I meant to have this post up for you guys a few days ago since the Chicago Bears' bye week is on its final hours, but better late than never, and I figured you'd all have fun with this post to tell me how wrong I am (as always, feel free to post away in the comments).

Anyway, here's our take on the Bears position-by-position through seven weeks of the season...

Offensive Grades

Quarterback: A-

Aside from one brutal half (vs the Detroit Lions in week four) the quarterback play from the Bears has been terrific. Jay Cutler has played approximately six and a half of the Bears' seven games, after he left the Bears' week seven contest against the Redskins in the second quarter with a torn groin. You just maybe have heard about that.

On the season, Cutler has 12 touchdown passes, seven interceptions, 1,658 passing yards (7.37 AVG) and currently has a better completion percentage (64.9; 146-225) and Quarterback Rating (91.7) than any season over his eight-year career. Cutler ranks top-10 in the NFL in completion percentage and touchdown passes, and is No. 5 in Pro Football Focus' QB Rating (93.38). He has only taken 10 sacks, ranking him 26th in the league in that category, and behind an offensive line that PFF has cumulatively graded 31st in pass-blocking. Marc Trestman's impact on Cutler has been very noticeable to anyone that's watched much of the quarterback over the years.

In relief of Cutler against the Redskins, 34-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was excellent. The nine-year NFL veteran completed 14 of 20 passes, for 204 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions, for a 119.6 QB Rating. He even brought the Bears from behind to take the lead in the final minutes. And he did that all without spending much time at all with the first-team offensive unit since training camp. So, all things considered, you couldn't have expected anything more out of McCown in that game.

Running Back: B

Matt Forte is having a tremendous all-around season (ho-hum). He's carried the ball 116 times for 533 yards (4.6 AVG), and six touchdowns, while also reeling in 35 receptions for 262 yards (7.5 AVG). Forte ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yardage, eighth in rushing yards/attempt, eighth in rushing yards/game, and fifth in rushing first downs (27). He also ranks second among running backs in receptions, and seventh in receiving yardage for running backs.

The 27-year-old Forte is on pace to finish with his second-best season in rushing yards (1,218), and is on pace to nearly double his best season in rushing touchdowns (on pace for 14, highest total is eight). He's also on pace for the most receptions (80) and receiving yards (599) of any season in his impressive career. He's been a perfect fit in Trestman's offense, and has been effective at the goal line, an issue he's struggled in the past.

So Forte's been great, but his backup, Michael Bush, has been a disappointment. Bush is averaging just 1.8 yards per carry, though it's been a small sample size (24 carries), and most of his carries have come in short-yardage situations. Still, his longest run has only been seven yards. Additionally, Bush has the worst PFF grade this season among Bears skill position players, at -4.1.

I was a big backer of the Bush signing before the 2012 season, really thinking the Bears got essentially a second starting running back, and at worst, a gold mine in short-yardage situations. But the production hasn't been there. I do think the Bears need to try to get him more involved, though, and perhaps he'd get in a bit of a rhythm and play better as a result.

Wide Receiver: B+

If we were going solely by the top two Bears receivers, this is an easy 'A'. Brandon Marshall is having another fantastic season, with 46 receptions (10th in NFL), 540 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. Marshall is the Bears' highest-graded player on the season by PFF at +12.3, and is PFF's No.3-graded wide receiver. PFF grades Marshall eighth in terms of pass-catching alone, and is their top-graded blocker at the wide receiver position, at +3.8. Jay Cutler has a 108.8 QB rating when throwing Marshall's way.

And then there's second-year wideout, Alshon Jeffery, who is showing why he should've been a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft (thankfully, he fell to the second round where the Bears traded up to snag him). Jeffery has burst onto the NFL receiver scene, reeling in 33 receptions for 561 yards (17.0 AVG, eighth in NFL) and two touchdowns. Like Marshall, Jeffery has been graded highly by PFF, currently ranking as their No. 12 overall receiver in 2013 with a +7.7 grade, and is their No. 10 receiver in yards per route run (2.21). And like Marshall, Jeffery's been fantastic as a blocker, with a +1.9 grade (sixth for receivers). Jeffery also has six carries for 88 yards, grading as PFF's top wide receiver so far in the rushing department (+1.6). His long arms and ability to go up and turn passes that look incomplete, into big plays, has been eye-opening.

