Players were patient this week with one of the more insulting lines of questioning that seems to come up every time a key starter goes down – "So without Jay Cutler, are you going to have to play extra hard?" – implying that they weren’t maxing out before the change.
Matt Forte is fifth in the NFL with 795 yards from scrimmage with the offense designed as it has been. He was 14th last season, 10th the two years before. Yet he was asked if he needed to carry a bigger load of the offense with Josh McCown at quarterback instead of Cutler.
"No extra load. None. None at all," Forte said. "Everybody on offense has a load on their shoulders to continue to try to get better because we haven’t played to our ability, and we’ve lost a couple games. There’s no extra load put on us."
Indeed, what the Bears need to change on offense with McCown moving in as the starting quarterback is more than obvious:
Beyond the usual weekly decisions on play selections for the game plan based on a quarterback’s preferences, and on specifics of the next opposing defense, changing a successful formula to accommodate one player, even a quarterback, is the first step on a course toward weakening the overall.
Behind McCown the Bears ran up 313 yards in the second half of the Washington game – a tiny bit better than the pace of the Detroit Lions (623 yards) in their win over the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.
It ain’t broke, so fix it?
The offense ain’t broke.
Offense already working
The Bears rank in the top 15 in every major offensive category with the exceptions of interception percentage and third-down-conversion rate. The interception rate (3.1 percent) belongs to Jay Cutler and remains a problem area for him, although he has improved on it slightly this season over last (3.2).
McCown is sub-4 percent for his career and threw zero interceptions in his 20 attempts coming in cold at Washington. No team reached the playoffs last season behind a quarterback with an interception percentage above 3, and both Cutler and McCown need to bring that down.
McCown came up short on third down in the Washington series when he relieved Cutler. But the offense converted 50 percent of the second-half third downs, and while that rate isn’t likely to hold, the fact is that only Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (50.5 percent) are converting at a better rate.
"Avoid the third-and-longs," said center Roberto Garza. "Josh can make some plays with his legs, throw the ball, Matt [Forte] had a good game, so we have to continue to use our skill-position players and continue to convert on third downs and keep the ball out of the other offense’s hands.
"When we’re able to do that and establish the run, convert third downs, stay on the field and score points. I think we’re a good football team and Jay makes us great and obviously Josh was able to do some great things."
McCown the "problem"
Players trying to do too much to cover for absent teammates is part of the problems besetting the defense. The one player on offense who needs to guard against trying to do too much is McCown.
On his first snap in the Washington game, McCown tucked the ball in and ran for 11 yards, going airborne at the end of the run. He took off for 13 yards from his own 11-yard line in the third quarter, which teammates appreciated, to a point.
"I’d be telling him a lot of times, ‘you need to get down at the end of the run,’" Forte said. "He has a big heart out there. When he’s running, he’s not afraid to try to put his head down and get the first down if we need that."
Garza and others simply want McCown to be McCown and not try to be Cutler. And that is in their hands.
"We have to do our job up front, we have to protect him and we have to create those running lanes for Matt and not put too much pressure on Josh’s shoulders," Garza said.