Four Downs: Was McCown better option?

Josh McCown completed 68 percent of his passes for 242 yards against the Packers on Sunday. Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire

Josh McCown couldn't deliver a victory against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but he gave the Bears the spark Caleb Hanie couldn't deliver in four starts. With the benefit of hindsight, should the Bears have started the veteran McCown sooner? And if they did would we be talking about a playoff return for Jay Cutler right now?

Our Four Downs panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears would have won at least two games with McCown starting after Cutler’s injury.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. That’s impossible to say for sure. How can we know if McCown would have been ready to start before the Packers game? He was coaching high school football until late November. Plus, McCown did not fare well in practice prior to the week of the Packers game, so I don’t blame the coaching staff for sticking with Caleb Hanie until Sunday. If McCown would have played the kind of football he did against Green Bay in those contests versus Kansas City or Denver, then sure, the Bears win. But there is no guarantee it would have happened.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. If you saw McCown shortly after his arrival with the Bears, you would have wondered what he was doing on an NFL roster. It looked that bad at practice, and several players confirmed McCown had been struggling. So I won't question the coaching staff's timing as to when they decided to make McCown the guy. It took McCown some time to get acclimated to playing in the NFL again, and reacquainted with Mike Martz's scheme. Had the Bears gone with McCown sooner, the results would likely have been as disastrous as what we all saw with Hanie under center.

Melissa Isaacson Fiction. Hate these questions! Yes, I said with Donovan McNabb they could have won one or more but wasn’t willing to go any further than one. So am I willing to say McCown would have led the Bears to two victories against the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos or Seahawks? In the final analysis, it’s not all on the quarterback, which we saw clearly against the Packers. So no, the Bears needed and need more.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. There’s something about a backup performing at a mediocre clip that turns Chicagoans into dreamers. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have been better than Hanie, but it’s not like McCown lit the world on fire against Green Bay. He just wasn’t awful. Maybe the Bears win a couple games with him, but I’m not convinced.

Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The blame for another season missing the playoffs falls more on the front office than the coaching staff.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Teams win as an organization, and they lose as an organization. It’s just like blaming Hanie for the Bears failing to miss the playoffs. It’s not just the responsibility of one player, one coach or one front office member. Everybody needs to do their job better in 2012, from the top on down. The front office needs to sign and draft better players, the coaches need to put the players in a better situation to win and the players need to execute better. Blaming just one aspect of the organization is the easy way out. The Bears need to show significant improvement on all fronts. Otherwise, the club will be forced to make radical changes after the 2012 campaign.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. The injuries definitely don't fall on the coaching staff. But the ability to evaluate and acquire quality replacements is the responsibility of the front office, which failed on that front with the backup quarterback situation. The front office seemed to be so hung up on acquiring a player with knowledge and experience in Martz's offense that it reduced the talent pool of potential quarterbacks. You could also look at the contributions of the team's free agent acquisitions in assessing the job done by the front office.

Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Though it's not all on the quarterback, GM Jerry Angelo and his staff simply did not leave the Bears with an adequate backup plan. And they did Jay Cutler no favors with a sub-par receiving corps and offensive line, which was painfully obvious after he was sidelined. The coaching staff is certainly not blameless (someone should have reminded Marion Barber to stay inbounds, for example) but the front office is ultimately where the buck stops.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think the blame should be equally dispersed between the two camps. The front office deserves blame for not improving the offensive line and adding a better wide receiver. The coaches deserve blame for not adequately preparing a game plan to put Hanie in the right situations. And if Hanie wasn’t capable of running an NFL team, then the coaches should have made sure Angelo understood that.

Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Kahlil Bell has shown enough to be the No. 2 running back in 2012.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Bell plays like a winner. He runs hard, shows good vision and can help out on special teams. He is far more valuable than injury-prone Marion Barber. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel entering the season with Barber as the No. 1 in the event Matt Forte is traded or holds out, but as a complement to Forte, Bell is ideal. Another good game Sunday versus the Vikings will no doubt hammer home the point to any Bears fans still on the fence.

Michael C. Wright: Fact. In two starts Bell has performed with significant workloads. But what's also promising is the fact he's so similar to Forte in terms of what he brings to the offense. Like Forte, Bell can be somewhat of a slasher who can also contribute as a threat in the passing game. Bell has also shown he can be an inside runner that can move the pile in short-yardage situations.

Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. Love what Bell has shown so far, but have we not learned enough about backups in meaningful positions to at least have some healthy competition in training camp? Yes, Bell has looked promising and it will be fun to see him in another starting role against the Vikings, but don’t get too carried away with his 121 yards (on 23 carries) against the Packers either as the Bears media guide is full of guys like Brock Forsey, who in 2003 rushed for 134 yards (on 27 carries).

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Bell is fast and Bell is hungry. He could be a No. 1 back in the right system (think Denver during Mike Shanahan’s run), and he easily could be a factor for the Bears next season. And I guarantee you this, Bell will talk to the media after the game.

Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Barber and Roy Williams won’t be back in 2012.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Williams is gone. Let’s move the drill. But I can’t totally write off Barber until I know what is going on with Forte. Barber performed at a decent level before the meltdown in the Mile High City, and even in that game he rushed for 108 yards. If Forte gets a new deal, I immediately kick Barber to the curb and draft another running back or perhaps take a closer look at Armando Allen. However, as long as Forte is hanging in limbo, I probably keep Barber and his $1.9 million base salary in 2012.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. My head tells me both won't be back, but my gut says the Bears may try to re-sign Williams as insurance. Williams played his best game as a Bear against the Packers, and really he's been a fairly decent third-down receiver. If the Bears decide to totally revamp the receiving corps, I don't think Williams will be back. But my guess is the Bears won't be willing to spend the money it takes to do that. So if the club adds one or two more receiving threats, it might be a good idea to keep Williams if the front office can get him to agree to a veteran minimum type of deal. As for Barber, I think Bears coach Lovie Smith pretty much said good-bye to him on Monday without actually saying it. He's missed too much time because of injuries, cost the team two games with bone-headed plays, and has been outplayed by Bell, who will wind up being a cheaper option for the team.

Melissa Isaacson: Fact. If Williams is back, then the entire front office needs to go, and I’d be a little worried about Angelo. Williams is an easy call as he was a relatively small ($1.5 million), one-year investment and the experiment obviously did not pay off. As for Barber, the Bears owe him approximately $2 million next season and the Bears will be in for a $2.875 million cap hit. But the injury-riddled Barber has missed four games with a bad calf and had as many negative moments as positives (with the mental gaffes against Kansas City and Denver enough to get a lot of players cut on the spot). There’s not a Bears fan around who wouldn’t say that it’s worth it to eat the $2 million and get rid of two more ex-Cowboys in one fell swoop.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. I don’t see any reason to bring both back. Mental gaffes aside, Barber has been solid, but I think Bell can back up Forte. Williams, a great postgame quote, hasn’t done much to elicit a return. I think the Bears can finish 8-8 without these two. And why wasn’t Sam Hurd included in this question?