NFC North: Michael Bush

Bears sign RB Shaun Draughn

April, 23, 2014
4/23/14
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The Chicago Bears signed running back Shaun Draughn to a one-year contract, the team announced.

Draughn
Draughn played in 20 games for the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens from 2011-13. His best season came in 2012 when he carried the ball 59 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 158 yards for the Chiefs.

Draughn also returned 23 kickoffs for 537 yards that same year in Kansas City.

Bears general manager Phil Emery served as the Chiefs' director of college scouting when Draughn entered the league in 2011 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of North Carolina. Draughn originally signed with the Washington Redskins before eventually making his way to Kansas City.

The 6-foot, 205 pound tailback appeared in just three games and ran the ball only four times for two yards for the Ravens last season.

The Bears were looking to add depth in the backfield in the offseason after the club released veteran running back Michael Bush on the eve of NFL free agency in March. The team could still decide to draft a running back in the late rounds to compete with the likes of Draughn and Michael Ford for the reserve roster spots behind two-time Pro Bowl starter Matt Forte.
The release of veteran running back Michael Bush on March 10 left a hole in the Chicago Bears' backfield the team must eventually fill.

While the Bears do currently have second-year tailback/return man Michael Ford slotted behind two-time Pro Bowler Matt Forte on the depth chart, the team could use more depth and competition at the position.

That help could arrive next month if the Bears select a running back somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds of the upcoming NFL draft, a reasonable target area given the priority in the early rounds will likely be safety, cornerback, defensive tackle and inside linebacker, in no particular order.

One backfield prospect to keep tabs on is former Wisconsin running back James White, who led all rushers with 11 carries for 62 yards and one touchdown at the 2014 Senior Bowl.

The Bears recently traveled to Wisconsin's campus in Madison to put White through a private pre-draft workout, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Although listed at 5-foot-9, 204 pounds, White finished his four-year career at Wisconsin as the Badgers' No. 4 all-time leading rusher with 4,015 yards and ranks No. 3 in school history with 45 rushing touchdowns.

White ran for 1,444 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 39 passes for 300 yards and two scores for Wisconsin last season. He also returned kickoffs his first two years in Madison.

Keep in mind, the Bears require a versatile running back that is capable of not only picking up yards on the ground if called upon, but also a player that can catch the ball out of the backfield. Utilizing the tailback in the passing game is a key component of Marc Trestman's offense, and one of Forte's greatest strengths since entering the league in 2008.

In addition to White, there should be an ample supply of running backs for the Bears to choose from in the later rounds if the organization decides to fill that need via the draft.

Other names to consider are Alabama State's Isaiah Crowell, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas (the Bears reportedly hosted Thomas on a top-30 pre-draft visit at Halas Hall), Tennessee's Rajion Neal, Stanford's Tyler Gaffney, Louisville's Senorise Perry, Arizona State's Marion Grice and Florida State's James Wilder, Jr., among others.

Grice suffered a lower leg injury last year and had to wait until last week to work out in front of scouts at his personal Pro Bowl. Representatives from 17 NFL teams were in attendance. The Bears were not present, but the 6-foot, 207 pound Grice did catch 91 passes out of the backfield for the Sun Devils over the last two seasons.

The Bears also worked out a handful of veteran free agent running backs last week at Halas Hall.
Here is this week's edition of the mailbag:

1. JD, huge Devin Hester fan here. I almost cried when they took away his punt return touchdown last week. Can we expect Devin to light it up against Minnesota? -- Brendan, Peoria, Ill.


Dickerson: Brendan, Hester has torched the Vikings' special teams in 14 career games, returning three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. Hester was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts against the Vikings in Week 2, when he set a franchise single-game record with 249 kick-return yards. However, it is important to note that Sunday's game will played inside the Metrodome. It's much tougher for a return man to get his hands on the football when the game is played in a controlled climate. Maybe Hester's best shot this weekend is to hope that Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke kicks him a returnable ball.

2. Why are the Bears going back to Jay Cutler? Josh McCown has found the fountain of youth. Ride with him! GO BEARS! -- Chester, Cicero, Ill.


