It started out so well for the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Lions. Jay Cutler looked like he was in the groove early in the game, leading the Bears on a five-play scoring drive to open the match with a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall to punctuate it.
His movement in the pocket was impeccable, and he was making some really good reads. The effort seemed to put any questions about his health out of the minds of many at Soldier Field, but the joy was short-lived, as Cutler began limping in the second quarter and never stopped before being removed from the game late in the fourth quarter because of an ankle injury.
During that second half, Cutler didn’t just look hobbled by the ankle though. His mobility was severely affected. He was getting hit on just about every drop back by an increasingly hostile Lions’ defensive line, and his throws suffered as well. His throw on a third down play late in the fourth quarter was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Marc Trestman, though. Cutler basically threw the ball straight into the ground when he had Alshon Jeffery wide open underneath.
The question then, with all of the limping and suffering Cutler was clearly going through, is whether or not Trestman erred in leaving his quarterback in the game. With Josh McCown ready on the sidelines, why didn’t the Bears go to him sooner? More importantly, would McCown have given the Bears a better chance to win?
There is some justification to Trestman leaving Cutler in the game. Even though the quarterback was having difficulty stepping into throws as the second half began, Trestman was likely weighing his options carefully since Cutler had taken all of the snaps with the first team during practice. The second string quarterback in the NFL usually is relegated to holding a clipboard and watching most of practice, and there are only a few limited plays that McCown is expected to master during his time on the field.
This means that Cutler is the one who is way more familiar with the game plan installed for a given week, and even though much was made of McCown learning by mirroring exactly what Cutler would do during the week, there is no substitute for actually getting the reps and going through the many wrinkles the Bears put in place for this game.
That all being said, it’s pretty clear that Trestman should have just gone with McCown after Cutler’s first series of the second half. Having a quarterback who can’t move around the pocket go up against a ferocious Lions team was a surefire way of getting Cutler banged up even more, and he took a huge beating on several hits from Nick Fairley in the process.
McCown hammered this point home late in the game when he stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure and then found Marshall in the back of the end zone for a touchdown that brought the Bears within a 21-19 margin. There is simply no way Cutler could have made the play that McCown did, because he wasn’t capable of the subtle movements required to actually avoid getting sacked in that situation.
Finally, Trestman’s decision to leave Cutler in did ultimately cost the Bears the game. The team’s defense actually did a tremendous job against a potent Lions attack on Sunday, and even though they did surrender a late touchdown to Calvin Johnson, it was only after the Bears had failed on a slew of chances to get back in the game that the defense finally broke.
Their good effort was wasted by Trestman as he watched Cutler struggle on the field, and ultimately, this loss hangs on that decision.