However, after Marshall and Jeffery, no wide receivers have even a dozen receptions. Yeah, Forte is a huge part of the receiving game, as is tight end Martellus Bennett (more on him below), but it would be nice to see more production out of Earl Bennett for example. The Bears' slot receiver has 11 catches for 119 yards, and had a killer drop on what should've been an easy fourth down conversion in the fourth quarter of the Bears' loss to the New Orleans Saints. He at least has two touchdowns, with one of those being a circus catch that may have been a game-saver in the Bears' win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Bennett, who is in the third year of a five-year, $18 million deal , certainly isn't living up to his contract (blame former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo more for that, though), and at this point, it would be a surprise to see him in a Bears uniform in 2014, when his annual salary only escalates.

Rookie Marquess Wilson is the only other wide receiver with a reception... and just a single reception at that. Look for him to get more involved as the season goes on.

Tight End/Fullback: B-

Martellus Bennett has been an absolutely tremendous offseason addition by Phil Emery, as the tight end has 32 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns (second on the team in touchdown receptions). He has 22 first down receptions, ranking him second among Bears. Last season, Kellen Davis was the Bears' No. 1 tight end, and had fewer receptions (19) than Bennett has first downs through seven games. Bennett grades as PFF's No. 6 receiving tight end this season with a +6.7 grade.

Bennett, however, has struggled in an area he's usually very good- Blocking. He's been graded as PFF's worst pass-blocking tight end (-3.1), and their 46th run-blocking tight end (-5.1). However, he's played much of the season with a banged-up shoulder, and graded positively in every blocking department over the Bears' last three games (he was particularly impressive as a run-blocker vs the Redskins).

Veteran tight end Steve Maneri was signed in the offseason to be the primary blocking tight end (essentially replacing Matt Spaeth), and was released in the last week. He had no receptions on the season and wasn't all that impressive as a blocker too boot.

At fullback, Tony Fiammetta has been solid as a blocker and even had an unexpected, key 30-yard reception in the Bears' win over the New York Giants.

Offensive Tackle: C

Jay Cutler has only been sacked 10 times, so the general view has been that the offensive tackles have done a great job, but the reality is that Cutler and Marc Trestman/Aaron Kromer have done a great job masking some issues at the position.

Jermon Bushrod has been solid, and certainly a nice upgrade over J'Marcus Webb at left tackle. He's only been responsible for two sacks and five quarterback hits allowed, and that's while going up against some great defensive ends/pass rushers.

But Jordan Mills has had his struggles at right tackle, and that's to be expected with a rookie fifth-round pick being thrown into the fire of starting NFL games at offensive tackle from the get-go. Cutler and the offensive scheming thanks to Trestman have made Mills look quite a bit better than he's actually been. At the moment, Mills is PFF's second-worst-graded offensive tackle this season (-18.5), and grades as their worst pass-blocker (-19.3). He's only been responsible for one sack allowed, but a league-leading 30 quarterback hurries. The fact Mills is only responsible for one sack is because of Cutler getting rid of the ball quickly (thanks in large part to the tutelage and system of Trestman) and feeling the pressure.

To summarize: The play of the offensive tackles certainly hasn't negatively stood out, but the quarterback and coaching have made the offensive tackle play look better than it has. Whatever the case, it's still an upgrade from last year and should get much better with Mills's likely growth at right tackle

Guard/Center: B

Veteran guard Matt Slauson signed a one-year deal for under $1 million with the Bears over the offseason, and he's currently PFF's No. 18 graded guard, grading positively in each the pass and run game. So far, that's been a great value signing by Phil Emery, and look for Slauson to get a more lucrative offer to remain a Bear in a few months.

Kyle Long, the Bears' first-round pick in April, has looked exceptional at times in the run game (PFF's No. 10 run blocker). Long's athleticism and strength absolutely stand out, and he looks like a very exciting prospect with the ability to possibly move to tackle in the future if the Bears so wish. His upside is as good as any interior lineman in the NFL.

34-year-old center Roberto Garza has had a resurgent season of sorts after looking to be on a steep decline over the previous couple of seasons. He's done a nice job in every department, and keep in mind that he's the only returning member of the Bears' 2012 offensive line, so his leadership and effect on the newcomers cannot be understated. Coming into the season, I would've basically written him off as a starting option at center for 2014, but now I'd be fine with giving him a short-term deal, and ideally grooming his successor.

Offense Overall: B+

Marc Trestman's effect on the offense through less than half a season has been extremely impressive, and the offense was progressing towards being a part of the top-tier group in the NFL before Cutler's injury. In an offensive, quarterback-focused modern-day NFL, you have to like how things are looking for the Bears' offense going forward. Can you remember a time when the Bears didn't have at least one glaring, position-specific hole on the offensive side of the ball?

