Goodbye, bye week. Hello again, football, you loving friend.
Let's start at QB. How has Josh McCown looked in Cutler's absence? Without an interception and having only lost two games by a combined 6 points, things could certainly be worse, no? (Note: As a Rams fan, believe me. It could certainly be worse.)
McCown has done a great job. Many teams, including the Bears over the last several seasons, have struggled mightily when backup QB's have had to make appearances, but McCown has done exceptionally well. The players respond to him as a leader, and the coaching staff have always lauded him for his grasp of the offense. He's a sharp guy, and athletic enough to run most of Marc Trestman's offense. He isn't an every-week starting QB in the league, but as far as backups go, he's among the best in the league.
As I've watched McCown a little closer this season, he seems very much like Kyle Orton, but a little more athletic. Game manager, makes safe throws, and smart in his approach. Orton always did well until he was forced to take chances and try to make low-percentage throws, and unfortunately, he was put into those situations often. McCown is very much the same, and Trestman has kept McCown out of those situations for the most part.
The offensive line - is it a line that's built for a multi-year run, or is this an area you expect the Bears to address in the offseason? The Rams' defense is largely built on the success of their defensive line, so if you have any keys to unlock your guys' O-line, I promise to hand deliver them to Robert Quinn and Chris Long.
General Manager Phil Emery knew right away that was one of the first areas he needed to address, and after his first season in Chicago, he made that happen. For those who think that an entire line can't be built in one offseason... It can. Emery drafted two rookies that immediately won starting jobs in camp, RG Kyle Long and RT Jordan Mills, and brought in Pro Bowl LT Jermon Bushrod and LG Matt Slauson for the other side of the line. They have all done well, and paired with Trestman's approach to running plays (getting the ball out of the QB's hand fast), this is definitely a line that will do well for many seasons to come.
The only remaining starter from 2012 is Center Roberto Garza. Garza is in the twilight of his career, and may be seeing his last season as a starter, but he's done a great job over the years in Chicago. Many people will argue that fact, but Garza has always been a plug-in-and-play lineman that has always done anything asked of him. He's not an All-Pro, but most offensive linemen aren't. He's been consistently average, which is all a team can hope for.
Defensively, what's changed so drastically from last year, especially in the run game? How has the recent implementation of Jon Bostic changed things?
Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Many Bears fans blame the drop-off on new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who was brough in after Lovie Smith was fired, but that's not at all close to realistic. The Bears took a huge hit when All-Pro defensive tackle Henry Melton tore his ACL early in the season, and another hit when Melton's backup, Nate Collins, tore the exact same ligament the very next week. Throw in injuries to Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams... and you've got a very thin defense. You aren't going to sustain a high-level of play when that many starters, many of them Pro Bowlers, go down in a season.
As for the rookie Bostic, he's done well. He still has some areas that need developing, which is expected from a rookie, but the kid plays hard and doesn't shy away from anything. Again, many fans have criticized his awareness in the passing game, or his over-pursuit in the running game, but we have to remember that he is a rookie playing on a defense that is hurting right now. Bostic will make mistakes, but he will be just fine in the long run in Chicago. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if he ends up being just as good, if not better, than Lance Briggs has been.
What is the strength of this team, a core that the success or failure of this season rests on? Is it the Marshall/Jeffrey tandem? Is Matt Forte a hinge player who when he plays well or performs above the mean, it's practically an automatic win? Is it a unit on the defense that has coalesced to the point they are central to the Bears' fortunes?
The offense has to score points, simply. With the defense hanging on by a thread, and the starting quarterback injured, the Bears success will hinge on the ability to convert third downs, drive down the field, and score touchdowns. The last couple of weeks, Chicago's offense has not done well in third down situations, and have punted way more than they should be if they want to win football games. Marc Trestman is doing a good job of playing to McCown's strengths, but at the end of the day, the offense has to score points.
Big picture -- expectations-wise, has the season been a disappoint or are the Bears near the track you/the fan base anticipated? With four of the six games left on the road, are you optimistic you'll meet that track whatever it is? How do Bears fans feel about Marc Trestman in year one?
In my opinion, this team has done much better than I would have expected. Think about it: New head coach. New offense. New offensive coordinator. New offensive line (with two rookies starting). New defensive coordinator. New linebackers (except for Briggs)...
Despite there being a lot of talent on the roster, all of those new things just scared the dickens out of me. Rarely do you see teams do well in their first year after a rebuild. But Emery has his vision, and Trestman has his system, and the team has looked good. Again, the injuries have really slowed things down significantly... That's been the kryptonite this year.
The Bears could wiggle their way into a Wild Card this offseason, or could miss it by a game just like last year. But the foundation is there, and I firmly expect this team to be in competition for not only the NFC North for the next few seasons, but also among the best teams int he entire NFC. We'll see...
Thanks to Dane for taking the time to answer these.