Can the Chicago Bears survive three, four or six games with Josh McCown at quarterback in place of the injured Jay Cutler? Yes, they can.
Cutler is a significantly better quarterback than McCown and no one is pretending otherwise.
Cutler has one of the best arms in the league and a hair trigger to match. McCown’s arm is average, as is his release.
Both have decent athleticism and mobility, but McCown’s are slightly greater and he’s more likely to use them.
Cutler has the kind of gunslinger mentality that leads to magic moments and shattering disappointments. McCown is like a coach on the field. He won’t be the guy who wins a game for you but he’s less likely to lose one.
Cutler has franchise quarterback potential, McCown does not.
Fortunately, none of that is particularly relevant at the moment. While Jay Cutler was clearly playing the best football of his career when he suffered a severe groin injury against the Redskins, he was nowhere near achieving his full potential and was still making the occasional big mistake.
The Bears offense is significantly better this year, because Cutler has improved, but more so because of the arrival of Marc Trestman and the beginning of the implementation of his scheme. There has been dramatic improvement on the offensive line, at tight end and at wide receiver.
McCown doesn’t need to be what Cutler could be in order for the Bears to split their next four games or maybe even go 3–2 and keep their playoff hopes very much alive.
All McCown needs to do is distribute the football to Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush (Yes, the Bears must rediscover Bush), and not make the kind of big mistakes that cost you games.
The Bears challenges, before they can reasonably hope to see Cutler under center again, are Green Bay, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis and Minnesota. I don’t see them beating the Packers, but they will be favored, rightfully so over the Vikings and Rams. The Ravens may even be a pretty good matchup for the Bears in their wounded state and the Bears could be the favorite there. If Detroit comes to Chicago with a limping Calvin Johnson and “Peanut” Tillman is ready to go, the Lions are certainly no lock.
A glass half full guy has to argue 3-2 is the likely outcome of the next six weeks – assuming the offense does what it has to – and that gets you to 7-5 and in good shape to chase the playoffs.
The problem is, your defense may cause you to go 0-5. Who’s the better quarterback to help your defense? While the heavy lifting is clearly up to Trestman, in this scenario, even if both are healthy I’d have to think hard about saying McCown.
To nurse his defense along until Lance Briggs gets back, Trestman has to keep them off the field. Where he’s failed at that so far is converting third downs, running the football enough, putting together long drives and keeping the clock moving.
In a pure West Coast offense, short passes are just as good as run plays, perhaps better, as long as they are completed. But running plays are like body blows in a heavyweight fight, and a productive Bush on top of Forte’s 18-to-20 carries could be huge. Either way, move the chains slowly, keep the clock running.
The one area where McCown probably is better than Cutler is accuracy. Cutler misses too many passes he should hit.
Additionally, Cutler is far more likely than McCown to check out of a run or short pass to go for something he thinks he sees downfield. With this defense, you just can’t do it.
The Bears can absolutely win with McCown. The question is, can they win without Briggs?
And remember guys, his name is McCown, not McNown.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.