BEREA — Jay Cutler played the best game of his career at FirstEnergy Stadium, so it’s only fitting he will be under center Sunday when the Bears visit the Browns.
Chicago coach Marc Trestman announced Thursday that Cutler has recovered from his left high ankle sprain and will start at quarterback against Cleveland.
Josh McCown has played the last four games for the Bears — winning twice — to keep them tied with Detroit atop the NFC North Division, but will be back in his familiar role as a backup.
“No disrespect to Josh McCown, but Jay Cutler is a different monster,” Browns safety Tashaun Gipson said. “Anytime you’re dealing with one of the more elite quarterbacks in the game — Cutler is arguably a top-10 quarterback — I think that amplifies the situation.
“Now that we know it’s going to be him, I can shift my focus to studying film on Cutler, how he delivers the ball, his progressions and his reads.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Cutler has been sidelined since Nov. 10, when he was injured during a home game against the Lions. He ranks 12th in the NFL with an 88.4 passer rating and has completed 63.0 percent of his throws, logging 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games.
McCown, however, has put up better numbers in his seven appearances. The career journeyman is on pace to set franchise records for the best passer rating (109.8) and completion percentage (66.8), while tossing eight TDs to just one interception.
Though the potential for a quarterback controversy is there, Trestman said Cutler will not be on a short leash.
“Coach Trestman has said it’s Cutler’s job when he’s healthy, but both of their quarterbacks are playing at a high level,” Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “And McCown, statistically, is quite better.
“The good thing for us is they’re both running the same system and they really haven’t changed their mode of operation with either. After playing against Cutler for the last couple of years, I’ve been impressed.”
If the Browns need a reminder of just how good Cutler can be when healthy, they should watch a replay of his lone game in Cleveland.
On Nov. 6, 2008, Cutler threw for a career-high — and stadium-record — 447 yards in leading Denver to a 34-30 win on Thursday Night Football. His third and final touchdown pass was an 11-yarder to current Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall with 1:17 left, providing the Broncos’ game-winning points.
“Cutler, he’s going to come in with a ton of confidence,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “They always do some things schematic-wise to put you at a disadvantage, and the threat with Cutler is he can make every throw. He’s a confident guy, so we’ve definitely got to be on our game come Sunday.”
Cutler told Chicago reporters that he’s not worried about re-injuring his ankle or his sore groin, saying, “We’ve been rehabbing my whole left side for a month, so I should be good to go.”
Horton, though, is most concerned about Cutler’s feet.
Cleveland’s defense has been savaged in the last two weeks by less talented offenses in Jacksonville and New England, so it’s scary to think what Cutler, running back Matt Forte, Marshall and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery could do in the Browns’ home finale.
“Everyone knows how strong Cutler’s arm is, and he’s a smart quarterback and all that, but to me the biggest thing is his feet,” Horton said. “His ability to move in the pocket and throw off the wrong foot, to get the ball out quickly, is impressive.
“We’ll have to get off the ball and blitz them, play some soft zones. Again this week, we’ll try to make their quarterback beat us.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.