Statistics of Note
Jay Cutler: 224/355, 2,621 yards, 63.1 completion percentage, 19 TDs, 12 INTs, 89.2 QB rating
Josh McCown: 149/244, 1,829 yards, 66.5 completion percentage, 13 TDs, 1 INT, 109.0
Say what you will about Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman as a play-caller or an in-game decision maker, or his choice for a defensive coordinator, but no one can debate his ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks. Remember, Trestman was pivotal in the transformation of Rich Gannon from a journeyman quarterback into NFL MVP in 2002. Gannon was hurt the following year and Trestman was part of the house cleaning that took place after Al Davis had seen enough from Bill Callahan, but Gannon's dramatic turnaround was the last footprint Trestman left in the NFL before leaving the league from 2005-2012.
So it should have surprised no one that Jay Cutler and Josh McCown improved this year, yet how much they improved was fairly eye opening.
Cutler's 89.2 passer rating was the highest of his eight-year career, while his 63.1 completion percentage was second only to the 63.3 he posted his sophomore campaign, his first as a full-time starter. He was on pace for a career high in touchdowns (27) and his second most passing yards (3,812), had he started all 16 games.
Cutler's development under Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh was by far the biggest reason he was rewarded with a $126 million contract.
"After the first three games, I definitely knew it was going in the right direction, in terms of him putting the team in position to win games at the end of the game," GM Phil Emery said last week. "That says a lot about a player. How he handled facing a team that has been a tough team for everybody in this building – the Green Bay Packers – how he approached the game, how he played in the game, how he was postgame, that's when I finalized the decision. But we were going in the right direction after the first three games. I told him, those were key and when he got hurt was key in terms of I wanted to know how he was inter-relating with our new staff. And I saw nothing but positives in that area. And how that inter-relation was the outcome in terms of performance, which I though was awfully good in his best season ever."
It remains to be seen if Cutler will eventually reach his potential under Trestman, or if the big contract will weigh the team down for the next three seasons (the Bears can cut Cutler in years 4-7 of the deal without taking a cap hit). But if he continues to take the same strides he did in his first year under Trestman, Cutler could exceed expectations as early as next year.
Yet what really stands out about Trestman and Cavanaugh is the improvement of McCown, a journeyman signal caller who coached high school football during the 2010 season. McCown, who had played for four teams his first eight years in the league, had just one previous season in which he threw for more touchdowns than interceptions – an 11/10 split in 2004. Yet in eight appearances this year, with five starts, he posted a 13/1 split. His 66.5 completion percentage was three points higher than his previous career high (63.6 in two starts for the Bears in 2011), while his 109.0 QB rating shattered his old mark (74.9 for the Cardinals in 2004).
He was so good that a debate continues to rage about whether McCown, who will be 35 next season, or Cutler is better for the future of the team. That's how dramatic the improvement was with McCown. In essence, Trestman turned a broken-down Honda Accord and made it run like a Dodge Charger.
Obviously the team would like for McCown to return as the backup.
"[We'd] love to have Josh back," said Emery. "I've expressed that to him. He does know that he has a home here and that we'll do everything we can to make it work if he decides he still wants to play here."
Emery also admitted that trying to re-sign McCown – who had the third highest passer rating in the NFL last year, behind only Peyton Manning and Nick Foles – as the club's backup might be a tough task.
"Josh, through his play, has earned the right to have choices, and he's got a lot of them and he'll have a lot of them," Emery said. "He deserves to have those choices, and he deserves the space and room to make them."
2013 QB Grade: A-
Cutler and McCown combined: 373/579, 4,450 yards, 64.4 completion percentage, 32 TDs, 12 INTs, 89.2 passer rating
Last season was arguably the best year of overall quarterback play in team history. That may not be saying too much considering the litany of poor passers that came before Cutler but it says something: Trestman knows what he's doing when it comes to quarterbacks, the most important position in football. During his tenure in Chicago, if he does nothing else but develop his quarterbacks to their potential, he'll have the Bears in a position to win each and every week.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.