The Chicago Bears will take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Soldier Field, and may be doing so without a key player or two on defense.
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) and cornerback Charles Tillman (groin/knee) are both listed as 'Questionable' for Sunday's game on the official injury report released Friday. Safety Anthony Walters (hamstring) is officially out for the game, but he's yet to play a snap at safety this season, and has a -2.0 grade from Pro Football Focus on special teams.
The guess here is that Tillman fights off his third straight 'questionable' tag and plays through his injuries, something he's done in all four of the previous games.
At some point, you'd like to get Peanut time to rest these injuries and be able to play a game at full strength of course. The problem is that the Bears continue to run into matchups where, on the surface, Peanut's presence is crucial (even at, say, 75%).
This past week, for example, the Bears had to go up against Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions, and this week, another big, physical No. 1 wide receiver presents itself in the Saints' Marques Colston. There's little room for error against the Saints and their offense. Ideally, the Bears find a way to win this game, and if Peanut is still dealing with these injuries come Thursday, perhaps the team gives him the game off against a currently winless New York Giants team at Soldier Field.
Paea on the other hand, should be considered more 'doubtful' to play than 'questionable' given the information at hand. While Peanut was at least able to practice in limited fashion on Friday, Paea was held out of practice, and didn't practice once during the week.
We don't have a good enough idea of how Marc Trestman handles these situations to know if a 'questionable' player could very well play after missing practice all week, but usually around the NFL, players are held out for the game when that's the case. Even if the player is healthy, you'd like them to have practice reps under their belt (obviously there are special exceptions here, particularly with veterans that have 'been there, done that' enough).
However, with Henry Melton being out for the year, and the Bears' defensive line being a big disappointment overall through four games, the Bears would really like for Paea to be able to play. Paea has a +2.3 overall grade from PFF so far on the season, ranking second-best on the defense behind defensive end Julius Peppers (+4.7).
Bears head coach Marc Trestman talked about the plans at defensive tackle for the game if Paea is held out:
“We’ve been working all of our guys in there,” Trestman said. “We’ve got our new guys in there. Landon [Cohen’s] in there. We’ve got Nate [Collins]. [Defensive end] Corey [Wootton] works inside. [Defensive end David] Bass has been working as well. We’ll see where we are tomorrow.”Source: ESPN Chicago
Nate Collins is one of the two defensive tackle starters regardless; Landon Cohen was signed last week; David Bass, a rookie seventh-round pick, is a 254-pound defensive end that was cut by the Oakland Raiders at the end of the preseason; Corey Wootton is the starting left defensive end that is capable of moving inside on passing downs but shouldn't be trusted there in run situations.
So, it's a situation where you'd really like to have Paea available, especially against Drew Brees and this high-scoring Saints offense.
The Bears also list tight wide receiver Brandon Marshall (foot), tight end Martellus Bennett (shoulder), defensive end Julius Peppers (chest), and linebacker D.J. Williams (illness) as 'probable' for the game. All of them practiced in at least some capacity Friday.
While it appears likely the Bears may be without at least one key player for this game, they won't be able to use it as much of an excuse given the key players we already know will be out for the Saints.
The Saints have already ruled out wide receiver Lance Moore (hand), running back Mark Ingram (toe), defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (calf), safety Roman Harper (knee), and defensive end Tyrunn Walker (knee) for Sunday.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip) and defensive end Tom Johnson (hamstring) are listed as 'questionable', while guard Tim Lelito (calf) is 'probable' and practiced fully on Friday.
Moore also sat out the Saints' 38-17 victory over the Dolphins on Monday night, but is usually New Orleans' starting wide receiver opposite Colston. He has four receptions for 44 yards on the season and has been targeted 11 times by Brees. In 2012, Moore had 65 catches for 1,1041 yards and six touchdowns. PFF gave Moore a +12.9 grade in 2012, the same grade they gave Atlanta Falcons star receiver Julio Jones. So, Moore's a valuable player for the Saints, but they showed on Monday that they can still score plenty of points without him, with Colston, virtually unstoppable tight end Jimmy Graham, and running back Darren Sproles also in the fold. Oh, and that Brees fella at quarterback certainly helps things for the Saints.
Ingram, a 2011 first-round pick by the Saints after he starred at Alabama, hasn't been very impressive as a pro, owning just a 3.8 yards-per-carry career average. The Saints still of course have Sproles as well as Pierre Thomas at running back, so Ingram's absence isn't as big of a deal as it may appear to some given his name.
Bunkley suffered a calf injury in the Saints' opener and hasn't appeared in a game since. The 6'2", 207-pound nose tackle had Pro Football Focus' 13th-best grade amongst defensive tackles against the run in 2012, at +7.3. The Saints' defensive line has held up well with Bunkley out, though. 6'4", 346-pound rookie John Jenkins has filled in for Bunkley at nose tackle and has a very impressive +5.2 PFF grade thus far, ranking him 12th for their graded defensive tackles this season.
Harper, 30, lost his starting strong safety spot to Saints rookie first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro earlier in the season, but he still provides the Saints with quality depth at the position, and is a very good blitzer for a defensive back. It's worth noting that while Vaccaro has shown flashes of why the Saints selected him with the 15th overall pick of the 2013 draft, he currently holds PFF's worst grade on the Saints defense in 2013 at -4.8.
Walker is an undrafted free agent that has surprised with a a +3.2 grade from PFF on the season in 59 snaps (and +1.5 in each pass rush and vs the run). He's fourth for Saints defensive linemen in snaps (keep in mind they play a 3-4), so his loss will hurt their defensive line depth, especially when you factor in Bunkley being out as well.
Lewis was able to at least practice in limited fashion all week, so you'd have to think he's a good bet to play. He's one of the Saints' starting cornerbacks after signing a five-year, $26-million deal in free agency.
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