Defensive Grades

Defensive End: F

Of 46 defensive ends among the PFF grading this season, the Bears' three main defensive ends all rank 27th or worse. They have accounted for a combined 2.5 sacks. To put that into perspective, 29 NFL defensive ends currently have at least three sacks.

The three Bears players I'm referring to are Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin, and Corey Wootton.

Peppers, frankly, looks old. Maybe he's hurt, but the Bears have shot down that idea more than a few times. Weeks three and four, he looked like the beastly Peppers we're used to, recording a sack and six quarterback hurries. But the rest of the time? Not good. He's been dominated at the line of scrimmage and the explosion football fans have seen for so many years from one of the best defensive ends of all-time has been nearly non-existent.

McClellin, Phil Emery's first selection as Bears general manager, looks like a bust. He is borderline useless against the run, and even his pass rushing has been below average. To be valuable, he needs to be a plus pass rusher. On the season, McClellin has a -11.7 grade from PFF, fourth-worst among their graded defensive ends.

Wootton has looked great at defensive tackle (more on that later), a position he's been forced into with injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins. But he disappointed in his four games at defensive end after getting the starting job to replace offseason departure Israel Idonije. Just one sack, and little overall pressure on the quarterback. He played well against the run, though.

Overall, it's been an unpredictably awful season from the defensive ends. There's no sugarcoating it.

Defensive Tackle: C

As I alluded to, injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins have made the defensive tackle situation a mess. Losing two of the team's top three defensive tackles to injuries has to be taken into account when grading the position. Neither of them played enough to really evaluate on the season, but we know from the past they're valuable contributors (with Melton looking like an All-Pro at times).

Stephen Paea has been banged-up himself, but overall has put together a solid season, and really, he's the only member of the starting defensive line and safeties to be a safe bet to enter 2014 with a starting job on the Bears.

Landon Cohen, a veteran signed off the street in-season has looked the part, with a -3.7 grade from PFF through 107 snaps. Same goes for undrafted free agent Zach Minter, who has a -3.1 PFF grade in 27 snaps.

Really, the best player at defensive tackle so far has been Corey Wootton, and he was the starting right defensive end through the first four weeks. PFF graded Wootton as a top-10 defensive tackle in weeks six and seven, which is pretty remarkable given that he's playing out of position (or so we thought). Is this position the better fit for Wootton? Far too early to say, but the results from his play there thus far are certainly impressive.

Linebackers: C+

Another position currently decimated by injuries. Seven-time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks with a fractured shoulder, and in week six, veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams was lost for the season with a torn pectoral tendon. Briggs looked like he was on his way to another Pro Bowl selection, and Williams made some impact plays at middle linebacker, including two sacks (tied for the team lead, sadly).

James Anderson has looked like another nice value signing over the offseason by Phil Emery, and with Briggs and Williams out, he'll have to keep up his level of play and be a leader out there as well, with the Bears likely to start two rookies in Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene next to him at linebacker. Bostic's talent has been evident, but it's been equally as evident how raw the rookie (understandably) still is.

Cornerback: C+

After leading the NFL in interceptions in 2013, Tim Jennings has kept up his incredible ballhawking ways, with three interceptions and two touchdowns already. He's made a few mistakes in coverage, however, and has graded as one of PFF's worst cornerbacks against the run (-2.6).

Charles Tillman is so hard to assess this season, given that he's been banged-up in every single game he's played, and finally got a game off against the Giants. He clearly hasn't been himself in coverage, but still has three interceptions and has been his usual great self still against the run.

Second-year player Isaiah Frey has shown some nice things at nickel back in coverage and on the blitz. I'm not sure he'll ever be able to be a starter on the outside, but he looks like a nice piece for the Bears at nickel, at least.

Safety: F

Coming into the season, Chris Conte and Major Wright were two popular choices for breakout seasons on the Bears (myself included for both of them). But... they've each been terrible so far in 2013.

PFF has Conte as their No. 77 safety this season and Major Wright No. 84. That's out of 85 safeties. Each have been late in cover-2 coverage and out of place frequently, and each have missed seemingly a bazillion tackles.

It's fair to assume that consistent pressure from the front-four made Conte and Wright look quite a bit better, right? In my opinion, at least Wright will be gone after the upcoming offseason, and Conte may not have a starting Bears job in 2014 either. This is absolutely a position of need for the Bears when the offseason comes, unless Conte and Wright really pick up their play in the second half of the season.

