Like David Haugh in my last post, Michael C. Wright at ESPN.com and I rarely see eye-to-eye. But I think he was spot on as he compares Marc Trestman‘s decision to bench Jay Cutler with a similar decision made by former Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio to bench Byron Leftwich for David Garrard in 2008:
“When Del Rio informed people inside the organization of the decision he’d long been wrestling with, the team’s assistants agreed — at least publicly — while folks on the personnel side, including former front-office boss James ‘Shack’ Harris, vehemently disagreed. The situation became so heated it forced a meeting with then team owner Wayne Weaver involving Del Rio and those on the personnel side against the move.
“Del Rio swayed Weaver to give him final say in that decision by making the argument that, ultimately, ownership holds the coach accountable whether the team is successful or not. So if Del Rio was going down, he wanted to do it with the man he preferred under center.
“That’s not to say that’s exactly what’s going on behind closed doors at Halas Hall. But with questions concerning Marc Trestman’s job security, if he is going to go down in flames, he’d likely prefer to do so with a quarterback he knows will execute the system the way he asks. As opposed to someone doing his own thing, which is what Cutler has done for the better part of the season — based on observations from NFL experts such as Trent Dilfer — leading to serious struggles and the quarterback leading the league in turnovers (24). “
Trestman’s problems aren’t entirely associated with Jay Cutler. The fact that he thought giving the players Wednesday off would help instill the needed discipline to help the team win against the Lions on Sunday is enough to tell you that. But I’m reasonably certain that he can coach quarterbacks. And the bet here is that he’d like to prove that before its all over. In that respect, I think the media asked the wrong question yesterday in Trestman’s press conference. Via Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune:
“Trestman on whether he’d view any potential success by [Jimmy] Clausen as a validation of his offensive system:
“‘I’m not looking to try to do anything but help our football team win a game.'”
At this point any success that Clausen has should be viewed as validation of Trestman simply as a quarterback coach. Trestman can’t possibly be coaching him to do the things he’s doing. Whether he admits it or not, there has to be something inside of Trestman that will say, “See? I know what I’m doing. It’s just the guy I’m coaching that’s the problem.”
So when Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com asks “Is there anyone out there who actually believes the Bears would have performed better last Monday night if Clausen had been under center?” my answer is, “Yes, I do.” I don’t buy weak attempts at defending Cutler like this one from Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“Cutler did not play well this season, but Trestman’s offense seemed to put more pressure on Cutler to be something he’s not instead of taking the pressure off Cutler and giving him room to breathe and margin for error. In four of the Bears’ five victories this season, Cutler has thrown a combined eight touchdowns and no interceptions. The only time the Bears won with Cutler throwing an interception was against the Vikings, when Cutler threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions in a 21-13 victory.
“Trestman did what most coaches do with Cutler — he played to his perceived strengths instead of his actual strengths. Cutler has been effective rolling out and in a no-huddle offense. He’s been good when the Bears have a solid running game. But the Bears didn’t emphasize any of those tacks for most of the season.”
Perhaps Potash could point out how Trestman was supposed to run the ball “effectively” with an offensive line that couldn’t block it. Or perhaps he could point to the cases where teams won consistently with a quarterback who had to roll out, literally eliminating half the field from the play, in order to feel comfortable running an NFL offense.
Cutler was a complete mess on Monday night – as bad as any quarterback I’ve seen play for the Bears. And that’s pretty bad. He was inaccurate and confused, holding the ball and at times panicking at the sight of his own shadow.
Yes, how much of an improvement Clausen will be is an open question but I think there’s a reasonable chance he could do better. Trestman deserves to be able to show that much.