Dickerson: Cutler is the unquestioned starting quarterback. He has too much talent and is earning too much money to sit on the bench if medically cleared to play. But I believe the Bears are taking the correct approach by sitting Cutler on Sunday and letting McCown start against the Vikings. High-ankle sprains are serious injuries. Cutler needs extra time to let his ankle heal before he's ready to return. McCown is clearly capable of beating the Vikings, who own the league's 30th overall defense (allowing 401 yards per game), so there was no need to rush Cutler back, even if he is pushing hard to come back. But when Cutler is ready, likely for the Bears' Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 9, he will be back in the starting lineup.

(Read full post)

Brandon Marshall and Josh McCownNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall and Josh McCown have hooked up on touchdown passes in each of the past two games.

RISING

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Brandon Marshall
1. Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall is red hot. The four-time Pro Bowl selection topped 100 receiving yards (7-139-2) for the second straight week on Sunday. Over the past four games, Marshall has 29 grabs for 408 yards and five touchdowns. He leads the Bears with 60 catches for 786 yards and eight scores, and he is on-pace for 106 total receptions, barring injury. On another positive note, Marshall seems to have chemistry with Josh McCown, the Bears' new starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.

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Josh McCown
2. Josh McCown, QB: All McCown does is move the football. The veteran quarterback stepped in for Jay Cutler at the end of the fourth quarter against the Lions and promptly guided the Bears' offense on a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive that culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Marshall. On the drive, McCown went 6-of-9 for 62 yards and the score. In three appearances this season, McCown has completed 42-of-70- passes for 538 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 103.2 quarterback rating. McCown can't be perfect forever, but the Bears hope the veteran can protect the ball and lead them to a key victory Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

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Jay Cutler
3. Cutler, QB: Sorry, but I believe Cutler had a good game against Detroit despite his physical limitations caused by the groin injury and high-ankle sprain he suffered late in the second half. Despite all that, Cutler should have finished the game with three touchdown passes -- Alshon Jeffery failed to catch two potential scores. Cutler flashed the arm several times on Sunday, throwing rockets to his receivers. Of course, the quarterback did throw a costly interception in the end zone, and by the second half, was a shell of his former self in the mobility department. But the Bears failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities in Week 10 that were not Cutler-related. He did enough to help the Bears win that game. And let's not forget that Detroit has a pretty good front seven. While I think the Bears made an error not removing Cutler from the game sooner, he has nothing to be ashamed about. He played through injuries and put his team in position to win. He did his job.

FALLING

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Matt Slauson
1. Matt Slauson, LG: There is plenty of blame to go around on the Bears' offensive line, but Slauson's mistakes against the Lions garnered the most attention. With 10:57 left in the game, Slauson was called for a holding penalty that negated a Matt Forte 9-yard touchdown run. The Bears eventually had to settle for a field goal. At the end of the game, Slauson failed to help center Roberto Garza block Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley on the second failed two-point conversion attempt. Slauson has been a solid professional all season and certainly looks to be a candidate to receive a contract extension in the offseason, but Sunday wasn't his best effort.

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Matt Forte
2. Matt Forte, RB: Forte was a non-factor in the 21-19 defeat, rushing for just 33 yards on 17 carries (1.9 yards per attempt). Some of Forte's issues can be attributed to poor play from the Bears' offensive line, a unit that missed its share of blocks. However, Forte failed to avoid a couple of tacklers in the open field on plays that were set up to produce sizeable gains for the offense. Forte also caught four passes for 16 yards, giving him only 49 all-purpose yards in Week 10. Forte is rarely this ineffective.

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Bush
3. Michael Bush, RB: The Bears asked Bush to pick up one first down on Sunday. He failed to do it. For the season, Bush has gained 69 yards on 32 attempts (one touchdown), while catching two passes for 21 yards. There are plenty of undrafted rookie running backs who can give you that kind of production. Bush will earn $2.55 million in 2013. He's on the books for total cash payouts of $2.850 million in 2014 and $3.6 million in 2015. The Bears will have to carry $1 million worth of dead salary-cap money over the next two years to cut Bush in the offseason. In a featured role, Bush might be OK. But in his current role in this offense, Bush isn't giving the Bears much bang for their buck.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field:

What it means: The Bears missed an opportunity to seize the division lead and put some cushion between themselves and the Green Bay Packers, who lost to Philadelphia. Instead, Chicago made its road to the postseason more difficult. Quarterback Josh McCown came in and provided a spark late, nearly rallying the Bears. His entrance at the 2:17 mark was long overdue, as Jay Cutler seemed to be hurting the team by trying to play through injury.

