory over the Browns, it’s time to add some perspective and realize the correct decision was made in starting Jay Cutler.
You’re reading this with the benefit of hindsight, but try to put yourself in the minds of the Bears coaching staff before the game.
This chart shows select numbers for both Cutler and McCown prior to Sunday’s game:
In addition to the passer rating, the four other values are the components of passer rating–completion percentage and yards, touchdowns and interceptions per pass attempt. This is the entire formula and is less intimidating than it looks. The factors in the rating show why Josh McCown’s is higher–he’s had better raw numbers than Cutler. He did an admirable job filling in and the losses the Bears suffered weren’t due to shortcomings on his part.
I don’t play Fantasy Football, but I’m grateful for the wealth of statistical information they’ve caused to be created and disseminated. Even though individual statistics in football might have less meaning than in other sports, they can have value. For example, this chart shows both the receiving yards and the yards after catch (YAC) for the three primary Bears receivers, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett and is adapted from data at Pro Football Focus:
Finding yards after catch data is difficult–it’s not included on nfl.com or PFR and even play-by-play data from PFR only shows a completed pass and not the yards after the catch. Whether it’s a 2-yard screen to Matt Forte that is broken for an 80-yard touchdown or a 65-yard laser hauled in by Marshall for an 80-yard score, the same yardage is credited to the quarterback either way. McCown did benefit from more yardage (456 to 412) after the catch, yardage properly credited to the receiver. PFF does have a stat that takes this into account–it calculates the passer rating by removing yards after the catch. The passer ratings become: Cutler – 91.1, McCown 98.5.
One last chart–much has been made of the awfulness of the defenses the Bears have faced, and this chart shows the PFF ranks for Bears opponents going into the game played. For example, going into Game 2 the Vikings defense ranked 27th in the league:
It can be argued that with few exceptions, neither Cutler nor McCown faced stout defenses, but McCown was the beneficiary. It helped create the latest in a long line of ephemeral creatures, the competent backup quarterback. They exist, they really do, just not in the quantity people believe. Josh McCown did what he was supposed to do–keep the Bears relevant and hold the position while Cutler healed.
If any Bears fan had been asked at the beginning of the season to evaluate the Bears chances if Cutler went down for a significant period of time, I suspect we’d still be able to hear the echoes of the laughter. As of this writing, the Bears still have a chance to make the playoffs. It was through the capable play of Josh McCown the Bears find themselves in this position, but his time came…and went. He is what he is–a 34-year-old competent backup who at the worst likely guaranteed himself a roster spot somewhere next year and might even be lucky enough to get a decent contract from a desperate team.
Jay Cutler had every Bears fan squirming in their seats in the first half and at one point I even tweeted out wondering when he’d be removed for “injury.” By the numbers, Cutler had a decent day, 265 yards passing with three touchdowns, but the two interceptions were killers and there was a noticeable lack of crispness in his passes. Could he have been better? Of course, but this was his first action in four games and only three practices. He had to come back some time–why not Sunday and get some real game action to facilitate his recovery and regain his touch?
Hindsight is 20/20 and the most useless phrase in the English language is “I told you so.” The Bears barely averted a healthy dose of both with their victory, but they made the correct decision. Unless Cutler gets hurt again, Josh McCown’s season is over–and it should be, because Jay Cutler is the better quarterback who gives the Bears the best chance of winning.
Scott Lindholm is a columnist for CBSChicago.com and 670TheScore.com and frequent contributor to The Boers and Bernstein Show, known affectionately as Scott from Davenport. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.