Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler missed the second half of Sunday's contest against the Houston Texans due to a concussion. His status is currently up in the air but he'll likely sit out Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco is one of the best teams in the NFL. Yet the 49ers don't play in the same division as the Bears, who will play four of their final six games against NFC North foes. Those games will mean much more in determining whether Chicago makes the playoffs this season.
If Cutler is on the fence this week, it's better to let him sit and rest up for the final stretch of the season.
That means Jason Campbell will likely be in charge of the Bears' offense. Campbell was signed this offseason to a large sum – $3.5 million for one year – for this exact reason. He's an experienced veteran with 70 NFL starts under his belt. After Cutler went down last season, a mediocre quarterback in Caleb Hanie flushed Chicago's season down the drain. The club was determined not to let that happen again.
Yet, despite his experience, Campbell has faults, of which the most maddening is his tendency toward the check down pass. Throughout training camp, Campbell repeatedly dumped off passes left and right to underneath receivers and running back out of the backfield. Despite his big arm, on the rare occasions when he did let fly down the field, his balls were typically off target.
I wrote about it for an entire month during the team's time in Bourbonnais.
This has been in issue throughout his career with three different teams. In all but three of his eight NFL seasons, Campbell has averaged less than 7 yards per attempt. To give you a basis of comparison, the 2012 league leader in yards per pass attempt, Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, is averaging 8.27 yards every time he lets it fly. Cutler's 7.11 yards per attempt rank just 21st in the league.
Campbell's career yards per attempt? 6.75.
Campbell's yards per attempt this season, in 20 attempts? 4.70. And that includes a 45-yard completion to Brandon Marshall.
Some might say this is actually a good thing. With Cutler slinging deep passes all over the field – resulting in 10 interceptions, seventh most in the league – an attack that features more high-percentage passes might be just what the struggling offense needs. That might be true in the long term but as far as Week 11 goes, that's not going to work.
What the San Francisco defense does better than any team in the league, and that includes the Bears, is tackle. No team uses better form, fundamentals and technique than the 49ers. As a team, they break down and wrap up, a lost art in today's NFL.
As a result, opposing offenses don't typically get a lot of yards after the catch. That is in direct opposition to what Campbell tries to accomplish with his West Coast passing style. Against the 49ers, a two-yard dump off doesn't turn into a 20-yard gain. It stays a two-yard completion.
Mike Tice has struggled to make adjustments this year, his first as a full-time offensive coordinator. This will be his biggest test yet. He must devise a plan to get the ball down the field, without having to force passes to Marshall in double coverage.
Whether that means utilizing Earl Bennett out of the slot, Evan Rodriguez out the H-back spot or sending Devin Hester on fly routes all day, there has to be a plan in place to attack San Francisco's defense deep. If not, the 49ers will stack the box, eliminating Matt Forte's effectiveness. In this game, the threat of the deep pass will go a long way.
Yet it's also up to Campbell to quit taking the easy route. Swing passes and hitch patterns aren't going to beat San Francisco. He must take deep shots, moving the ball in chunks, if the Bears are to have any chance of picking up a road victory Monday night. Otherwise, the game will be almost unbearable to watch.
UPDATE: According to ESPN, since 2008, of the NFL quarterbacks that have thrown 1,500 or more passes, Campbell's 6.6 yards per throw ranks dead last.
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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.