Can the Bears make the playoffs with Josh McCown at QB?
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter October 22, 2013 12:48PM
Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown scrambles out of the pocket with the ball during the first half of a NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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Updated: October 22, 2013 7:25PM
The Bears season isn’t over. Their final nine regular-season opponents are a combined 29-31 — many of them have their own problems.
The Packers will be without Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and Clay Matthews when they face the Bears on Nov. 4 at Lambeau Field. The Lions have Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, but also the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL. The Rams just lost Sam Bradford for the season. The Vikings looked pathetic in losing to the Giants on Monday night. The Cowboys are ranked 29th in defense. The Packers are the only future opponent ranked in the top half of the league in total offense and defense — and they’re 15th on defense.
Never underestimate the impact of parity — or mediocrity — in the NFL. The top contenders for the final wild-card spot in the NFC right now are the Lions (4-3), Bears (4-3), Eagles (3-4), Rams (3-4) and Cardinals (3-4). Not exactly daunting.
Playing the next three games or more without Jay Cutler and the next five games or more without Lance Briggs is a critical situation. But it’s also a manageable one in today’s NFL. It’s up to Marc Trestman to take his game to another level and do what coaches are hired to do: accentuate his strengths and hide his weaknesses. In other words, he has to find a way to keep his defense off the field.
Josh McCown at least gives Trestman a chance to do that. Besides giving the Bears a chance to beat the Redskins on Sunday, McCown also turned around a lopsided time-of-possession in the Bears’ favor. The Redskins had a 22:01-7:59 edge in the first half, with Jay Cutler at quarterback most of the way. With McCown in the second half, the Bears had an 18:05-11:55 edge. And it’s worth noting that McCown didn’t just manage the clock — the Bears scored three of their four offensive touchdowns with McCown running the show in the second half.
If McCown does one thing well, it’s control possession. He’s 13-20 as a starter in the NFL, but 18-15 in winning time-of-possession. The 2005 Arizona Cardinals had the worst running game in the NFL, but in McCown’s six starts he managed an average TOP advantage of 33:32-26-28.
The time-of-possession theory isn’t flawless. In McCown’s first start with the Bears in 2011 in place of Caleb Hanie, the Bears won TOP 35:48-24:12, yet still lost 35-21 — with a defense in much better shape than this one.
The difference this time is that McCown has a much better offense to work with. He’s throwing to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett instead of Roy Williams, Devin Hester and Kellen Davis. The three previous games in which Cutler was injured in the Lovie era, the Bears averaged 4.4 yards per play with his replacement. Against the Redskins on Sunday they averaged 8.8 with McCown at quarterback.
When Cutler was injured in 2011, I made a tremendous blunder in predicting that Hanie would thrive in place of Cutler. I couldn’t have been more wrong — Hanie threw nine interceptions in four games — two of them returned for touchdowns and another 73 yards to set up a game-changing touchdown against the Raiders, and lost all four games. He was so bad, the Bears had no choice but to turn to McCown, who had been coaching high school football just weeks before.
I thought Hanie would do against the very beatable Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos and Seahawks exactly what McCown did against the Redskins. But the offense under Mike Martz was not ready to do that. This offense under Trestman is. McCown won’t have a 119.6 rating every week. But his performance against the Redskins indicates this offense and this coach truly is ‘‘quarterback-friendly.’’
‘‘I think Josh kind of set our minds at ease [about the future without Cutler],’’ Bears guard Matt Slauson said. ‘‘A lot of continuity is coming on the offensive side. With the weapons we’ve got, when the offense is really firing, it’s going to be an incredible thing.’’