Defense Overall: D-

There's no doubt the injuries have been a major factor, but no matter how you slice it, the bottom line is the defensive play has been a gigantic disappointment through seven games. In PFF's cumulative grading, the Bears' defense ranks only ahead of the putrid Jacksonville Jaguars' defense. They can't generate a pass rush, they can't stop the run... outside of the turnovers (which are frequently dependent on the other team simply screwing up), it's been awful.

How much of the blame should fall on defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is too early to assess, and regardless, the players are just flat-out missing tackles and showing no explosion on the defensive line. But if things don't get much better as the year goes on (and it's hard to believe things will given the injuries), Phil Emery has to take a long look at the impact Tucker has on the struggles. Either way, a major rehaul of the defense in terms of the players on it, is likely coming over the offseason.

Special Teams Grades

Kicker: A-

Robbie Gould may really be the best kicker in football. He's 12 of 13 on the season, and hit the longest field goal (59 yards) in Soldier Field history. With the game on the line, you trust this guy.

Gould will be a free agent this upcoming offseason, and while I'm very much against paying kickers and punters much money, I'd be pretty damn pissed to lose Gould.

Punter: D-

Adam Podlesh is PFF's second-worst punter this season, and has had a number of punts that make you shake your head. And at least a few of this punts that ended up working out well for the Bears were duds that got fortunate bounces. The Bears even held a tryout at Halas Hall in recent weeks to put Podlesh on notice.

Kick/Punt Returner: B+

Devin Hester may not be quite as electric as he was a few years ago, but he's still very dangerous and has very good overall numbers this season. Hester has 21 returns for 615 yards (29.3 AVG) on kickoffs, and nine returns for 120 yards (13.3 AVG) and a touchdown on punts. He ranks in the top-10 in average return yards on each kickoffs and punts, and he's forced keeps to kick short or out of bounds more than a few times already.

Coverage Unit: D+

Veterans Blake Costanzo and Eric Weems have been very good in this department as usual, but the rest of the unit has been a disappointment. The unit has featured plenty of missed tackles and has allowed far too many big plays in the return game.

Special Teams Overall: C-

I miss Dave Toub. Toub is the best at coaching special teams in the business and the Bears were perennially one of the top special teams units in the NFL under his guidance and scheming. Not anymore. It's possible some of the players are just not doing their jobs on special teams, and new Bears special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is highly respected (he's long been considered a potential head coach too). But this unit is performing so much worse than we're used to seeing, and you have to think at least some of it has to do with the Toub-to-DeCamillis switch.

Overall

The Bears are 4-3, and still right in the thick of things in the NFC playoff race, but they only have one win over a quality opponent (the Cincinnati Bengals in week one), and the defense has been awful.

You'll take 4-3 at this point of the year of course, but things aren't looking very promising with all of the injuries to key players, and the defense only looking worse every week. However, you definitely have to like how the offense is progressing under a first-year head coach in Marc Trestman, and how things look there for the future.

I keep telling myself 'C' with this grade, but given that the team is a game over .500, we'll give them a slight bump.

Overall Grade: C+

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Sunday night, we wrote about Jay Cutler suffering a groin injury in the Bears' 45-41 loss to the Redskins, and assumed/feared from all of the information presented that he had specifically suffered a torn groin.

Cutler then had an MRI on Monday, and the MRI revealed that the Bears quarterback indeed has a torn groin.

The good news is that the injury won't require surgery, and Cutler will return this season, potentially after just four weeks.

Here's what Marc Trestman had to say about the timetable for Cutler's return, via the Chicago Tribune:

"I'm only confident by what they've told me. This is a minimum of four weeks. Then he'll be evaluated week to week. ... Four weeks is a reasonable start. And then it'll be week to week. I'm encouraged by the prognosis."
Considering that we figured Cutler had a torn groin, the fact he won't need surgery and may only miss three games (the Bears are on their bye week right now) is something we'll definitely take.

However, learning on Monday that the Bears will be without linebacker Lance Briggs for an estimated six weeks sort of pours a bucket of cold water on the "it could've been worse" Cutler injury diagnosis.