Second-guessing fourth-down call: Bears coach Marc Trestman drew praise for his decision Monday night to go for it on fourth down against the Packers, but a similar move in the second quarter resulted in criticism. With his team holding possession at the Detroit 27-yard line, Trestman called for a Michael Bush run behind right guard Kyle Long that went for no gain. The offensive line appeared to produce adequate push, but Bush ran into the backs of his blockers.

Protecting Cutler: Just 21 days removed from tearing a groin muscle, Cutler returned to the starting lineup on Sunday, showing no residual effects from the injury -- at least initially. Cutler connected on 3 of 4 for 61 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall on Chicago’s opening drive. The team put Cutler in the shotgun for the majority of the game to minimize the risk of aggravating the injury; Chicago operated out of the shotgun on 12 of its first 13 snaps and 25 of 33 snaps in the first half. Then, late through the second quarter, Cutler started to show signs that he was in pain. That pain appeared to increase during the team’s first drive to start the second half. Looking stiff and sluggish, Cutler seemed to be in enough discomfort to leave the game. But the next time the Bears had the ball he hit Marshall for a 44-yard completion. Later in the drive, Cutler -- in tremendous pain -- actually headed toward the sideline, with McCown running onto the field. Cutler fell as he neared the sideline, but waved off McCown and walked back to the huddle.

Run D better, still needs work: Reggie Bush ran wild in the first meeting between the teams, gaining a 139 yards on 18 attempts. Chicago’s defense did a much better job defending Bush on Sunday, but the running back still made a few key plays. Bush broke a 39-yarder on Detroit’s first drive of the second half, which put the Lions in position to go ahead by seven on Calvin Johnson’s 4-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Bush shook struggling Bears safety Chris Conte; Charles Tillman making the touchdown-saving tackle.

Conte redemption? Despite the early struggles, Conte picked off a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Johnson and returned it 35 yards to set up a Robbie Gould 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Then he gave Chicago’s offense another chance when he knocked a pass out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone.

What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to watch film of the loss to Detroit before taking the day off Tuesday. The club begins preparations Wednesday to host the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday at noon.

Atkins impressed with Bears' RG Long

September, 4, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears knew at the end of last season the team desperately needed a massive overhaul on the offensive line. Mission accomplished. General manager Phil Emery tackled the issue of improving the line by investing significant resources in both free agency and the NFL draft en route to acquiring left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills -- leaving veteran center Roberto Garza as the lone holdover from 2012.

[+] EnlargeGeno Atkins
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsCincinnati's Geno Atkins should prove to be a tough assignment for rookie Kyle Long in his first regular-season start.
This new-look group will be put to the test immediately in Week 1. The Cincinnati Bengals come to town Sunday with arguably one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, led by the game’s premiere three-technique defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who inked a lucrative five-year contract extension after he led all interior defensive linemen last season with 12.5 sacks to go along with a team-high 15 tackles for loss.

As a unit, the Bengals’ defensive line recorded 43 sacks last season and helped the defense rank sixth in fewest yards allowed.

This should present a terrific challenge up front for the Bears, especially for the Long/Mills rookie right side of the offensive line. Atkins told the Chicago media during a conference call on Wednesday that he was impressed by Long’s performance in the preseason after the first-round pick won the starting job outright. The Atkins-Long matchup is expected to be one of the most intriguing battles on Sunday.

“He’s big and he’s physical, very aggressive and a strong player,” Atkins said. “And by watching him, you can tell he likes to get after defensive linemen. He likes to get off, be aggressive and show his strength.”

Atkins also praised Bears tailback Matt Forte, who averaged 9.9 yards per carry on 15 rushing attempts behind the offensive line in the preseason. Forte is expected to be a focal point of the Bears’ offense in Week 1.

