Jay Cutler vs. Josh McCown: What do the numbers say?

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 11/19/2013, 01:58pm

While Bears coach Marc Trestman has declared Jay Cutler the No. 1 quarterback, the play of Josh McCown has sparked a debate. And why not have a love affair with the backup QB? That’s what Bears fans do.

Some fans are questioning whether the Bears should sign Cutler to a long-term deal at the end of the season and others are calling for McCown to be the starter — even if Cutler is healthy.

Rick Morrissey says knock it off, you McCown backers — hands down, Cutler is the obvious choice.

But what do the numbers say? While it is a small sample size, you can’t debate this: Cutler is 4-4 in games he started, while McCown is 2-0. And because there’s no better time than now to stir the pot with a side-by-side comparison of the stats, let’s take a closer look.


While Cutler edges out McCown in completion percentage, McCown gets the edge in yards per attempt and overall QB rating.


That’s what fans were calling Cutler after he repeatedly bailed out the Bears with some late heroics in September. But in reality, McCown’s numbers are better in the fourth quarter when the score is within seven points.


While serviceable as a starter this season, McCown’s been much better off the bench.

Pro Football Focus, which nearly a third of the NFL subscribes to, has a complex grading process, looking at every player on every offensive, defensive and special-teams play. Plus or minus grades are given and are based around an average of 0, with each position graded slightly differently. If a player does something you normally would expect, then a score of 0 is given. Grades are given for plays that are reasonably considered to be better or worse than the average or expected play. For the final grade, player participation is factored in, using a normalization factor to set the average player in that facet of the game to 0.

While both have recorded a season-best 5.6 PFF overall rating (Cutler vs. the Bengals and McCown vs. the Packers), the difference in the numbers between the two is startling. Take a look for yourself:

So there you have it. Cutler’s the No. 1, while McCown’s better in the fourth quarter and off the bench. Once Cutler’s healthy, bring McCown in with a few minutes left in the third quarter. Everyone will be happy. Debate closed.