I won't bother asking Bears fans how many times they've said to themselves after an exasperating loss in missing the playoffs five of the last six years, "The defense did its job. If only we had even a competent offense..."
I tried looking for statistical evidence since that 2006 season but, maybe each of you have a better feel, depending on how much you live and die with your beloved.
Fact of the matter is, the tables have now completely turned in less than a year, and it's time to see if the offense can make up for what's likely to be a bumpy second half defensive ride.
We can confidently say things would not be this dire if all hands were on deck - from Henry Melton to Nate Collins, from D.J. Williams to Lance Briggs, to a fully healthy Charles Tillman. Just as confidently, it's safe to assume even that unit wouldn't be as effective as the 2012 model. But with the first four out of action and the fifth being unable to finish the games he does play because of (primarily) an aching knee, the time has come for the offense to carry the load for a season that isn't over yet, despite some deep levels of local venting since about 3:15 p.m. last Sunday.
The concern is warranted. The coaching staff is getting back together at Halas Hall after a few off days and brainstorming on the defensive side how to put Humpty back together again before the troops report back to work Monday. It's safe to say a few bodies will be brought in over the weekend to see if anyone out there's better than what they already have.
Re-opening competition at safety also bears watching. Barring a drastic, miraculous turnaround in trying to keep opponents' marches to a minimum, the object for the immediate future must be getting the defense to rest. In other words, the more time the Bears offense keeps them off the field, the better the chance the Bears have of staying in playoff contention.
That's, of course, following the premise that Josh McCown in this offense will be light years better than Caleb Hanie in Mike Martz's offense two years ago. Josh won't be Jay, and never mind Brandon Marshall playing with our minds while out east, raising awareness and support for mental health awareness. No, Cutler won't be ready in two weeks. Remember, Brandon, your bosses said it was a minimum of four.
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But Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett have to take the reins of not just the offense, but the team, with help from McCown within Marc Trestman's system. The offensive line must serve and protect to also make that happen.
That task will be difficult a week from Monday in Green Bay, where the Packers have overcome their own offensive injury onslaught behind Aaron Rodgers and the development of a running game (sixth in the NFL), just in the nick of time. The Pack is even better against the run - ranking fourth in the NFL to offset a pass defense ranking 24th. So it'll be up to McCown and his targets to be on-target if they're to help their own defense roll the dice against Rodgers and Co. Special teams improvement will be a "must" as well.
Maybe the most important thing to watch for is defensive improvement somewhere, anywhere. See if the scheme, the reads, the assignments or the gaps improve, which must come from within. Washington started 3-6 a year ago and made the playoffs with the NFL's 28th-ranked defense. But they did something well - keeping opponents to just 96 rushing yards a game.
Winning at Lambeau Field won't be impossible, but it is a tall task for a team recovering from losing its quarterbacks on both sides of the ball while facing an elite quarterback and a team that'll likely own a four-game win streak by Monday morning. If that happens, the Detroit rematch six days later at Soldier Field takes on added meaning.
But even after that, a home date with the Ravens and road dates in St. Louis and Minnesota hardly seem imposing if the offense can keep clicking heading into the season's final month, when the return of Cutler and Briggs will be imminent. The offense scored 24 points and piled up 313 yards in the second half behind McCown in Washington. With Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears are the only NFL team besides Denver to have two receivers in the Top 14 in receiving yardage, one spot ahead of Rodgers' top target - Jordy Nelson.
We all expected an offensive rise, and anticipated some form of defensive drop when the regimes changed. Injuries have made the latter much more drastic. It's now the offense's turn to carry the load, and to see if it can carry this team farther than the defense did a year ago...and for several years before that.