The Chicago Bears are coming off an emotional win on Monday night over the San Diego Chargers, which pushed their record to 3-5. They are all but out of the playoff picture at this point, but don’t tell them that.
The entire team continues to play well above their talent level and although they sit at just three wins, they were two fourth-quarter stands away from being 5-3. So what’s next?
They will head to St. Louis for a Sunday afternoon matchup with the Rams and their quarterback-killing defense — a unit that boasts 27 sacks on the year, which ranks second in the league.
Can the Bears continue to exceed expectations or will a strong Rams defense and rookie phenom Todd Gurley be too much for this team to handle?
How likely is Adam Gase to take a head coaching job in 2016?
So far, Jay Cutler is having one of the best years of his career and most of that can be attributed to offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who continues to put Cutler in great positions to succeed.
Since 2009, Cutler has 12 fourth-quarter winning drives (including three this year), which leads the league, and he continues to look stronger and more confident each week.
The biggest question is: Can Cutler keep it up if Gase accepts a head-coaching job at the end of this season?
It’s worth noting that quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains has had a relationship with Cutler since 2009 and has actually been a “want” of Cutler since that time.
Loggains is still very young at 35 and has two years experience as an offensive coordinator, working under top offensive minds in Kyle Shanahan and now Gase.
Would Loggains be a sufficient replacement if Gase leaves?
Much like in Denver when John Fox and the Broncos made the transition from Mike McCoy to Gase, there were questions about whether Gase could fill the shoes of McCoy. In Gase’s first year, a top-ranked offense jumped close to 1,000 total yards and a 7.8 points-per-game increase.
Fox has done a good job of “back-filling” his coordinator positions from within and although Loggains may not be quite the football genius that some consider Gase to be, he is still viewed within the organization as a more-than-capable replacement.
If Gase leaves after the year, don’t be so quick to write off Cutler’s progress or expect a drastic drop off in offensive production, particularly if Loggains takes over as OC.
Can Lamarr Houston build off his two-sack performance?
Since singing a five-year, $35 million deal with the Bears last offseason, OLB Lamarr Houston has been a massive disappointment.
He's made a good chunk of money in his short tenure, yet the team has received minimal production from him, that is until his Week 9 breakout performance in which he picked up two crucial sacks on the Chargers' final drive.
Once drafted as an interior defensive lineman, Houston came over as a defensive end and has had to make a rough transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker. He has always played the run very well but Chicago's defense needs a more well-rounded pass rusher on the other side of Pernell McPhee and may have found one if Houston can build off last week's performance.
It remains to be seen if Houston can become a productive piece of the future for this often-changing defense but if he plans on continuing his career in Chicago and garnering more playing time for the remainder of the season, he will need to continue to produce.
He counts $7 million against the cap over the next two years, so he will need to match production to salary if he expects to stay through next year.
These next eight games will determine Houston's future in Chicago.
Just how replaceable is Matt Forte?
Matt Forte missed his first game since 2012, but how much did the Bears actually miss him?
This year’s and last year’s fourth-round picks, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey respectively, did an admirable job filling in for Forte. In fact, some can argue that the team’s offense didn’t miss a beat.
Langford had 142 total yards, while averaging 4.0 yards per carry and had a touchdown, while Carey actually started the game and set the pace with 28 rushing yards on 7 carries.
Not only were both productive on the ground but the two did an impressive job in pass protection.
If Forte decides to walk during free agency this upcoming offseason, can these two pick up the slack?
Although it was only one game, Langford's performance should give Bears brass confidence to let Forte test the free-agent market.
The production, versatility and durability of Forte has never been in question but the soon-to-be 30-year-old’s asking price could prove to be too costly for a team looking to get younger.
Forte is not expected to play Sunday. Against a stout defense in the Rams, the Bears will get a much better idea of where they stand with Langford in terms of his long-term potential.
What to watch this week
- If center Hroniss Grasu is healthy, does he re-enter the starting lineup? Matt Slauson has played tremendously over the past two weeks and this is the most continuity the offensive line has had in the past two seasons. Grasu will likely regain his starting position when healthy, which then begs the question: Who starts at right guard? Early word is Patrick Omameh.
- How will the Bears’ special teams unit contain Tavon Austin? This unit continues to give up big returns and touchdowns, how will Jeff Rodgers handle a speedy weapon like Austin?