Commentary

Making it work

Potent Bears offense runs well with McCown, but don't discount Cutler

Updated: November 14, 2013, 7:41 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For way more than 40 years, the Halasites were adrift in an offensive desert.

And now that Jay Cutler has led them to Mount Trestman and he's received the coach's commandments ("Thou Shalt Read Your Keys Progressively"), now that he's finally getting it, people want to drop Cutler in a reed basket and ship him out on Lake Michigan.

Heresy!

The hot new sports religion in Chicago is Trestmanity, the belief that One Coach can make any quarterback perfect.

With some help, of course. The Bears have the makings of a stout offensive line, they have the big receivers, the pass-catching tight end, the coaches and the quarterback-friendly game plan. All the things Cutler lacked when he was traded here.

So with all that help, anyone can do this, right?

"There are some amazing weapons, but by no means can you throw any quarterback in the mix and expect the same results that Josh is producing," third-string quarterback Jordan Palmer said.

Oh.

Well, why not? He's Josh McCown, right? The ultimate replacement-level quarterback, a 34-year-old journeyman who was coaching high school football a few years ago. In six quarters and one series of football, McCown has looked as good as Cutler in running Marc Trestman's offense. Maybe not as flashy, but just as efficient.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown, Jay Cutler
AP Photo/Mike RoemerBears quarterback Josh McCown (12) talks to Jay Cutler during the win over the Packers.

"Josh is real special," receiver Earl Bennett said. "Being here, we've seen the importance of a backup quarterback and having a guy like Josh."

The Bears are blessed with two good quarterbacks and the presumptive best receiving duo in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. With Trestman calling the plays, the Bears finally have the offense you've always wanted. The offense you thought they could be when they traded for Cutler -- a well-balanced, professional offense.

So why would you want to get rid of Cutler? Is it Chicago's uneasy relationship with success? I'd guess it's the impatience of waiting for Cutler's career to finally blossom. And now that it has, Cutler is injured.

I'm no Cutler defender, but I can't see the sense in making it harder on your team by letting go of Cutler.

If I'm general manager Phil Emery, I work hard to extend his contract for four years in the offseason. It won't be for Peyton Manning money, but Cutler will be expensive. That's life in the big leagues. And I try to keep McCown as insurance policy.

Why mess with what works? There is no question that this is Trestman's team, not Cutler's. But yes, Cutler is his quarterback and he's bought in, so there's little to no friction.

"It's silly," Palmer said. "Jay is unique. I think when you look for franchise quarterbacks, you look for a unique skill set. He definitely has that."

While I believe Trestman made a mistake not pulling Cutler early in the second half Sunday against the Lions, I'll take a mistake born out of trust rather than one out of fear.

While Cutler rehabs his ankle and rests that torn groin, the job of savior falls upon McCown's shoulders this Sunday against Baltimore.

Except it really doesn't. That's the beauty of the system. The quarterback doesn't have to lead by himself.

McCown, one of the more insightful athletes to ever hold a news conference at Halas Hall, accidentally explained the sins of the past here, by noting the success of Trestman's passing game: It's good on purpose.

"A team that is intentional about being good in the passing game and being detailed in the passing game, that's a quarterback-friendly offense to me," McCown said. "A team that's not going to put the attention on that isn't necessarily not quarterback-friendly, it just puts more on the quarterback to be successful."

That's just it. The Bears finally have a potent offense full of athletic, complementary players. Cutler doesn't have to do it all and a backup like McCown has enough weapons that he doesn't have to feel extra pressure coming off the bench.

"There's an ease when you get in the huddle and you look around and see those guys," McCown said. "Certainly one of the more talented groups of guys in the league. I think from that point, they make everybody's job easier, including each other's, because of the coverages they command. You don't have to go out of the system to make a play."

It helps to have a line that keeps you upright, too. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and assistant offensive line coach Pat Meyer have crafted an offensive line that gives quarterbacks time to work.

The symbiotic relationship going on at Halas Hall has the players almost giddy. As one of three offensive starters who have predated and lived through the Cutler era, Bennett has seen what works and what doesn't work.

"I've learned, actually, a lot," Bennett said. "What makes an offense really good is the attention to detail, the minor things. Because at the end of the day it all comes down to fundamentals. Pretty much, if you're doing your job, being where you're supposed to be, and taking care of what you have to do, and just know that you've got the support of the other guys doing the same thing."

While players support each other, they get the same support from the coaches. Even as the Bears teeter on the edge of playoff viability, there is a confidence when you talk to offensive players now.

"I feel like there is an opportunity to be successful in every game," McCown said of the game plan. "And you don't have to step outside the system and press and feel like I need to make this play at this time. If you drop back, and it's not there, you can check down or throw the ball away. That comes from the play calling and the structure of the system."

With every McCown appearance, there are fewer Trestman apostates. But his success, which is now expected, doesn't prove Cutler's fallibility.

All it shows is that the Bears' offense finally works.

As a former Bears coach once said, the pieces are in place. Except this time it's actually true.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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