While the Chicago Bears have fared well with a backup starting under center, the St. Louis Rams hope their second-string quarterback can increase the team’s momentum with a second straight victory coming out of their bye week.
Josh McCown looks to go 3-0 as a starter for the visiting Bears as they try for a fifth consecutive victory over the Rams on Sunday.
While Jay Cutler continues to nurse an ankle injury, Chicago (6-4) is more than comfortable with McCown leading the way. The 34-year-old journeyman and the Bears endured a lengthy weather delay and some harsh conditions at times Sunday to post a 23-20 overtime home win over Baltimore that moved them into a first-place tie with Detroit atop the NFC North.
In four games, and two starts, McCown has thrown for 754 yards with five TDs, no interceptions and posted a 100.0 passer rating in place of the banged-up Cutler, who remains the team’s No. 1 quarterback.
“I’m the backup quarterback on this team, and the way that I serve my team is to play when the starter’s not healthy,” McCown said. “Jay’s our starting quarterback. There’s no doubt about that.”
Though McCown has been solid while guiding an offense that ranks third in the league averaging 28.2 points, it’s Chicago’s injury-ravaged defense that has made strides of late despite missing starters Lance Briggs (shoulder), Charles Tillman (triceps), Henry Melton (knee) and D.J. Williams (chest).
The Bears allowed an average of 29.4 points through the first seven games but 20.3 while winning two of the last three.
Last weekend, Chicago held the Ravens to 317 total yards and a tying field goal when the visitors had first-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 36 seconds left in regulation. Julius Peppers had two of the Bears’ three sacks and rookie defensive end David Bass returned an interception 24 yards for a TD.
“I like the fact that our coaches are embracing the development of our young players,” said first-year coach Marc Trestman, whose team has not won consecutive games since starting 3-0. “We’re not spending time thinking about the loss of some of the players that we’ve lost. We’ve taken all that energy into building the best defense we can to play good team football.”
Trestman hopes to see improvement against the run, where the Bears rank 31st – giving up 133.9 yards per game – and have allowed a 100-yard rusher in three straight and four of five. They could face another challenge against St. Louis rookie Zac Stacy, who has a team-leading 537 yards, and scored three times in the last two contests.
Stacy, however, was held to 62 yards on 26 carries in a 38-8 win at Indianapolis on Nov. 10 after he gained 261 on 53 attempts in the previous two games.
If Chicago can contain Stacy, it could have a better chance of getting to Kellen Clemens, who is coming off his first victory in three starts since taking over for the injured Sam Bradford. Clemens has completed 53.5 percent of his passes in four games, but was 9 of 16 for 247 yards and threw two of his three TDs without a pick during the upset at Indianapolis.
“I think I’ve gotten more comfortable with each rep, both in practice and in games,” Clemens told the Rams’ official website. “I think I’ve gotten more comfortable each week, and hopefully we can continue to make plays and be effective on offense.”
Clemens’ scoring passes against the Colts came on strikes of 57 and 81 yards to rookie Tavon Austin, who also returned a punt 98 yards for a TD.
While a St. Louis (4-6) offense that ranks 27th averaging 316.5 yards hopes to build on that solid performance, its defense looks for a second straight strong effort as well.
Helping to snap a three-game skid, Robert Quinn recorded two of his career-high 12 sacks and Chris Long returned a fumble 45 yards for a TD. The Rams also picked off Andrew Luck three times and held the Colts to 18 rushing yards after Tennessee ran for 198 during a 28-21 loss the week before.
“(Coach Jeff Fisher) and (general manager) Les (Snead) have done a great job of tailoring the personnel to what they like, and getting people that were the perfect fit,” Quinn said.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but every week we’re pretty much in the game, and it starts upstairs.”
St. Louis has often struggled defensively while being outscored 109-45 during a four-game skid to the Bears.
An ankle injury kept Matt Forte out of Chicago’s 23-6 home win over the Rams last season, but he’s run for 230 yards and averaged 5.1 per carry while scoring three TDs in two career games against them.