Cutler out, Campbell in: what it means for the Bears

Cutler out, Campbell in: what it means for the Bears
Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Bears announced Friday morning that starting quarterback Jay Cutler will not play against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. Backup QB Jason Campbell will head into the game as the starter, with Josh McCown listed as the backup.

Cutler is coming off a concussion suffered against the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football, in which linebacker Tim Dobbins was fined $30,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cutler, believed to be the impact that caused the injury.

49ers’ starting QB Alex Smith also suffered a concussion in his Week-10 contest against the St. Louis Rams, but early indications are that he is likely to play against the Bears, barring a setback. Smith has participated in non-contact practice with the Niners all week.

There is no word on the long-term status of Cutler’s injury to date.

Despite the unmistakable feeling of Déjà vu, the Bears are in a better position than they were last season without Cutler at the helm. Instead of Roy Williams and Caleb Hanie, Chicago will trot Brandon Marshall and Jason Campbell out onto the field.

Although, I won’t suggest to you that a win against a the only team in the League allowing less points per game than the Chicago Bears is going to be easy without your starting quarterback. But the fact of the matter is that Jay Cutler has not played well as of late, and missing him may force the Bears into running an offense they’re more equipped to execute.

All season long the Bears’ offense has struggled to get off to a fast start. The excuses are endless: the offensive line is no good; Jay Cutler targets Brandon Marshall too much; Jay Cutler holds on to the ball too long; Cutler only targets Marshall so much because he has no other capable receivers; there’s no commitment to the run game . . . the list goes on and on.

But here’s the thing: the offensive line is no worse than it was last year, right? Are we really going to complain about not having a number one wide receiver for so long and then complain even more when we finally do have one? Did Jay Cutler have any capable receivers last year?

The only factor in the list above that makes sense to me starts with a Matt and ends with a Forte. Oh, Forte’s had his touches. But too many of them have come at inopportune moments, or in garbage time. The simple fact is there has been no commitment to him as a game-changer, or as a major part of your game plan.

And Matt Forte is a game-changer.

In previous seasons, the change that has always led the Bears’ offense to success has been a greater emphasis on the run. Now just imagine what that might do for a team with Brandon Marshall, and, likely very soon, with Alshon Jeffery.

Without Cutler in the huddle, the name of the game against San Francisco should be to run and protect the football against the number two scoring defense in the NFL—second only to the Bears. If Mike Tice doesn’t see it in this game, I’m not sure he ever will.

The Bears are also expected to get rookie TE/FB Evan Rodriguez worked into the mix on offense this week, after consecutive let-down performances from Kellen Davis. “We’ve got to see if we can get someone else the ball besides Brandon,” Mike Tice said on Friday. “So hopefully he’s one of the guys.”

Regardless of the game-plan, the role of facilitator now falls squarely on the shoulders of Jason Campbell, who the Bears paid $3.5 million dollars for this very moment. Make no mistake, Campbell is a good quarterback, but he’s an entirely different one than Jay Cutler.

Campbell is more of a prototypical pocket passer, while Cutler has proven he’s better rolling out. Campbell’s an accurate passer, with a good completion percentage. He has a strong throwing arm—although not exactly on Cutler’s level—and quick feet. He has a tendency to give away his receiver when reading the field, and—probably the biggest issue—he’s coming in cold.

But Campbell is excited for the opportunity.

“It feels good to have an opportunity to get back in there and play,” Campbell told reporters following the announcement. “It’s a tough opponent we have. We’ve got to fight together, and we’ve got to play as a unit.”

Jason Campbell may indeed allow the Bears to ‘fight as a unit’ on offense for the first time this season by default. Let’s hope, for the Bears’ sake, they come out of this one in a better place than they were last season.

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