Bears

Bears practicing without Alshon Jeffery...again

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Bears practicing without Alshon Jeffery...again

The problems aren’t expected to keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings but wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was limited in practice on Wednesday with a calf injury and out of practice altogether on Thursday with an undisclosed illness.

The offensive linchpin has battled injuries all season, having missed five games with groin and hamstring issues this year, in addition to missing all four preseason contests with a calf injury, and the overall offense has reflected it.

“When Alshon’s out there he does a great job and he makes us a different team," Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase said.

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Nickel cornerback Byrce Callahan (quad) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (concussion) also did not participate in Thursday’s practice. Tight end Zach Miller (rib), linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee), defensive tackle Will Sutton (knee) and cornerback Tracy Porter (ankle) were limited in practice.

Wide receiver Eddie Royal continued his return from the knee injury that kept him out of six games and projects to see more than the two passes thrown his way against the Washington Redskins. Royal and Cutler had a clear chemistry working through training camp, and Royal caught 18 passes in the first four games before injuries cut into his production.

Those 18 included seven receptions against both the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders.

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“He’s definitely better this week,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “You can definitely see his burst is back. Getting in and out of cuts. He looked fast on film. If you watched him on film he looked like a guy that is pretty well rested.

“We want to try to incorporate him a little more. He blocked really well for us last week but we want to try and get him some more balls and get him going.”

First and Final Thoughts: The Chargers could be a good bounce-back game ... right?

First and Final Thoughts: The Chargers could be a good bounce-back game ... right?

Not unlike Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, it's Year 2 of First and Final Thoughts. Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Cam Ellis talk about what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on the Week 7 

J.J. Stankevitz: The Saints represented a measuring stick for the Bears against one of the best teams in the NFC, and, well, you know what happened. The Saints are a great team that was able to sustain not having Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook, while the Bears’ defense did not handle the absence of Akiem Hicks well. The offense didn’t help, of course, and that defensive line needs the most help to get breathers with first downs from the offense, not three-and-outs. There are so many concerning developments for the Bears in the aftermath of the worst loss of the Matt Nagy era, but none more so than a general feeling that this team doesn’t have what it takes to fix things. I may be proven wrong there, but it’s awfully hard to see how a team with so many flaws can get things right. 

Cam Ellis: There are a half dozen bigger issues that need to be addressed first, but Roquan Smith's performance against the Saints was discouraging in a way that's stuck with me. His legs looked a little heavy against Oakland, but considering that it was his first game back and also played on another continent, a quiet day was understandable. Last Sunday's tape against New Orleans was arguably worse, and Matt Nagy spoke bluntly about his performance during Wednesday's press conference, saying "he can definitely play better, and he knows that." 

Nagy also couldn't say whether he thought the personal issue was still affecting Smith's performance. It's entirely possible that he just played poorly the last two weeks – he certainly wouldn't be the only one. With that said, Nagy's non-answer was telling in its own way, and cryptic tweeting from Smith over the last couple days only adds fuel to the conspiracy fires. Calling for Nick Kwiatkoski still feels a little too Takey, but there's no denying it's been a rough season. 

First Thoughts on Week 8

Stankevitz: If you think the Bears are disappointing, imagine being a Chargers fan (insert rimshot here). Los Angeles is 2-5, and while getting offensive tackle Russell Okung back this week is a boost, Derwin James is still out and this team hasn’t re-captured the mojo it had a year ago. The Chargers are 22nd in DVOA, four spots behind the Bears. This is a game the Bears should win, and if they do, afterwards you’ll probably hear a lot about it being a “spark.” But the real test for the Bears awaits in a week when a trip to Philadelphia looms. Win that — even with the Eagles nearing self-destruction — after beating the Chargers and maybe we can start talking about saving the season then. 

Ellis: The Bears should be the better team on Sunday, which bodes well for Nagy's theory (with some strong anecdotal evidence, granted) that even one good performance can a spark season-defining winning streak. They took advantage of a bad Buccaneers secondary last year to jumpstart an offense that would score at least 25 points in the next six games, so maybe something similar's possible against a Chargers defense that's ranked 28th in DVOA? You also can't help but wonder how another anemic performance from the offense on Sunday would affect Ryan Pace's approach to the trade deadline two days later.  

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Can the Bears' get a spark from a worse-than-expected schedule?

Can the Bears' get a spark from a worse-than-expected schedule?

Matt Nagy last week mentioned the upcoming stretch of the NFL season will see the league's good teams separate from the not-so-good teams. The Bears are 3-3; there’s a strong chance we’ll know for sure if this team is a viable playoff contender by the time they take off from LAX after playing the Rams in mid-November. 

Going a little further into the Bears' schedule, though, it doesn't look as difficult as it did before the season started:

The Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles are not the Super Bowl contenders many predicted they'd be two months ago. The Chargers are 2-5, while the 3-4 Eagles are dealing with a horrendous defense and a volatile locker room

Are the Detroit Lions good? They’ve been competitive, and were a few yards and a few atrocious officiating decisions away from beating legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. But they're a team trending toward separating to the bottom of the league. 

The Rams have been a mess recently, even with their blowout win over the full-fledged tire fire that is the 2019 Atlanta Falcons. The New York Giants? They’re not good, though they get Saquon Barkley back this week. And the Dallas Cowboys are less than two weeks removed from losing to the New York Jets. 

But aren’t those six teams looking at the Bears and saying “hey, they’re not as good as we thought” too?

Nagy believes one victory can be a spark, the kind of thing that could set off a 10-game winning streak — a belief based on his experience with the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs starting 1-5 before ripping off 11 wins in a row, including in the playoffs. 

But the Eagles or Rams or Chargers or Lions believe the same thing, and can reasonably view a worse-than-expected Bears team as an ideal opponent for that spark. Nagy is leaning on the culture built inside Halas Hall to make sure the Bears are the one to harness that energy, and not those other underperforming teams. 

The Bears can hope for that spark, but there’s also evidence the separation between 2019’s contenders and the Bears has already begun. 

The Bears are 18th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, ahead of two future opponents (the Chargers at 22, the Giants at 27) but behind the Eagles (15), Lions (13) and Rams (11). The Bears’ final four opponents are all currently ranked in the top six by DVOA: Dallas (4), Green Bay (5), Kansas City (3) and Minnesota (6). 

"There are a bunch of teams in the NFL going through struggles right now and the expectations are high because of everything we did last year," quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. "But reality is we’re in the same spot – 3-3 – we were in that spot last year." 

This is different than last year, when the Bears were in DVOA’s top 10 after a Week 7 loss to the New England Patriots dropped them to 3-3. That team had the luxury of facing teams that had already separated themselves into the non-contender pool in the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Lions. Their final four games came against a bad Giants team, a Packers team that’d just fired its coach, an even worse 49ers team and then a listless Vikings team. 

“Last year we were 3-3 and went 12-4,” wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. “So that's just us thinking positive, going throughout this week, being positive, grinding and even working harder, I feel like we'll be OK.”

Maybe all the Bears need is to beat the Chargers and Eagles to jump-start this season and navigate an easier-than-expected schedule through the end of November. But maybe all the Chargers and Eagles need is to beat a worse-than-expected Bears team to jump-start their seasons, too. 

Because the time for separation is near in the NFL, and that may not be a good thing for the Bears. 

“The message that we’ve had is get tighter, believe in one another, keep trusting, right, and bond together and then when you get that one win, it just sparks,” Nagy said, snapping his fingers. “It’s crazy. It’s just absolutely crazy how that works. So we gotta do that.” 

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