On the night that Mike Ditka, one of the greatest Bears of all time, had his jersey retired, the Bears learned they may have an actual QB controversy on their hands. Josh McCown led the Bears to a 45-28 win at home on Monday Night Football, completing 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also added a rushing score, where he juked the defensive player out of his mind and leaped over several Cowboys players while being spun like a helicopter into the end zone. McCown did not turn the ball over, and instead always seemed to make the right decision.
The game last night was just the latest in a stretch of great performances from the backup QB, and it raises a question: If McCown has played this well, how can you not go with the hot hand, even if Cutler does return this season? There are several arguments for McCown, and fewer for Cutler. So I guess the question is: Why is this even a debate?
The first argument for McCown is simple: Stats. Look at the stats and it tells the story of who has played better this season. Jay Cutler has thrown for more yards this season, and it is really the only stat which he leads. Cutler has a 63% completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. McCown, on the other hand, has a 66.8% completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Cutler has a QBR of 63.2 (Rating of 88.4), while McCown has a QBR of 85.7 (Rating of 109.8). Looking at the raw numbers, it would appear that McCown has outperformed Cutler by far.
Now, let's go to some more advanced and key stats. In the 4th quarter, when the game is within 7 points in either direction, Jay Cutler has completed 64.3% of his passes and has 3 TDs to 2 INTs. McCown has completed 70.4% of his passes and has 2 TDs and has not thrown a pick. Another key stat is how these two guys play against their own division. Cutler has a QB Rating of 76.7, with 6 TDs and 6 INTs in divisional games, while McCown has a QB Rating of 104.3 (5 TDs, 0 INTs). When trailing by 1-8 points, Cutler's QB Rating is just 73.0, while McCown boasts an impressive 126.9. Against the blitz, Jay Cutler has a QB Rating of 72.8, while McCown's rating is 112.1.
Looking at all of these stats, it's clear that McCown can perform under pressure, and actually has outplayed Cutler in key situations. Cutler has a few arguments for him, however. Cutler does throw the deep ball better. He was improving, and was actually playing the best football of his career before he got hurt. And, whether we like it or not, the Bears traded everything for Cutler and are determined to show it was not a dumb move. The front office will undoubtedly push Trestman into starting Cutler down the stretch if he is healthy. This will help make the decision easier on whether or not to re-sign Jay Cutler.
The greatest argument to be made for McCown isn't one of stats. It isn't one that shows on the field, at least not obviously (until that great TD run against Dallas). It's the little things. It's his body language on and off the field that sets him apart from Cutler. McCown shows the attitude of a winner, while Cutler exhibits one of a three-year-old when things don't go his way. It's the fact that McCown utilizes his best receiver, Alshon Jeffery, as much as he does Brandon Marshall.
The plan for the future? There are several choices, and an argument could be made for each one. The first is to re-sign Cutler to a 3 year deal. Give him the chance to develop under Trestman, but draft a QB just in case. Another is to utilize the Franchise Tag on Cutler, pay out the nose for one year, and be stuck in this situation again next winter. Another option is to not re-sign either QB and draft one early, hoping he develops into the next Andrew Luck.
My choice may be one of the less popular options. I would move forward with Josh McCown, and let Cutler get his money somewhere else (like Tennessee or Minnesota). I would start McCown next year, knowing full well that he will be 35 years old when next season starts. I would draft a QB in the second or third round. There will be plenty of options available that late (AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Brett Hundley, Zach Mettenberger, Tahj Boyd). Let McCown mentor the young guy and let Trestman work with him to develop him. Use the money saved to spend on defense, and draft smart by focusing on needs like the defensive line and safeties.
This plan could take a couple years and is not guaranteed to work, but it's better than being stuck in the middle, as the Bears have been the past few seasons.