We have five weeks (perhaps less) to determine whether this year's defensive sins cost the Bears a spot at the playoffs in Marc Trestman's rookie year as head coach.
General manager Phil Emery, to this point, has not been afraid to make hard decisions (see Smith, Lovie...and Urlacher, Brian last off-season). There seems to be no question that his decision-making on the defensive side this offseason will be as crucial as the Trestman hire and his decisions offensively this past spring. So how does he prevent his most important hire (Trestman) from becoming a repeat of Smith's fate, who was fired for the exact opposite reason? Emery's fate could also be judged in that aftermath.
If this Bears offense continues to completely roll to the finish line, but the team fails to make the playoffs because of defensive deficiencies, Emery has to wear part of that. But his trust in squeezing another year or two of amazing health from some veteran, Pro Bowl-caliber defenders -- and have it backfiring -- could have a significant effect in how he proceeds with the most important position on the team.
Jay Cutler has done absolutely nothing wrong in performing under Trestman, "buying in" and earning a big payday, be it through a long-term contract or franchise tag. Trestman, Emery and company have praised Cutler for what he's done (Emery going so far as to call Cutler a "franchise-type" quarterback).
They may not change their stance and verbiage from that. But let's keep in mind they may also come to the decision that, if McCown continues executing from here until Cutler takes over again, they might not need a "franchise-type" quarterback to eat up $15-20 million of their salary cap if a major overhaul of the defense is needed to make this team a consistent NFC North factor and Super Bowl contender.
The compliment would remain, but the relationship and uniform would not. Publicly supporting Cutler, the belief in overcoming defensive woes, and anything else related to the current team is what any coach and general manager must do during the course of a season, at the risk of making situations worse than they already are. Rarely does public criticism, without the horses (in this case, defense), translate to better results.
December (and whether the defense continues being a sieve) just might convince Emery to take the short-term approach at quarterback and look longer-term on defense, through the 2014 draft and free agency. There will be more money to spend on that side of the ball if there's a decision the offense can be as productive with McCown (and longer-term, a draft pick "The Quarterback Whisperer" can develop) as a quicker route to consistent contention in the NFC North.
Nope, I don't dare compare the tools of McCown to Cutler's. It's by far a more Big Bang offense (albeit more risky, as well) when Jay's chucking the ball. The question is whether those tools are needed under Trestman for consistent production. There's also the matter of Brandon Marshall's relationship and allegiance to Cutler, which must be considered. Marshall has another year remaining on his deal.
Emery has headaches galore this coming off-season on how and where to spend. About half of this roster goes into free agency - both a blessing, and a curse. The lean will be even greater on defense if the slide on that side continues while the offensive numbers maintain, especially under McCown. In that sense, there will be a certain degree of pressure for Cutler to perform when he does return.
While a slip would be understandable due to his inactivity, any slips that might cost games could factor into this franchise's long-term equation.