Three quarters into the Josh McCown era, and the 34-year-old QB came only a couple plays short of starting what could have been the most humorous QB controversy since the words "Tim Tebow" were first uttered in the NFL. I'm not going to tell you that Josh McCown is an upgrade or even a replacement for Cutler. But after seeing what a disaster a backup QB was in the Martz-fence when Cutler went down in 2011, it was a small relief to see a Bears offense that didn't fall apart at the seams without #6 under center.
Considering that Marc Trestman kept play-calls pretty conservative even with Cutler in the game, things won't change much as far as calls go. The good news is that a QB who can make the right read and throw short, safe passes can post strong statistics in this style of offense, especially with a with a strong supporting cast around him. The better news is that there is plenty of talent around McCown. The bad news? We'll talk about defense some other time.
For now, the good. Unlike the arcane timing offense of Mike Martz, the West Coast is pretty QB-friendly: know the play, read the coverage, take the open man, repeat. While hanging a QB rating of 119.6 on Washington isn't anything too big to brag about given their bad year on defense, McCown looked plenty capable of throwing a catchable ball in the safest direction.
Look at this first play. Trestman calls a Cover 1 Beater thinking that Washington would be playing their favorite defense, and the D was more than happy to oblige. With a short and deep zone to each side and only one safety playing deep center field, McCown stares down the deep safety and waits. The two tight receivers each put in a quick chip block and then head on drag routes along the line of scrimmage, and each wide out goes fifteen yards and then slants towards the sideline. The safety stays put while McCown watches him, meaning both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are going to get soft coverage once the corners sit down into their short zones:
Easy first down yardage, all from simple recognition and strong QB eye discipline.
There's plenty of single-read plays like this one in the Trestman WCO. This next one, McCown sees five at the line, so he decides to pick on the blitzer farthest to his right. If the blitz comes, McCown will have Forte open in the flat, but if the defender drops into coverage, he'll have Earl Bennett on the slant.
Another easy first down: read, recognize, repeat. You can debate what the issues were in 2011 - bad offensive line, back scheme, bad everything - but with a greatly improved cast around McCown here in 2013, the backup QB can count on the players around him to make their blocks and run their routes. So long as everyone's on the same page and everyone can execute their assignment, the yards should be there.
The improvements along the offensive line should also make McCown's life a bit easier, as he can count on a more-than-moribund run game to keep the down and distance manageable. The Bears have started favoring backup offensive linesman Eben Britton as a blocking tight end, and while I don't see the big man catching passes any time soon, the Bears have had good luck with him in as an extra blocker.
Here's an outside zone run to the right showing just that. TE Martellus Bennett on the far right of the formation blocks the CB out, and the big men take care of the defensive front, including a nice block on the end man by Britton:
This play was one block away from being another six on the board for Forte. While #22 was able to get past the one man who went unblocked by design - the strong safety - right tackle Jordan Mills is a half-step late in getting to the second level after double-teaming the DE near the point of attack. If Mills gets even a little bit more of a block on that linebacker, Forte might have hit his top gear and made it to paydirt.
Do I think this offense will keep putting up 40+ points with McCown under center? No. But I think it's more than reasonable to expect he can notch some small degree of success given the revamped offensive line and the wealth of top-grade skill players that surround him. If the defense can hold up its part of the bargain, this season won't be over before Cutler returns to live-game action.
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