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Extra Points: Trestman makes bold decision, bad mistake

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Updated: 12/13/2013 1:23 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Second City shakeup at the game's most important position is all about pedigree.

A simple eye test says the 34-year-old Josh McCown's production has dwarfed the far more high-profile Jay Cutler's this season.

Cutler has the resume, though, and he is the starting quarterback in Chicago again because McCown is the ultimate backup, a veteran player who understands his position in life isn't about making waves.

"You want guys on your team that want to be on the field," McCown said after learning the news on Thursday. "But also, you want guys on your team that know their roles and understand that. And so for me, I understand my role on this team. It's the backup quarterback. So, that being said, if Jay is healthy, he's ready to go. I'll support him and help him as much as I can."

McCown, a Sam Houston State product who entered the NFL as a third-round pick in 2002 and started just 17 NFL games before Cutler suffered a torn groin muscle against Washington in Week 7, has thrown for 1,809 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in seven games (five starts) for Chicago this year.

He was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week following his performance in last Monday night's 45-28 win over the Dallas Cowboys when he threw for four touchdowns and added a score on the ground while amassing a passer rating of 141.9.

Cutler, on the other hand, has thrown for 1,908 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight starts in 2013 while missing significant time with the groin and a balky ankle, an injury suffered when he returned to play against Detroit in Week 10.

Despite all the upheaval the Bears remain in the thick of the NFC North race, as they prepare to visit Cleveland on Sunday, largely because of McCown.

In years past when Cutler went down to injury, stop-gaps like Caleb Hanie and Jason Campbell proved to be abject failures so you get the sense many around the organization view McCown's success as a bit of a mirage.

And sure enough, first-year coach Marc Trestman went back to Cutler on Thursday, confirming the veteran's injured ankle is well enough for him to play against the Browns.

"We'll work (Cutler) through drops," Trestman said when taking about the plan for practice this week. "We'll redirect him in the pocket, move him up and down, and try to get as much suddenness as we can."

It's hard to justify pulling McCown. Making his fourth straight start in place of Cutler, he finished 27-for-36 for 348 yards against an admittedly dismal Dallas defense as the Bears tied Detroit atop the division at 7-6 with three games to play.

The Lions, however, hold the tiebreaker by virtue of sweeping the season series between the two clubs.

"There's no change in the plan," Trestman said after McCown's brilliant performance on national television. "We'll see where Jay is this week. He'll have to be released by the doctors, but when Jay's ready to play, he'll be playing."

Give Trestman credit. He's a man of his word even if that word is misguided and devoid of any lucid thought process.

While Trestman is certainly being loyal to Cutler, he could be committing malpractice against the Bears by pulling the plug on McCown, who has put together the best four-game stretch in franchise history when it comes to passer rating.

"You always wonder how it would be if you operate in the right kind of offense with the right kind of players and so on and so forth," McCown said. "With me, it's just about being in the right situation now with these guys, with this offense and with these coaches, and allowing me to play within the system with the guys that are around me."

The long-time backup is third in the NFL with a 109.8 rating overall and has developed quite the rapport with Chicago's dynamic receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who have combined for 2,283 receiving yards, the most of any WR combination in the NFL.

Add in lengthy tight end Martellus Bennett, who has 53 receptions and five TDs on the season, along with Forte working the flats and it's pick your poison right now when trying the stop McCown and the Chicago passing game right now.

The one thing Cutler, who was the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft, certainly brings to the table that McCown doesn't is the innate ability to extend plays with a top-tier pocket presence. That, however, has been hampered by the fact his groin and ankle injuries restrict movement in a big way. The Vanderbilt product's rocket arm is also an upgrade over just about anyone.

"No disrespect to Josh McCown, but Jay Cutler is a different monster, and we're definitely going to be prepared for him," Browns safety Tashaun Gipson tole The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Anytime you're dealing with who I perceive is one of the more elite quarterbacks in this game -- Cutler, he's arguably a top-10 quarterback in this game -- I think that amplifies the situation."

That said, Cutler's accuracy and decision-making, perhaps the two most important traits when playing the position at this level, have paled in comparison to McCown's.

"Cutler's definitely going to put some balls up for us to make chances, so I'm definitely excited that he's playing," said Gipson.

It's interesting how quickly the Bears have morphed into an offensive team under Trestman, something GM Phil Emery counted on when he plucked the coach out of the CFL. Chicago is now averaging 28.3 points per game, the second-best mark in the NFL behind Denver.

That makes it hard to punch holes in Trestman's acumen as an offensive coach but his decision here only puts a bull's-eye on his own back and an even larger one on Cutler's.

After all, this is a deeply flawed team and it's conceivable Cutler plays at a lights-out level over the final three games and the Bears still falter.

Think about it.

What Emery didn't expect when he hired Trestman was the dropoff on the defensive side of the ball. Chicago was rock solid on that side under the defensive-minded Lovie Smith and while the team still takes it away better than most, the consistency and stoutness of the unit has been lacking.

Injuries have been a problem and the unit's leader, linebacker Lance Briggs, still hasn't been cleared to practice after fracturing his shoulder the same day Cutler went down in Washington.

The Bears' D is particularly inept at stopping the run, ranking dead last in the NFL by allowing 157.0 yards a game on the ground. Overall the Chicago defense is just 27th in the league while giving up 381.5 ypg.

Yet, even if the Bears' defense continues to falter down the stretch, any blame for the lack of a postseason berth will be placed squarely on the shoulders of Cutler and to a lesser extent Trestman himself for making this decision.

"I have no concerns," Trestman said. "I expect (Cutler will) go out and play effectively and efficiently."

He should have plenty of concerns.

Sticking with the hot hand here and putting McCown on a short leash was not only the prudent decision, it was the only decision.

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