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Cutler says Bears' offense needs to pick up slack

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Cutler says Bears' offense needs to pick up slack

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Jay Cutler said it's on the offense now for the Chicago Bears.

The Bears are banged up on both sides of the ball, and with Brian Urlacher sidelined by a hamstring injury the defense may be without its leader for the remainder of the season.

``We have to find a way,'' Cutler said Wednesday. ``We got to score more points. We got to be more efficient. Third down has been getting better. First down has been getting better. Red zone when we get in there we've done a good job. We just got to get more points, whatever it takes.''

Mostly, they need to play to expectations. That's something they haven't done, and with the defense starting to show some wear and tear after leading the way in a dominant start, the Bears are looking as vulnerable as any playoff contender.

They're tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead at 8-4, but things could get dicey if they lose at Minnesota this week.

Their only remaining home game is Dec. 16 against the Packers, who won the first meeting at Lambeau Field. After that, the Bears visit Arizona and Detroit to close out the regular season.

At the moment, they're limping along with three losses in four games and a mounting list of injuries to go with Urlacher's, all while trying to secure a playoff spot.

``When you start getting depleted and trying to make that run for the division, trying to position yourself for the playoffs or whatever it is, and you don't have your main guys out there, it could be difficult,'' Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said.

``At the same time, you've got to have that next-man-up mentality because everybody is in the league for a reason; everybody gets a paycheck. You have to step up and fill the void when need be.''

Cutler had to sit out the loss at San Francisco on Nov. 19 with a concussion and the Bears really took a beating the following week in a win over Minnesota, with Devin Hester sustaining a concussion and starting guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer suffering knee injuries.

Louis has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the remainder of the season. Spencer sat out last week's overtime loss to Seattle. Edwin Williams started for him at left guard and Gabe Carimi got the nod at right guard for Louis. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said he doesn't expect any lineup changes this week.

The Bears do hope to get receiver Alshon Jeffery (knee) and Hester back this week, but they could be without receiver Earl Bennett after he left the Seattle game with a concussion.

They also lost Urlacher and cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) on the final drive against the Seahawks. Neither practiced Wednesday, and coach Lovie Smith said he wasn't sure exactly how bad Jennings' injury is.

There's more clarity on Urlacher, who told a Chicago TV station Tuesday that doctors expect him to miss two to four games. He has officially been ruled out for this game.

If the Bears miss the playoffs, it's possible he has played his last down for them because of an expiring contract. For now, they will likely go with Nick Roach in the middle and move Geno Hayes into the lineup at strong side linebacker without Urlacher.

``Brian is definitely the heart of our team. I recognized that right away when I got traded here,'' receiver Brandon Marshall said. ``We have a lot of leaders in the locker room, just on that side of the ball alone you have Lance (Briggs), Julius (Peppers), Peanut (Charles Tillman), Tim, Nick, so there's a lot of guys that will pick it up and make plays while he's out.''

It would help if the offense came through, although it could be difficult against Allen and the Vikings. They kept Allen at bay last time, although he did deliver the hit that ended Louis' season on an interception return.

The offense really hasn't functioned the way the Bears envisioned after acquiring Marshall in the offseason and reuniting him with Cutler.

Big things were expected. They just haven't come.

Marshall has been as advertised, but Matt Forte hasn't really gotten going. The blocking remains a huge issue, and the offense simply hasn't put up big numbers.

That group ranks 30th overall and 31st in the passing game. Chicago is averaging 24.5 points, but the defense has played a big role in that with seven touchdowns on interception returns.

And the Bears are averaging just 14.5 points the past four games, even though they've gotten off to better starts in their last two.

``Guys are going to have to step up as other guys have ... and we're just going to have to find a way,'' Cutler said.

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Manny Machado pens goodbye to O's fans on Instagram

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USA Today Sports Images

Manny Machado pens goodbye to O's fans on Instagram

Days after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal that captivated much of Major League Baseball, former Oriole Manny Machado took to Instagram to thank the only organization he's ever known. 