“He’s very, I want to say, shifty,” Atkins said. “He likes to cut back, so, I mean, he’s very explosive. If you give him a cutback lane, he will take it back and make you pay. To me, that makes him a dynamic player.
They’ve got tons of playmakers like Jay Cutler, Forte and Michael Bush. The offensive line is pretty stout. They’re a big group. And Brandon Marshall. They’re already loaded, so we just have to get after them.”

This Fantasy Roundtable debate between the Atlanta Falcons' Steven Jackson and the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte isn't totally fair. Jackson is expected to be the Falcons' unquestioned workhorse this season, while Forte figures to share at least some duties -- particularly on the goal line -- with veteran backup Michael Bush.

As we've discussed many times, Forte has displayed many strengths in his career, among them: open-field running, receiver-like catching skills, able pass-blocking. But for whatever reason, he has been one of the NFL's worst goal-to-go runners over the past five years.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has converted only 12 of 98 such carries for touchdowns since joining the Bears in 2008. Bush filled that role last season, scoring five touchdowns in 11 carries.

But the discussion also reminds us to drop all previously-held assumptions about the Bears. With a new coaching staff in place for the first time in a decade, the Bears are much harder to predict. Forte might not have had much success at the goal line, but that doesn't mean new coach Marc Trestman won't want to see for himself -- or that he might not have some new ideas for getting it done.

Plus, as we discussed in May, Trestman was once the coordinator of an offense that got its starting tailback 91 receptions in a season. (Charlie Garner, Oakland Raiders, 2002). Who knows where that could take Forte from a fantasy value. That season, Garner accounted for 11 touchdowns, including four by reception. There are plenty of ways to peel the (fantasy) apple.

NFC North links: Carimi dealt to Bucs

June, 10, 2013
6/10/13
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Chicago Bears

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "If Gabe Carimi’s goal was to find a new team by staying away from the Chicago Bears’ voluntary offseason program, consider it mission accomplished."

Bears running back Michael Bush would like to see quarterback JaMarcus Russell get another shot in the NFL.

Detroit Lions

Justin Rogers of MLive.com: "Just watching [Ndamukong] Suh interact with his teammates during recent practices, specifically first-round draft pick Ezekiel Ansah, it's clear the veteran is attempting to step up and be a mentor to some of the younger players on the roster."

Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young has posted bond and has been released from an Orange County jail.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers are looking to help cornerback Tramon Williams get back to his playmaking form that was on display during the 2010 season.

Johnny Jolly is relieved to be back practicing with the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

Count Patrick Reusse of 1500ESPN.com among those who doesn't think parting ways with wide receiver Percy Harvin and cornerback Antoine Winfield was a good move for the Vikings.

Quarterback Christian Ponder's progress will be one story to monitor as the Vikings begin their final OTA session on Monday.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC North team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Chicago Bears: If you were drawing up plans for an experienced but diverse backfield, you could do a lot worse than modeling after the Bears. Starter Matt Forte is a shifty off-tackle runner and one of the NFL's top pass-catching running backs, a collection of skills that will fit neatly into new coach Marc Trestman's offense. Forte has caught 267 passes since his career started in 2008, the third-most in the NFL by a running back over that stretch. Backup Michael Bush, meanwhile, is a bigger and stronger inside threat who gives the Bears a better option in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He produced a first down on 24.6 percent of his rushes last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the 10th-best percentage in the NFL. As long as Forte and Bush are healthy, the Bears' relatively thin depth behind them is irrelevant.

Detroit Lions: Free-agent acquisition Reggie Bush figures to benefit from opponents' attention on receiver Calvin Johnson to much greater extent than the Lions' backfield did last season. Early indications are the Lions will use Bush similarly to the way the New Orleans Saints did earlier in his career. With the Saints in 2006, Bush caught 88 passes. Training camp should bring competition for the right to be the "thumper" behind Bush. Will it be 2011 second-round draft choice Mikel Leshoure, who looked slow and not very elusive after returning last season from a torn Achilles tendon? (No NFL running back had as many touches as Leshoure without at least one play of at least 20 yards.) Or will it be the lesser-known Joique Bell, who as Pro Football Focus points out, made defenders miss regularly last season. He forced 26 missed tackles in 82 carries and actually averaged more yards after contact (2.99) than Bush did with the Miami Dolphins (2.06).

