Bears

Bears special teams facing early roster tests vs. Cardinals

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Bears special teams facing early roster tests vs. Cardinals

Losing impact players is devastating to any unit of a football team and finding a source for replacing them is critical. For Bears special teams, that will be especially difficult.

Defensive lineman Cornelius Washington suffered a quad injury in last Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, serious enough to land him on season-ending injured reserve. The injury cost the defense one of its only five linemen, which the organization moved to replace with the pickup of defensive end Lavar Edwards, a reserve with small amounts of playing time in Tennessee and Dallas over the past two seasons.

Edwards’ exact role will become more apparent on Sunday vs. the Arizona Cardinals. The Bears need pass rush but they may need Edwards, 275 pounds, on special teams even more.

Washington contributed seven special-teams tackles in 2014, primarily on kickoff coverage, an uncommon total for a defensive lineman. But Washington, who’d added bulk this season to fit the Bears’ 3-4 scheme, is himself uncommon.

“Cornelius is a little bit unique in that regard,” said special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers. “The guys that we have, the true defensive linemen, the guys who are going to be in the 290-plus range – it’s rare around the league that that guy’s going to fill a heavy role in the kicking game… 

“He’s unique in that regard. I don’t know that too many of those guys are walking around the planet, though.”

[MORE: New Bears injury issues cloud meeting with Cardinals]

The Bears have had the good fortune to have the likes of Israel Idonije, another defensive end with the speed to be a force for the perennially elite coverage units of former coordinator Dave Toub.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Bears’ kickoff coverage struggled against Green Bay with Washington hurting. The Packers returned three kickoffs a total of 105 yards (35.3 average).

The issues were more than just losing Washington, however. “The first kick wasn’t Robbie’s best kick; we didn’t do a good job of beating enough blocks or playing with leverage,” Rodgers said. “The second one was a better kick and we didn’t squeeze as far as we needed to.

“Some of those things have come up in the preseason and were addressed. Some of those things were new; there were a couple new guys out there who maybe got a different look than what they’d seen before.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Veteran linebacker Sam Acho was re-signed and is expected to return to his roles on all four special-teams units.

The Bears got special-teams solo tackles from linebacker Lamin Barrow and rookie safety Harold Jones-Quartey. Barrow played for Rodgers in Denver last season and Jones-Quartey, an undrafted rookie free agent waived by the Cardinals.

Why those were significant is that Barrow was not signed until Sept. 7, the day after Jones-Quartey was claimed off waivers. A goal of Rodgers’ scheme is to integrate new personnel quickly, which will be required to fill in the loss of Washington.

“You’ve got to be flexible enough with your system to try and minimize the things that’ll show up with newer people,” Rodgers said. “You try not to ask the new guy that week to do 700 things and it’s something you’ve got to be mindful of early season, mid season, late season as we put together game plans and try to get those matchups we’re trying to get.”

Bears-Lions takeaways: A toughening route to the playoffs, a run game defying fixing?

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USA TODAY

Bears-Lions takeaways: A toughening route to the playoffs, a run game defying fixing?

The Bears putdown of the Detroit Lions provided a critically important statement start to the second half of a season that now would stand as a disappointment if the Bears fail to reach the playoffs. Not so much because of the missed-playoffs themselves, but because to misfire now after a pair of three-game win streaks will mean a couple of bad losses.

Or so-called “bad” because of expectations being raised above ground-level. But the Bears face a remaining schedule with some dark corners.

The Bears haven’t beaten a team currently with even a .500 record. No reflection on the Bears; they can only play whoever shows up. But it puts the remaining seven-game race to the postseason under a cloud of justifiable doubt, leaving it to the Bears to prove they belong in the tournament that starts in January.

The schedule has three A-list games: two against Minnesota, which has won four of its last five and comes to Soldier Field on Sunday following an off-week; and one against the Rams, the highest-scoring team in the NFC.

Three games are against bottom-feeders – the Lions again, the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. The problems here are: 1) all three games are on the road and 2) those teams will beat someone over the final the final seven weeks.

And the seventh of the remaining games is against the Green Bay Packers, who’ve lost all four of their 2018 road games but have a quarterback who hasn’t lost to the Bears in Chicago since 2010.

Tiebreakers are likely out of play for the division, with Green Bay and Minnesota having a shared tie. But winning the division outright seemed a given, as it does now, in 2012 when the Lovie Smith Bears had an elite defense and stood 8-3.

Run game redux

Concern over the Bears inability to run the football may come off as nitpicking or saying nay about an offense leading a team that is on pace to set a franchise scoring record.

But it does matter that of the 10 teams with six or more victories this season, the Bears, Patriots, Saints and Texans are the only ones not in the top 15 in rushing average. Houston and New Orleans, however, rank in the top 11 for rushing yardage, and New England does have Tom Brady in addition to being tied for third with 12 rushing touchdowns.

The overarching point here is if the Bears hope to challenge for a spot among the NFL’s elite, it behooves them to fix this weakness in an offense without many.

The bigger point is whether the Bears can fix it. Put another way, they may not be able to within the parameters of the offense as being designed and operated by Matt Nagy. He has a No. 1 back who needs carries to build a game, yet he is a coach who does not run his offense through a featured back.

Nagy didn’t isolate blame for his team’s running woes on Jordan Howard, the offensive line, coaches or anyone else. Nor should he, because the problem indeed lies with none of them and all of them.

With a Detroit gameday roster with five backs and three tight ends, the result was the lowest rushing total (54 yards) and average (2.5 yards per carry) of this season and came a week after the previous lows (64 yards, 2.6 yards per carry).

But the issue is more than one back (Howard). It’s the group of running backs (leaving the offensive line out of this point purposely), none of which are likely ever going to give Nagy the identity or consistent production that he wants for this element of his offense.

For one thing, no back is likely to see anywhere near the workload that ostensibly is needed to get Howard “lathered up.” Nagy doesn’t lather anybody up, and until a back emerges who can do a microwave impersonation and heat up in a huge hurry, the Bears rushing upside is hazy.

Using the template Nagy most relates to, Kareem Hunt has gotten 20 carries in just seven of 26 career games as a Kansas City Chief, only once in a 2018 season that has the Chiefs at 9-1.

Run-run-run is simply not in the Nagy offensive DNA, nor is it anything close to a dominant philosophy, even among teams who have been its leading practitioners. Nor is there a consistent formula for winning with an integrated run-pass offense.

The NFL’s three top rushers – Todd Gurley, Rams, 9-1; James Conner, Steelers, 6-2-1; Hunt, Chiefs, 9-1 – come from teams that went into this weekend running the football 46.6 percent of their snaps (Rams), 36.3 percent (Steelers) and 40.5 percent (Chiefs).

The Nagy Bears have in fact been at the high-run end at 45.1 percent, while the coach and staff have struggled for a run-game identity. But that includes nearly 30 percent of the rushing yardage coming from Mitchell Trubisky – not exactly the preferred run-game identity.

NFL Week 11 Power Rankings: We're going to put someone else at #1, just for fun

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USA Today

NFL Week 11 Power Rankings: We're going to put someone else at #1, just for fun

FINALLY. 

It's been 10 weeks of LA-based Power Rankings domination. The Rams -- and to a slighly-less amount, the Chargers -- have dominated the top of these here Power Rankings for far too long. 

This week? A new #1 reigns. It's New Orleans' time to shine. 

We didn't forget the Bears, obviously, who sprinted their way straight into the Top 10. 

How'd your team do this week? You can find out right here.