After a four-game losing streak in which the offense was able to post just 40 total points, the Chicago Bears have benched Caleb Hanie. His production as a starter was, to be kind, not up to snuff. He threw three times as many interceptions (9) as touchdowns (3) and failed to consistently move the ball through the air. His accuracy was lacking, as was his decision-making. He didn't see the field well and tried to force way too many passes.
No one is saying he didn't give it his all but it's clear Hanie is not ready to be a starter in the NFL.
With Chicago now out of the playoff race, the coaches will turn to veteran journeyman Josh McCown to lead the offense. The 10-year veteran is with the fifth NFL team of his career. He played under Mike Martz while the two were together in Detroit in 2006, which was the main reason he was signed after Jay Cutler's injury. Martz's system is so complicated that the team only felt comfortable bringing in a player that has played in it before. The team said all along that signing a signal caller that has no experience with Martz's scheme, and its accompanying verbiage, would have been futile.
So McCown, who hasn't started a game since 2007, will get the next shot to lead a Bears offense that has spiraled downward since losing Cutler. McCown replaced Hanie late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 38-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He threw two passes: a screen to Kahlil Bell and an interception intended for Roy Williams over the middle. Before that, he last threw a regular season NFL pass in the 2009 season opener for the Carolina Panthers, during garbage time.
QB Josh McCown
In 2010, he spent time with the San Francisco 49ers in training camp but was cut before the season and did not play all year. So while he has experience, it's been a long time since he's been asked to lead an offense. His last period of extended action came in 2009 when he started nine games for the Oakland Raiders. With four years having passed between starts, it's safe to say no one knows what to expect from McCown against the Green Bay Packers.
"We just felt like we needed a boost," Lovie Smith said after practice today. "Caleb had played four games, and I felt like that was enough to prove who you are and if you can help our team win. No more than that. Josh has been around, knows the offense, has been working against our first defense for a long period of time. He's a veteran, and again, we're just trying to give ourselves the best chance to win the game. We felt like that was the direction we needed to go."
Smith admitted that, like the rest of us, he's not sure what he'll get out of McCown on Sunday.
"I haven't seen a lot from Josh," said Smith. "And sometimes if you don't like what you have, you have to look at your other options. We just have to have faith that we can play better."
What we do know two things about McCown: he can run and he has a strong arm – two traits Hanie had as well. After watching the tape, Hanie's failure to lead the offense was due to inaccuracy and decision-making, not because Martz didn't put him in a position to succeed. The Bears committed to the run in an effort to take pressure off their signal caller. Martz dialed up plenty of screens and easy completions, while also calling a number of rollouts to get his passer on the move and away from the rush. Hanie just could not consistently find the open receiver and deliver the pass on time and on target. That's it in a nutshell.
So with McCown, the game plan shouldn't change too much. The Bears averaged 30 rushing attempt per game with Hanie. That should not change. Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell need to run early and often. This will force opposing defenses to bring an extra player into the box and open things up down the field. McCown isn't Cutler, so don't ask him to carry this offense.
The Bears should also continue with the bootlegs and rollouts. McCown has good wheels and decent accuracy on the run. Getting him out of the pocket will allow him the option of passing or throwing, while cutting half the field and limiting his potential for mistakes.
Utilizing his checkdowns will also be key. One thing McCown must remember is that he doesn't need to pick up 15-30 yards every pass play. A six-yard completion on 2nd and 8 is perfectly fine. If there is no open look down field, dump the ball off.
Kellen Davis can be a weapon for a rusty quarterback looking to manage the game. His size over the middle has, for the most part, been ignored all season. McCown needs to use him as a safety valve between the hashes.
Finally, throw the ball to Earl Bennett, the team's best pass catcher. During Hanie's four-game stretch, Bennett caught just three total passes. That is borderline criminal. Johnny Knox is out for the year and Devin Hester is hobbled by an ankle injury. That leaves just Williams, Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher and recently promoted Max Komar at the wideout position. Bennett is by far the best option of that sad group of receivers. By relying on Bennett, McCown should be able to have much more success than Hanie.
Follow these guidelines and, who knows, the Bears might actually win a game.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.