Green Bay Packers: The team re-made its backfield through the draft after years of transition, throwing the situation into unknown territory. At some point, the Packers will have to thin the herd of a group that includes returnees DuJuan Harris, James Starks, Alex Green and John Kuhn, along with rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. The competition is wide open, although both Starks and Green have failed when given previous opportunities. Lacy's build and pedigree suggests he has an excellent chance to ultimately win the starting job, but Harris impressed the team late last season and could get the first shot this summer.

Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson. Is there much more to say? Historically, runners who put together a 2,000-yard season tend to fall back the following year. But nothing about Peterson's career suggests he will fit neatly into a trend. He has set a goal of 2,500 yards, and however unrealistic it might be, he has earned the benefit of the doubt. Backup Toby Gerhart is in his fourth and presumably last season as Peterson's understudy. While Gerhart hasn't shown much explosion in short stints in Peterson's place, you would think he'll want to look elsewhere for more carries when his contract expires after this season.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good morning and thanks for returning, presumably, along with me after last week's time away. It sounds like I missed a few news stories, which is all but inevitable when you take a week away from the NFL, but we'll catch up soon enough.

If you watched the NCAA men's basketball Midwest Regional finals Sunday night, you saw Louisville's Kevin Ware suffer a compound fracture of his right leg. Afterwards, coach Rick Pitino compared the injury to the one suffered by current Chicago Bears running back Michael Bush when he played at Louisville. Bush was watching as well and expressed raw emotion via Twitter:

"I just cried. I feel so bad. #flashback of myself. Anyone if he needs anything please let me know. #teamware. … I can't even get myself together. I don't even wanna watch the rest of this game. His life just change."

On that note, let's catch up on some weekend news from around the NFC North:
  • The Chicago Bears can begin the first phase of their offseason program Monday under NFL rules for new coaching staffs. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune explains.
  • The Bears signed free agent guard Matt Slauson, probably to replace the departed Lance Louis at right guard. Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com has more.
  • The Bears also re-signed quarterback Josh McCown after backup Jason Campbell signed with the Cleveland Browns, notes Wright for ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Detroit Lions are looking for outside receiving depth in the free agent market, according to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, via Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com: "Let me just say this. When you win four games, you better have a sense of urgency about it. Certainly, I had a great sense of urgency about this offseason, but I wouldn't categorize it as not having a great sense of urgency in the previous offseasons. I just think we came into it with a great sense of urgency about getting better."
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz on safeties Glover Quin and Louis Delmas, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "We're ahead of ourselves in a lot of ways, but if it can be proven that we can keep both of those guys on the field and healthy, it's hard to create matchups from an offensive standpoint. You don't just have one guy that can cover or one guy that can blitz or one guy that can play in the box. You have a lot more ability to matchup and not let offenses be able to get you mismatched."
  • The Green Bay Packers will give cornerback Loyce Means, a street free agent who was out of football in 2012, a chance to make their roster, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Mike Vanderamuse of the Green Bay Press-Gazette thinks it's too early for the Packers and Brett Favre to reconcile.
  • The Packers will have their mandatory minicamp in the middle of their offseason program instead of at the end, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press examines the Minnesota Vikings' remaining roster holes.
  • The status of former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield still is not clear, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Winfield is being wooed strongly by the Washington Redskins.
In the two months since the Chicago Bears overhauled their coaching staff, we've seen and heard almost nothing specific about the style of offense new coach Marc Trestman will run. That's not a coincidence, given NFL teams' protection of schematic clues. But in the latest ESPN.com Offseason Playbook Insider, former scout Gary Horton gives it his best guess.

You need an Insider subscription to view the entire analysis, but here is most of what Horton wrote about Trestman's likely scheme:
"Considering pass protection will also be a real issue, we will likely see some CFL looks: shotgun, three- and five-step drops, a really fast flow offense with a large volume of plays and some no-huddle. The same can be said for slant passes, quick outs and sight adjustment by quarterback Jay Cutler and his receivers -- especially when he reads the blitz. With coordinator Aaron Kromer on board from New Orleans, expect lots of seam routes with motion and more incorporation in the screen game. This is going to be a fast and furious offense that will be fun to watch, but will they have enough of a physical quality to close games out if they have the lead?"

