Will the Bears rue Marc Trestman's call to stay the course with Jay Cutler?
There is a vocal group among baseball analysts who believe that the use of a closer is a fabricated, unnecessary strategy. There are inherent flaws, they argue, in using the same pitcher to attempt to finish games regardless of situation.
And, in essence, that's what Marc Trestman is doing by going back to Jay Cutler for Week 15. Cutler was the Bears' starting quarterback prior to getting hurt, players and coaches said they still considered Cutler the starter even when he was out of the lineup, and now he is back in the No. 1 role.
Trestman has deemed Cutler his closer, regardless of what stats and possibly even common sense tells him.
Over his past three starts, Josh McCown has completed nearly 73 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and one interception. Those numbers challenge the best stretches of Cutler's career -- Weeks 1 through 3 as Denver's starter in 2008, Weeks 16 and 17 of the 2010 season when the Bears were buried in the playoff race.
Cutler has yet to match that level of success under Trestman in 2013. The closest he came was over Weeks 5 and 6: 69.5 percent completion rate, four touchdowns, no interceptions. He preceded that showing by throwing three INTs in a loss to Detroit and followed it up by getting hurt.
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The upside with Cutler, at least long term, is higher than with the 34-year-old McCown. And the Bears face a critical decision in the coming months regarding how to handle Cutler's expiring contract -- a decision that may be made much harder or much easier, depending on how he plays to close this regular season. (McCown will also be a free agent.)
For the 2014 season and beyond, figuring out what they have in Cutler within the confines of Trestman's offense may be priority No. 1. From that perspective, it's hard to knock the decision to roll back to Cutler this week.
Is it worth sacrificing a division title run to solve those mysteries?
Cutler may step in and light up the scoreboard over the next three weeks. Chicago's schedule -- at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, vs. Green Bay -- definitely sets up well for the offense, and thus for Cutler. The Eagles have the league's second-worst pass defense by yardage, while Cleveland has been a solid but unspectacular group and Green Bay allowed 442 yards in an earlier loss to the Bears.
Of course, McCown was the quarterback in that matchup with the Packers. He completed 22-of-41 attempts for 272 yards and two touchdowns to win in Lambeau Field, something Cutler has not done. (McCown did have the benefit of facing an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team.)
McCown also was at the helm in the closing moments of a Week 10 loss to Detroit, after a hobbled Cutler suffered through three-plus trying quarters. Had McCown started that game, or simply entered it earlier, the Bears might be all alone atop the NFC North at 8-5.
Trestman rode it out for the majority of that afternoon with Cutler, however, despite plenty of evidence that the eight-year vet was not 100 percent. And now, he'll hand the keys back over to Cutler, after a month out of the lineup and with three must-win games approaching.
It's far too early in his tenure to dub this decision a legacy-maker for Trestman. What happens this offseason with Cutler, McCown and the team's quarterback position will go much further in determining how Trestman is later remembered in Chicago.
This season, though, may hinge on Trestman's call to stick with Cutler over McCown. Quite frankly, the latter has been better consistently when given the chance.But Trestman has decided to live and die with his closer.