Marc Trestman has stressed the "next man up" mentality of this football team. First Kelvin Hayden in the preseason. Then Henry Melton, then Nate Collins and D.J. Williams. Now Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs. Today's news disappointed Bears fans, some even declaring the season over... well, the season isn't over and Cutler and Briggs are scheduled to come back this season. If the Bears can hang on and float just above .500 (which I'm confident they will) until Cutler and Briggs are cleared, they'll still have a fighting chance at the playoffs. Outside the Saints and the Seahawks, there is no clear cut dominant team in the NFC and everyone else in middle of the road. Here are ways they can manage to hold on:
Josh McCown is a smart player who will make smart decisions. McCown cannot turn the ball over because the defense can't stop anyone. Giving opposing offenses a short field and forcing the defense with so many holes to stop them from scoring is a recipe for disaster. When Cutler went down a couple seasons ago, Caleb Hanie was given the keys to the car and he crashed the Bears playoff chances. McCown looks like he knows how to be a quarterback, and understands this offense.
Offensive line needs to continue to progress. The Bears are second in league in sacks allowed with 11. They're also fourth in the league in yards per rushing attempt, a testimony to how well the line has performed. I've seen the Pro Football Focus grades, which has consistently graded Jordan Mills poorly, but the o-line as a unit has played well.
Defense is still opportunistic. Most fans are worried about the Bears' defense and understandably so. The bend don't break mentality is gone has gone with Lovie Smith and now the defense is bend and break. This isn't the defense of five years ago but they still find ways generate turnovers. The Bears are second in the leagues with 18 takeaways. There is no reason to believe that the Bears will magically not record any takeaways.
Lighting up the scoreboard. While fans are worried about the defense, it seems that they have overlooked the fact that this offense is second in scoring (213). The defense gets lit up but the offense can light up the scoreboard too. The offense starts up front with the offensive line and the unit has protected the quarterback and paved the way for Matt Forte.
Matt Forte. Expect Trestman to call Forte's number more often. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and he can line up as a receiver. Using Forte will take the pressure off McCown. Forte is third in receptions amongst running backs and seventh in rushing yards. Despite the already impressive numbers, I think he's been under utilized.
Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. If the Trestman can dial up plays to put McCown in the best position to succeed, the o-line continues to play solid as a unit, Forte gets more involved, opposing defense will have a hard time covering Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett. These three and Forte are match up problems for defenses.
Adjustments. Trestman has shown that he can adjust game plans on the fly. Under Lovie Smith, if the Bears weren't leading at half time, we all knew it was highly unlikely the Bears were going to pull out a victory. Besides, the Bears are strong upfront and have playmakers. The Bears were on the verge of a comeback in each of their three losses.
Hester is back. Okay, maybe Hester isn't who he once was but he's still dangerous. The fact that he returned a punt for a touchdown last week, will give special teams coaches sleepless nights. The threat alone can swing the momentum of a game. He is one touchdown away from the record holder for total return touchdowns, his ticket into the Hall of Fame.
The schedule. Sure the Packers (away) and Lions (home) games are going to be tough match up but they're familiar opponents and winnable, as is each game in the NFL. Then come the Ravens, who no one is afraid off. If the Bears can manage (at least) one win out of the three, they'll still be .500 with a legitimate shot at the playoffs. After the Ravens, the Bears play @ Rams, @Vikings, Cowboys, @ Browns, @ Eagles, then the Packers at home.
Still counting on the defense. Phil Emery revamped the offensive line this offseason and it's paid off. Let's see if he has the same magic on the defensive side of the ball. Everyone was high on Jon Bostic during the preseason. There's no reason why he can't replicate that success when it really counts and improve along the way. Julius Peppers is clearly at the tail end of his career but I still think he can be dominant, maybe as consistently as years past. You figure he will show up and become a dominant force when it's needed and he's needed now more than ever.