I would imagine that final task could be left to backup tailback Michael Bush, but the first step is getting a lead. If Horton is right, we'll see a lot less downfield passing from Cutler and a more nuanced short game. Last season, Cutler ranked second in the NFL among qualifying quarterbacks by averaging 10.03 air yards -- the distance the ball travels past the line of scrimmage per throw, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

For context, consider that Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford averaged 8.46 yards and the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers was at 7.82 yards. The Minnesota Vikings' Christian Ponder checked in at 6.43 yards, lowest in the NFL.

We aren't likely to have a great understanding of Trestman's offense until the regular season begins. If Horton is right, and what he wrote makes sense, it will look much different than what the Bears have done during most of Cutler's tenure.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
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After the Chicago Bears' 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    More than anything, Sunday's game reinforced how reliant the Bears are on their special teams and defense in staking them to a lead and in some cases maintaining it as well. The Bears offense couldn't move the ball on their first drive, but Zack Bowman downed a punt at the Cardinals' 4-yard line, and two plays later, he recovered a Beanie Wells fumble for a touchdown. Quarterback Jay Cutler started the game with 10 incompletions in his first 11 attempts, a performance that could have scuttled the Bears' chances had the defense not started strong. Overall, the defense scored two touchdowns, had four sacks -- three by defensive end Julius Peppers -- and forced three turnovers in a game the Bears won by 15 points. For as much as the Bears thought their offense would carry their share of the load this season, it just hasn't developed.
  2. The Bears' offensive line has gotten so much grief this season that it's worth noting it limited the Cardinals' aggressive and productive pass rush to one sack. Based on press statistics, that sack was the only hit Cutler took in the game. That's a pretty amazing statistic considering the Bears were starting their fifth different combination of linemen in this game because of right tackle Jonathan Scott's hamstring injury. Rookie James Brown started at left guard, Chris Spencer started at right guard and Gabe Carimi was back at right tackle. We'll see if Carimi earned back his starting job and if he can re-establish himself at this position before the offseason begins.
  3. The Bears will be in some trouble if tailback Matt Forte doesn't make a quick recovery from sprained ankle that was significant enough to require a walking boot Sunday. Backup Michael Bush is already on injured reserve because of a rib injury, leaving the Bears with Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen as their remaining healthy running backs. Both have experience, but the Bears are literally in a must-win situation and Forte is one of their best players. Forte is pledging to be ready for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, but willpower alone can't get it done.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
We know the Bears must win this game to get in the playoffs. Do they need to win in order to save coach Lovie Smith's job as well? A loss would leave the Bears out of the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons since they reached the Super Bowl in 2006. They would become just the second team in the 23-year history of this playoff structure to miss out on the playoffs after a 7-1 start, and at best Smith would be looking at a lame duck contract for 2013. We have no idea what the McCaskey family and general manager Phil Emery are thinking, but the possibility exists that Sunday could be Smith's final game with the team.
You don't have to go any further than last Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers to understand how valuable tailback Michael Bush was to the Chicago Bears this season.

Bush
Bush
Forte
Forte
Unable to play because of a rib injury that officially ended his season Tuesday, Bush could only watch as starter Matt Forte failed on three attempts to score from the Packers' 5-yard line in the third quarter. Forte gained 4 yards on his first carry, was stopped for no gain on his next two and the Bears were forced to kick a field goal in what became a 21-13 loss.

The Bears signed Bush in part to help them in the goal-to-go situations that Forte has routinely failed in during his career. This season, Bush got the carry on 11 such situations and scored five touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Forte has one touchdown on eight such carries this season, giving him just 10 touchdowns in 94 career goal-to-go carries. Bush, on the other hand, has 22 touchdowns on 68 goal-to-go carries.

The Bears' decision to give the ball to Forte on those three consecutive carries was one of the most predictable failures of their season. Bush said during training camp that he preferred not to be pigeon-holed in such a role, but on this team it made perfect sense to use him that way.

Note: The Bears re-signed running back Kahlil Bell to replace Bush on the roster. It's likely that Armando Allen will serve as Forte's backup Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
CHICAGO -- After losing five of their past six games, the Chicago Bears no longer hold their playoff destiny in their hands. They'll need some help to reach the postseason after a 21-13 loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers, but the bigger question is how far-reaching their 1-5 slump will be for this franchise.