The 26-year-old's contract expires at the end of this season, which the Orioles chose not to renew as the last-place club enters a rebuilding phase. 

Machado put up big numbers in the team's first 97 games totaling career-highs in home runs (24), RBIs (65), OBP (.387) and OPS (.962). 

He is expected to play shortstop for a Dodgers club which finished the first half of the season 10 games above .500 in a competitive, tight NL West. 

The Dodgers will pay Machado $6.3 million. 

To my Baltimore family, I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how I would say goodbye but there wasn’t an easy way to do it. I first joined this organization at the age of 17 and these past eight years have far exceeded anything I ever could’ve imagined. Throughout the ups and downs, you embraced me unconditionally and you took a kid from Miami and brought me up as one of your own. I’ve enjoyed my time here and you all have played a big part in that!! Thank you Birdland! You are forever in my heart! To the Baltimore Orioles, it has truly been a blessing to put on that uniform every day. To the Angelos Family & Dan Duquette, thank you for making my dreams come true!!! To Buck and the coaching staff, thank you for your commitment and dedication to making me the best player and teammate I can possibly be…I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of you. To my teammates, we’ve shared some amazing times with lots of memories & friendships that I’ll cherish forever. Schoopy, I love you bro and I know you will carry the torch!!! ! Much love always, Manny #13

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RELATED LINKS: 

Manny Machado trade rumors are dominating headlines at All-Star Game 

Orioles star shortstop Manny Machado traded to Los Angeles Dodgers 

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Inside linebackers

Additions: Shaun Dion Hamilton (drafted in the fifth round)

Departures: Will Compton (free agent)

Starters: Zach Brown, Mason Foster

Other roster locks: Josh Harvey-Clemons

On the bubble: Hamilton, Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight

How the inside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: This is a difficult comparison to make since only about half of the teams use the 3-4 with two inside linebackers and there are many variations when they go out of their base defense. Brown certainly is in the upper tier of players at his position. Foster’s skill set may not be coveted by many teams around the league, but he is a perfect fit in the Redskins’ defense in many ways. The player who could differentiate this group from others around the league is Harvey-Clemons. If he turns into a top-notch nickel LB the inside linebackers will be a great asset. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  This is about health. In 2017, Foster missed 11 games, Brown was hampered by a variety of injuries before sitting out the last three games. Compton was the top backup to both players and he went to injured reserve after just three starts. They did re-sign Vigil, who had spent training camp with the team, and he played pretty well near the end of the season. If the front-line players can stay on the field for most of the season this should be a much better group than the one that was partially responsible for the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing defense. 

2018 Inside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: The 2017 season was supposed to be a redshirt year for Harvey-Clemons as he transitions from college safety to NFL linebacker. He played a lot in the base defense during the offseason practices and that indicates that they are considering him for a bigger role beyond just playing nickel. You have to wonder how his size (6-4, 230) will affect his ability to get off of blocks. 

Most to prove: Spaight was a fifth-round pick in 2015 and he has yet to establish a regular role in the defense. It was telling that when they needed someone to start in the latter part of last year they brought back and started Vigil and mostly kept Spaight is going into the last year of his contract, but it would not be surprising to see Vigil beat him out for the last roster spot.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins traded up in the sixth round to get Hamilton. It wasn’t a blockbuster deal but the fact that they thought enough of him to move up says something. Gruden has said that he thinks Hamilton could be a starter at some point. He was one of the leaders on a strong Alabama defense before injuries struck. Hamilton is not going to start this year barring multiple injuries, but he should develop a role as the season goes on and be ready to compete in 2019.

Bottom line: The Redskins have not invested much in terms of free agent dollars or draft capital in the inside linebacker position in recent seasons. That changed somewhat this offseason as they made sure to spend to retain Brown and Foster. Neither commanded a huge contract but they did make a commitment and that is important. Last year Brown gave the defense a sideline-to-sideline dimension it hasn’t had in quite some time and retaining him was critical. Inside linebacker may not be a major strength for the defense this year but it should be able to get the job done. 

2018 Redskins position outlook series