ESPN Chicago Bears beat writer Michael C. Wright even argues that the loss of Briggs will hurt the Bears more than the loss of Cutler:

The loss of Briggs weighs more heavily on the team than Cutler being out because at this point, he means more to the defense than the quarterback does to the offense. It sounds silly, but that’s simply the state of affairs these days at Halas Hall.
We expected the defense to fall off a notch in 2013, with the loss of eventual Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher contributing, in addition to the acquisition of two new faces in James Anderson and D.J. Williams and the hiring of a new coordinator in Mel Tucker. But what we’re seeing is an injury-induced dive off a cliff.
In all, the defense -- which has allowed 21 points or more in every game, and gave up 499 yards to the Redskins -- has now lost five starters with Briggs, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level, expected to be out at least six weeks.
On the offensive side of the ball that’s an easier proposition due to the quality of the replacement, the club’s revamped protection, not to mention all the weapons surrounding him in running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett and receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
On offense, the highly-productive results likely won't change, either. Yet the same can’t be said for an already-reeling Bears defense without Briggs.
First off, whether you agree with Wright or not, the main thing that should be taken away from this being an argument is the Bears are losing two crucial players for an extended period of time, and it should go without saying that the Bears' playoff hopes diminish greatly as a result.

But back to the article, what you'll notice if you give the whole thing a read (which you should), is that Wright is fairly confident that the Cutler-to-McCown drop-off in production won't be a big one, and that's obviously a huge reason he thinks Briggs is the bigger loss.

I hope Wright ends up being correct in regards to Cutler/McCown, but I certainly have my doubts.

Here's some of what I wrote about McCown on Sunday night:

McCown really did a remarkable job in replacement of Cutler on Sunday, completing 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He even led a touchdown drive to get the Bears the lead in the final minute. Frankly, I was stunned with his performance. Bears head coach Marc Trestman was fantastic with his play-calling to get high percentage passes out of McCown and into the hands of the Bears' playmakers. 
However, McCown is a 34-year-old journeyman that was recently out of the league for a while for a reason. And with the way the Bears' defense is playing, McCown would likely have to do more than just "manage" a game to get the Bears wins. That's especially the case with the Bears facing high-scoring offenses in huge divisional games in weeks 9-10 (Packers and Lions). Cutler can win you such potential shootout games, and unless McCown surprisingly keeps playing like the guy we saw on Sunday, he'll make it very tough for the Bears to come away with wins in games like that.
McCown has played in 51 games over his NFL career, throwing for 38 touchdowns, 44 interceptions, a 58.2 completion %, and a 72.0 QB Rating.

Prior to this season, the 34-year-old McCown had only thrown for more touchdowns than interceptions once in his eight-year NFL career (11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions in 2004 with the Arizona Cardinals). He has never had a QB rating of 75.0 or better in any of those seasons.

Get this: In 1,133 career pass attempts, only one of McCown's completed passes has been a 50+ yard play (60 yards in 2003).

McCown played tremendously against the Redskins in relief of Cutler. He will have a terrific supporting cast around him with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, etc. He has a quarterback guru and creative play-caller at head coach that will do everything to put him in position to succeed.

So maybe McCown indeed plays very well over these next three games (or more), but given his track record, it would be quite unreasonable to expect it.

Cutler, though, had the offense rolling and trending to the top-tier level in the NFL.

In the cumulative grading from Pro Football Focus this season, the Bears currently rank eighth in passing offense (+19.4), eighth in rushing offense (+4.5), fifth in run blocking (+4.9), and 31st in pass blocking (-27.0). Cutler's playmaking ability, and particularly his ability to stretch the field and keep defensive backs away from the line of scrimmage, certainly has played a role in the success of the run game. And while the pass blocking grade has been PFF's second-worst, note that the Bears' have allowed the fourth-least amount of sacks on the season. That is because of Cutler getting rid of the ball quickly, and avoiding the pressure (and turning many broken plays into big ones).

On the season, Cutler has thrown 12 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and totaled 1,658 yards over 225 passing attempts. He has the best completion percentage (64.9) and QB rating (91.7) of any season in his career. He ranks fifth in PFF's QB rating at 93.38. Trestman has most definitely made a positive difference in Cutler, and Cutler was likely only going to improve as the year went on with more comfort in Trestman's system and more comfort working with the players surrounding him.

The modern-day NFL is a point-scoring league, and specifically, a quarterbacks league. You can win games with a bad defense if you have good quarterback play and can consistently put points on the board.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the Bears' first opponent after the bye week (Monday night, November 4th in Green Bay), are going to put up points regardless of how good your defense is; we've seen it year after year when quality Bears defenses take on the Packers. You have to be able to score points and keep up with them.

The Lions, the Bears' opponent following the Packers, provide a similar challenge, and we saw it first-hand when they put up 40 points on the Bears in week four in Detroit.

