With the hamstring injury to quarterback Jay Cutler late in the first half of Sunday’s 48-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Jimmy Clausen is expected to be the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears for the second time in the span of five games.
In the last two games Clausen has played, he left the field a loser both times and was a woeful 1-9 as a rookie starter with the Carolina Panthers under then-coach John Fox.
But accurately discerning what the Bears will have under center in Seattle against the Seahawks is virtually impossible. Not the Bears’ overall situation going into one of the NFL’s most difficult road venues to play the defending NFC champions; that’s not a difficult prediction.
Clausen is the unknown.
Clausen’s history offers few clues - few clear positive ones, in any case. His recent history unfortunately includes concussions, first in the 2014 Game 15 loss to the Detroit Lions when Cutler was benched in favor of Clausen, then this preseason when he suffered a second on a hit by a Cincinnati Bengals linebacker while going into a play-ending slide.
Regardless of whether they were looking just at old tape of Clausen, from 2010 when he was a second-round draft choice coming out of Notre Dame, or some combination of pro and college scouting reports, two different Bears general managers (Phil Emery, Ryan Pace) thought enough of him to sign him.
And two NFL teams were lurking with intent to sign Clausen last offseason when he chose to re-sign with the Bears, who thought enough of him to make a pre-emptive move in the days before free agency officially opened. That move came with Fox, the coach who had Clausen for that 1-9 rookie year in Carolina, already in place.
More to the on-field point, Clausen’s performances do not clarify much. Neither the Detroit game last season nor Sunday’s second half against Arizona make for easy assessment of Clausen.
Clausen’s installation as starter against the Lions was nothing less than a summary case study of the dysfunction within the Marc Trestman regime, which gave Clausen not only not the best chance for player success, but arguably set Clausen up in the worst possible circumstances and for failure.
The Clausen-for-Cutler change was announced to the players on Tuesday morning after a Monday night disaster against the New Orleans Saints. So Clausen, who had not taken a regular-season snap in four years, was going to get his comeback snap coming off an already short week.
Trestman added to Clausen’s challenge by then giving the team Wednesday off, removing one of the two main practice days from Clausen’s already short week. Finally, just to make it really interesting: A shaky quarterback’s best friend is a successful supporting run game, Clausen’s return to the NFL came against the Detroit Lions, the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense. Sure enough, the Lions throttled Matt Forte, who finished with just 55 yards on 19 carries (2.9 ypc).
Clausen put up a line in the game that included 23-of-39 passing for 181 yards and a passer rating of 77.0. He was sacked twice and hit four times by Ndamukong Suh but threw for two touchdowns. He also threw one interception, on the final possession while driving toward a possible game-winning touchdown.
Critics dismissed Clausen as no better than Cutler had been. Considering the overall situation, having the Bears in position for a fourth-quarter win against a playoff team, the question should have been not how bad was Clausen, but rather how was he that effective and proficient under the circumstances?
Fast forward to Sunday, when Clausen entered again against the NFL’s Week 1 No. 1 run defense (Arizona), on an even shorter week than he had to prepare for Detroit last December (the backup QB gets little or no work during the week). Clausen’s line was a sub-standard 14-of-21 passing for 121 yards and a 56.6 rating also with an interception.
“The biggest thing is not getting [practice] reps with the 1’s [during the week] and a little different tone of voice being out there with those guys and changing up the snap count,” Clausen said as for the toughest part of the situation vs. Arizona. “There’s no excuse for it.”