Jay Cutler's Status Shouldn't Affect The Cowboys' Game Plan
Heading into crucial back-to-back games against NFC North squads, the Dallas Cowboys are still unsure which of Chicago’s and Green Bay’s quarterbacks will be taking snaps against them. But while Aaron Rodgers’ presence makes a huge difference, the Cowboys’ plan for Chicago shouldn’t hinge on Jay Cutler and his ankle injury, which still lists him as week-to-week.
In five games as the primary signal caller, Chicago second-stringer Josh McCown has completed 65 percent of his passes for 279 yards per game. In his seven starts with 20-plus passes, Cutler has completed 64 percent of his throws for 231 yards per game. Other factors? McCown has just one interception to Cutler’s eight, but the Bears defense has performed considerably better under Cutler, yielding just 23 points per game as opposed to 31 under McCown.
One scenario is hardly better than the other. And, anyhow, at this point in the season, why waste energy and resources strategizing over the pass defense? Every designed execution has failed; it’s time to just throw the secondary out there and hope they make some fortuitous plays via natural athleticism.
Along with the breakout play of WR Alshon Jeffery, the Bears’ success in finally landing a decent backup quarterback has steered them to the NFL’s sixth-ranked passing attack. Based on current numbers and the fact that any NFL quarterback with a shred of accuracy and timing can move the chains against the Cowboys’ pass defense, the quarterback situation is almost irrelevant. Cutler does, however, have a tendency to hang around the pocket and take hits — an advantage for a defense reliant on sacks and turnovers in generating all its momentum.
Furthermore, this game is being played in the brutal conditions of Chicago in December — not exactly the ideal setting for firing quick passes underneath or airing out bombs downfield. If anything, this Monday night game should be won or lost on the ground.
The game could be a big opportunity for rookie RB Joseph Randle. Speedy tailback Lance Dunbar was lost with a season-ending knee injury during his 12-carry, 82-yard breakout game against Oakland. And despite three red-zone scores against the Raiders, DeMarco Murray isn’t the answer in goal-line and third-and-short situations. On top of power, the Cowboys desperately need a back who can produce on limited touches, as Dunbar was starting to do. Randle is still the best option.
Defensively, the game of Bears RB Matt Forte is similar to Murray’s: nimble footwork, quick cuts, explosive open-field acceleration and effective receiving skills. Like his Cowboy counterpart, Forte sees the gaps and lanes well and is deadly with open space to operate. How Dallas MLB Sean Lee, fresh off a hamstring injury, handles Forte in terms of rushing and check-down receiving will help determine the team’s third-down success. And with these weather conditions, the Cowboys’ third-down numbers will hold more sway in this game than in any other thus far.
So unlike with Rodgers, the Cowboys shouldn’t be hung up on Cutler’s everyday progress. The Bears may decide to rest their franchise quarterback, banking on the notion that the Cowboys will allow 250-plus passing yards no matter who’s under center. Or, at 6-6, they may decide the game’s too important to not play their top man.
With Philadelphia’s No. 32 pass defense facing Detroit’s No. 1 passing offense this weekend, Chicago represents another critical opportunity for the Cowboys. And regardless of which quarterback they face, the Cowboys can win if they quell the rushing attack and dink-and-dunk passing game.
Then they start worrying about the health of opposing quarterbacks.