Happy together: Jay Cutler & Josh McCown

Happy together: the story of Jay Cutler & Josh McCown

by Jack M Silverstein (@readjack)

December 22, 2013

The Bears view Cutler and McCown as a capable duo. Why can’t we do the same? (photo by Andrew Weber/USA Today)

For a clear-eyed view of the Jay Cutler – Josh McCown “debate,” I want you to think for a moment about Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

14 games in, the enduring player of this 2013 Chicago Bears season is Alshon Jeffery. I don’t think there’s much question about that. Fly that statement up a flagpole in any bar in the city and you’re liable to get, I’d say, at least a 95% agreement rate.

After all, no member of the team this year has displayed a better combination of highlights + numbers + increase in production + natural talent.

Yet if you asked Bears fans across the city which receiver – Jeffery or Marshall – is more important to the team’s success, I bet Jeffery’s 95% needle moves down to probably 70 or 65%.

That’s because Marshall has produced a season perhaps even better than his Bears record-setting 2012. He’s been targeted 50 fewer times but caught a higher percentage of those passes for more yards per reception, and with two games to go trails his 2012 in touchdowns 11-10.

Meanwhile, he’s developed into one of the NFL’s best blocking receivers.

Check out this Jeffery 2013 highlight reel. Other than the now dreadfully overused selection from the Requiem For a Dream soundtrack, it’s got everything you’d ever want in a 2013 Alshon Jeffery youtube clip…

…including MANY great shots of Marshall’s great blocks.

So yes, there is a certain amount of debate in this city and around the country as to the superiority of either Jeffery or Marshall.

Additionally, no football fan would ever claim that either Jeffery or Marshall was the best receiver in the NFL. Calvin Johnson has that honor sewed up.

And it’s entirely conceivable that neither Marshall nor Jeffery will join Johnson for one of the two slots for All Pro 1st team wide receiver.

It’s even possible that a knowledgeable football fan could make a list of the league’s top five receivers and leave both Jeffery and Marshall off without looking foolish.

But ask any football fan in the country which receiver DUO is the best in the league, and the answer this season is nearly unanimous:

Brandon Marshall. And Alshon Jeffery.

Therefore any debate about Marshall vs. Jeffery is ultimately set aside in favor of the much more important reality: What matters for the Bears is what they achieve together, not determining which player is superior.

The same can be said for Jay Cutler and Josh McCown.

True, a team only plays one quarterback at a time, so there is more reason to debate the winner of Cutler v. McCown than Marshall v. Jeffery.

But let’s look at it another way. Here are the combined 2013 stats for Cutler and McCown projected out to 16 games:

384-590 (65.1%), 4551 yards, 33 TD, 13 INT, 98.4 QB RATING

That’s the best passing season in Bears history for any collection of starting quarterbacks. And taken as a single player, those marks would set new Bears single season records for passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, and quarterback rating.

In other words, why not evaluate the Bears current QB situation like so:

The Chicago Bears have two talented quarterbacks. One is a former Pro Bowler who when healthy is having the best year of his Bears career.

The other is a hard-working QB also having a career year.

Cutler has the edge in all-around talent as well as track record, while McCown has the edge in current health and current level of play. Cutler has earned the starting job due to the first two traits, while McCown has excelled in it due to the second two traits.

Both agree that Cutler is the starting quarterback. Both agree that McCown is capable to lead the team when Cutler cannot.

As a result of their play and their approach, the Bears are 8-6 and in first place.

They were 8-6 a year ago too, but crumbling, having lost five of six games after a 7-1 start.

Yet as I wrote last year, a lot of good can happen for a team that starts 8-6.

And the Bears are in an even better spot now than they were last year, up in the division instead of trailing, and winners of two straight instead of losers of three.

That success is due to what Cutler and McCown have done together, not what either one of them has done apart. If they can see that, why can’t we?

Jack M Silverstein’s Bears coverage has appeared in RedEye, the Chicago Sun-Times, ChicagoSide, and Chicago Bears Huddle. Say hey @readjack.

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