Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The No-Huddle: Bears and Texans Facing Huge QB Challenges

It's just two days after the Bears have lost Jay Cutler to a thumb injury on his throwing hand, but there has already been enough internet debate and discussion to keep concerned Bears fans clicking links for days. Go here, here and here for a small sample. Google "Cutler's thumb" for many more.

It's really a shame for Chicago. After a very shaky start to the season, the Mike Martz and Jay Cutler-led offense has been in fine form, and the Bears have reeled off five straight wins, scoring more than 30 points in all but one of them (they only struck for 24 against the Bucs).

With Cutler out for most of the remainder of the season (reports are that they'll get a better idea of the timeline after Wednesday's surgery), the Bears are forced to go with backup Caleb Hanie. Yes, that's right, he of the 14 career regular- season passing attempts.

The Bears will also take a long, hard look at the waiver wire, which now features recently demoted Bronco Kyle Orton. Orton has no experience with Mike Martz's offense, but he did have some success with the organization from 2005-2008, and he'd probably be a better choice than Nathan Enderle if Hanie also went down to injury.

Whatever the front office decides, the real question will be about the cohesiveness of the Bears as a unit, the ability of their defense and special teams to continue to play a huge role in their success, and the ability of Mike Martz to re-tailor his system to fit whomever the Bears decide to plug in.

It will be a huge challenge for Chicago, but they are still very much in the hunt for an NFC wildcard at 7-3 with a very favorable schedule going down the stretch. The Raiders and the Packers are the only teams over .500 of the Bears remaining seven opponents.

With Chicago's well-balanced attack, the existence of multiple weapons in the passing game and a great back in Matt Forte, I think there's a chance that Hanie (or Orton) could keep them in the hunt until Cutler returns (if he returns) -- maybe even if he doesn't.

The same thing goes for the Texans. Houston is in a much better spot in the standings, but they also have QB concerns. The Texans still have a glimmer of hope that Matt Schaub can return from a foot injury, but in the meantime they'll be traveling to Jacksonville to face the 3-7 Jags with 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart at the helm.

Leinart famously washed out of Arizona after being replaced by Kurt Warner in 2008. He was eventually cut in 2010, and will look to fulfill some of his lost promise as he takes over a Texans team that is enjoying a four-game winning streak, and a two-game lead in the AFC south.

Leinart, who will be making his first start since 2009, will not need to be as good as Schaub was (15 TD's, 6 ints, 96.8 rating) to keep the Texans afloat. Houston's top-notch defense could see four rookie quarterbacks in its last seven games, and with Wade Phillips scheming at the helm, they'll likely make things a lot easier for Leinart.

Injuries are always part of the game. Good teams find ways to weather the storm and some even become stronger. It's hard to imagine the Bears or Texans getting stronger without Cutler or Schaub, but it will be interesting -- and a true test of team character and chemistry -- to see how the fare.