It’s a rite of passage for the offensive minds at Halas Hall, and it’s coordinator Adam Gase’s turn.
He has to devise a game plan without Jay Cutler because the Bears’ No. 1 quarterback is injured.
It’s an old predicament for Bears fans but a new one for Gase and coach John Fox. Sunday could be the beginning of life without Cutler. Jimmy Clausen is set to start against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Bears are 5-9 in games that Cutler doesn’t start, including his one-game benching last season under former coach Marc Trestman.
Here’s a look at what it’ll take to win without him:
The quarterback play
You thought Cutler had problems with ball protection. Bears backups have combined to throw 21 interceptions in those 14 starts not made by Cutler. As a team, they remain turnover-prone without him, committing 10 more than their opponents in those 14 games (28-18).
Josh McCown’s 3-2 run as the Bears’ starter in 2013 is the only productive exception. He threw only one interception as the Bears committed four turnovers in the two losses.
The mantra at Halas Hall this week is that every player has to be on point with his respective job to make Clausen’s easier.
“In the passing game, it’s just making it clear for [Clausen], not having us not knowing what we’re doing out there,” running back Matt Forte said.
“Technique and executing plays are of the utmost importance.”
The running game
A strong emphasis on the running game becomes even more pronounced, as it should, without Cutler.
“Running the ball is the main imperative, obviously, so it can take a lot of pressure off of [Clausen],” Forte said.
But it doesn’t guarantee success.
In 2011, the Bears averaged 141.2 rushing yards in the six games missed by Cutler. Their season average was 125.9, but they still went 1-5 without him.
A similar increase happened in 2013, when Cutler missed five games. They averaged 127.8 yards compared to 114.2.
The difference was McCown, who had passer ratings of 90.7, 92.9, 102.4, 114.9 and 141.9 in his five starts.
The defense’s big plays
The five wins without Cutler were highlighted by big plays by the defense. In those games, the Bears intercepted eight passes and had 17 sacks.
Cornerback Charles Tillman returned an interception 22 yards for a score, and defensive end David Bass had a 24-yard pick-six in separate victories.
Bears defensive players insisted their mindset doesn’t change with a change at quarterback, though their margin for error decreases.
The defense still is looking for its first sack.
“The offense is going to change some things, but it is what it is; you still have to go out there and play,” linebacker Christian Jones said. “We always have to have the mindset that we have to set the tempo for games.”
The Bears had better pray to the football gods because their five victories without Cutler have been marked by good fortune.
The first win fittingly included Clausen and Fox. In 2010, the Bears, despite a horrendous four-interception game by Todd Collins, beat Fox in his last season with the Carolina Panthers.
Clausen, a rookie then, was benched by Fox during the game in favor of Matt Moore. Star wide receiver Steve Smith didn’t play because of an ankle injury. The Panthers won only two games that season.
In the finale of the 2011 season, the Bears ended a five-game losing streak against the Minnesota Vikings, who lost star running back Adrian Peterson a weak earlier with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
The favorable circumstances continued with McCown in 2013 The Bears defeated the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field after Shea McClellin broke quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone.
The Bears later knocked off the Baltimore Ravens in overtime after a two-hour delay for a thunderstorm, which started in the first quarter. The Dallas Cowboys lost to the Bears on a night with a minus-9 windchill at kickoff.
At the very least, the Bears are trying to remain positive about not having Cutler.
“We can’t get down on ourselves because our general is not in there, because our guy is not there,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “We have to go out and we have to rally around Jimmy. We can’t let [the loss of Cutler] linger.
“It sucks. I know. You never want your starting quarterback to not be able to play, but you still have to go out and do your job.”
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