Has Lovie Smith coached his final game at Soldier Field? If he remains in the job, will the Bears change offensive coordinators again? Is it time to commence the rebuilding of a defense that gave up nearly 400 yards and forced only one turnover in a division-deciding game?

One of the few Bears players or coaches to address those big-picture questions was receiver Brandon Marshall, who was so distraught after the game that he paused twice to hold back tears. He directed his frank thoughts at the offense, but he used the word "accountable" on multiple occasions.

"Everybody involved in this offense should be held accountable, even if it means jobs," Marshall said. "It's been this way all year. There's no excuse. We still have two games left. There's still hope but at the same time, we need to be held accountable."

The Bears' offense has been about two players -- Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler -- for the entire season, and on Sunday that pair wasn't enough to overcome a much more balanced Packers team. What that means for offensive coordinator Mike Tice is unclear given Smith's own precarious position as a head coach in danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

It's only fair to note that so many Bears players were injured for this game that one of them, tailback Michael Bush, was in uniform by default. The Bears didn't, or couldn't, use him in a goal-line possession in the third quarter, instead running tailback Matt Forte for three consecutive plays even though he has never been a good runner in goal-to-go situations.

In the end, however, the Bears are in danger of becoming only the second team in the 23-year run of this playoff format to miss the postseason after a 7-1 start. They'll need to beat the Arizona Cardinals next week and the Detroit Lions the week after that, and even then they'll need help from both the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants -- at least one loss apiece -- to advance.

"We have to get to the playoffs a different way," Smith said.

If they do not? We're getting closer to finding the answer to that question.

BBAO: Injuries piling up for Bears

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

There has been so much talk this week about, well, talk, that we've reached Friday of Packers-Bears week and have a pile of injury information to sort through.

Thanks to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, we know that Chicago Bears receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) won't play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. That will leave the Bears with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester as their three main receivers.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, reports that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is dealing with a sprained MCL in his knee but is a certainty to play Sunday. The main question about the injury is whether it will impact Cutler's mobility against a pass rush that sacked him seven times in the teams' first meeting in Week 2.

Other Bears players who will need to make quick late-week recoveries in order to play are cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder), running back Michael Bush (ribs) and defensive end Shea McClellin (knee). Linebacker Brian Urlacher (hamstring) won't play, either. The status of defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest), who hasn't practiced this week, is unclear.

The Packers aren't expected to have receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), running back James Starks (knee), defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) or defensive back Charles Woodson (collarbone) for this game. Offensive lineman T.J. Lang appears on track to play, probably at left guard, and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) apparently has had no setbacks in his return to practice this week.

Whew. Let's continue with our morning tour of the division:
  • Urlacher fired back at Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, who suggested the Bears might be better off without him this season. As Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times notes, Urlacher said on SiriusXM NFL radio: "Just like a couple of years ago, I think, he tore his ACL and the Packers were actually better without him. You know, they won the Super Bowl."
  • The Bears' special teams are scrambling because of injuries, notes Dickerson for ESPNChicago.com.
  • Packers receiver Greg Jennings mimicked Brandon Marshall's group interview this week and jokingly challenged the Bears to cover him one-on-one instead of in Cover 2. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette explains that statement and what the final three games of the regular season could mean for Jennings' future.
  • Jennings, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "I mean, your pride wants to say, 'I can guard you man-to-man,' but why do it? Why do it when you don’t have to? Hey, that's why we're a team. We help one another."
  • Packers receiver Randall Cobb is on the verge of breaking the Packers' record for most net yards in a season. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
  • Winning the MVP award would "mean a lot," said Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson, via Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The Vikings expect that cornerback A.J. Jefferson (concussion) will be ready for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams, according to Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune takes us through the ways the Vikings failed to find a deep-passing threat this season.
  • Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is closing in on his second consecutive 5,000-yard season, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on Stafford, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "I don't know where Peyton [Manning] was after four years, but I think Matt's definitely on track to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever play this position."
  • Lions receiver Calvin Johnson understands the difficult season of Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.

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