November 14, 2012
There is nothing wrong with hoping Jay Cutler is held out of Monday night's game against the 49ers in San Francisco. Concussions are serious business and Cutler has a life to live beyond football.
But what's wrong with hoping Cutler doesn't play merely out of curiosity regarding whether the Bears can succeed without him?
They failed miserably in that quest a year ago once the quarterback went down after a 7-2 start. Just ask Jerry Angelo, if you can find him. The backup quarterback situation cost Angelo his job after last season, leaving him in self-imposed exile or the witness protection program or simply somewhere off the grid.
No one wants new general manager Phil Emery to go further into hiding. Now there are legitimate reasons to wonder what the Bears would look like with Jason Campbell filling the Duante Culpepper role in Mike Tice's offense. No offense to Cutler, but how much worse could the offense be?
The Bears rank 28th on offense in the 32-team NFL despite featuring Cutler, the most talented passer the team has seen in generations, Brandon Marshall, the most dominant wide receiver to wear navy blue in eras, and Matt Forte, a pretty good running back who bears the burden of playing a position laden with Hall of Famers throughout Bears history.
With excellent skill position players, there remain far too many unanswered questions. Why has Cutler seemed to regress as a player? Wasn't he better last year? Why have his mechanics become such a mess? Are the Bears aware they have other receivers besides Marshall? Why isn't Forte a bigger part of the offense after getting such a big contract?
There are times when watching the Bears operate on offense is like watching "Survivor": Hidden plotting, political intrigue, secret alliances, back-biting, back-stabbing and maybe even an alienated play-caller.
Campbell is a fascinating figure to add to the mix. First, he seems to be the perfect player for what the Bears have been doing thus far. The Bears don't seem overly interested in maximizing points. They are more about minimizing mistakes.
For a team obsessed with turnover differential, Campbell is much less likely to give the ball away. He has played in 75 games, starting 70, since coming into the NFL as the 25th overall pick of the 2005 draft, throwing 50 interceptions on 2,151 passing attempts and losing just 14 of 46 career fumbles. Cutler, the No. 11 pick of the 2006 draft, has thrown 96 interceptions in 2,776 attempts and lost 22 of 54 fumbles in 87 starts. Campbell has 54 fewer turnovers than Cutler in just 12 fewer appearances.
Also, Campbell throws an accurate deep ball, meaning he's just as capable of managing the throw-it-up-for-Marshall portion of the playbook as Cutler.
Can you throw the ball too much to Marshall? The Bears seem intent on finding out. He has been targeted 103 times on 564 offensive plays that account for 18.3 percent of the offense. Only the Colts' Reggie Wayne (112 times) and the Giants' Victor Cruz (104) have been targeted by their teams more than the Bears have thrown to Marshall. And Cruz has played one more game than Marshall.
Campbell checked down quite a bit, perhaps too much, during his second-half stint in place of Cutler against the Texans, but still threw six completions out of nine attempts to Marshall, including a 45-yarder that accounted for most of his 94 passing yards.
Campbell is on a one-year, $3.5 million deal and undoubtedly plans to hit the open market in search for a starting job next year. The Bears have a decision to make with Cutler, whose contract is up after next season. It's unlikely they ever would choose Campbell over Cutler, but the severity of Cutler's concussion might come into play. Let's face it, the Bears have serious problems on the offensive line protecting Cutler and real difficulty at tight end too.
Cutler now has had at least four concussions in his playing career, including two officially in the multiple hits he has taken with the Bears. Does he get through the rest of the year clean? Is his long-term health and availability a concern?
The franchise tag means the Bears control Cutler's rights for the next three years if they don't mind paying through the nose for his services. Clearly, they have made repeated attempts to keep him happy and wanting to remain with the team for a long time to come. Some might say they have worked too hard to placate him.
A big victory with Campbell under center might feed some humility to the guy ahead of him on the depth chart. Presumably, the Bears will become Forte-centric if Cutler is out. That might be a good thing too. A play-caller free to do what he wants. A running back ready to be featured. A backup quarterback eager to prove his worth on the free-agent market.
Might be win-win for everyone.
Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.