Obviously with how badly the Bears' defense is playing right now, and given that they'll now be without Briggs, keeping up with those teams will even more difficult than usual. But, with Cutler, the Bears have an offense that can score points to keep up with those teams.

With McCown? That will be tough. McCown will have to do more than just "run the offense" against the Packers and Lions. The Bears will need explosive plays, and as McCown's NFL history shows, such plays have been few and far between. And unless he shows he can make plays downfield, the opposing defenses are going to put eight in the box to prevent Matt Forte from being the one to beat them. It would also have cornerbacks playing near the line of scrimmage frequently and give Marshall, Jeffery, and Earl Bennett fewer chances to make big plays out of short passes in space.

After the Packers and Lions, the Bears play a Baltimore Ravens team in Chicago that I think the Bears are very capable of beating with McCown, but it's a game you would certainly feel much better about with Cutler under center.

That ends the "four-week" stretch where Cutler could then possibly return. If he has to still miss a game or two after that, the good news is the Bears' schedule softens up as they face the Sam Bradford-less Rams in St. Louis, and the disastrous Vikings in Minnesota. Even if McCown is at quarterback, those are both games the Bears should still have a good chance of winning, but they're games we'd expect the Bears to win with Cutler at quarterback.

So, hopefully Cutler only misses a few games and McCown plays well enough to help keep the Bears in the thick of the NFC playoff race, but Cutler's loss is likely to felt against the Packers and Lions, at least. That especially hurts considering that those are the two teams the Bears are competing with for the NFC North title, and considering that the second-place team in the NFC North is a good bet to be an NFC Wild Card representative as well.

Get well soon, Jay.

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Not only did the Chicago Bears lose quarterback Jay Cutler for likely four-to-six weeks due to a torn groin, but it was revealed on Monday that they also lost star weak side linebacker Lance Briggs for an estimated six weeks to a small fracture in his left shoulder.

When it rains, it pours in the injury department with the Bears over these last few years .

Briggs suffered the injury in the third quarter of the game as he tried to get by a block from Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen. It was reported that the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker was 'probable' to return to the game, but he never did, and that's probably a good thing given that he had a fractured shoulder.

But Briggs' absence was most definitely felt by the Bears over the remainder of the game. Here's some eye-opening statistical proof:
Yikes.

And it was very clear while watching the game that Briggs was the best player on the field for the Bears before he left with the injury, recording eight tackles, one tackle for loss, and two pass deflections. Pro Football Focus gave him a +2.9 grade for the game (the highest Bears grade in that game from PFF on both sides of the ball).

The Bears are greatly struggling on defense, and the injuries that keep piling up to key players certainly aren't helping things (and the injuries without question have been a big factor in the defensive struggles).

In addition to losing Briggs until December (it appears), the Bears recently lost middle linebacker DJ Williams for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle, and defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins for the season due to torn ACLs. That's three starting players that have been lost for the season, and one in Briggs that will miss six weeks. Six weeks when the team could use him more than ever.

The 32-year-old has a team-leading 64 tackles and two sacks (and it's pathetic this is tied for the team lead through seven weeks, by the way) on the season.

For PFF's cumulative grading over the season (not including Monday night's Giants-Vikings game), the Bears' defense ranks 31st overall, 32nd against the run, and 29th in pass rush. Briggs has the Bears' highest cumulative PFF grade on defense (+2.5), their second-highest cumulative grade on run defense (+2.7), and their highest pass-rushing grade (+1.8).

To put it simply: One of the worst defenses in the NFL to this point, is losing their best defensive player to this point, and for an estimated six-week period while the defense is more depleted than it's been at any point this season.

Briggs has also been the defensive playcaller this season, a role he took over with Brian Urlacher's retirement in the offseason. And with Urlacher gone, Briggs has also become the leader of the defense. Just ask Bears cornerback Tim Jennings:

"I've seen Lance make so many great plays over the years," Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said. "We're going to miss him, but other people are going to have to step up. We all need to dig down deep and raise the level of our play with Lance out. He will always be the leader of this defense."
Source: ESPN Chicago

Now, veteran strong side linebacker James Anderson (who is in his first year as a Bear) will have to be the playcaller and leader of the linebacker corps at least, with rookie Jon Bostic manning the middle, and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene the most logical candidate to replace Briggs on the weak side. Bostic now has a whopping one start under his belt, and Greene has played a whopping one snap on defense.

Veteran Blake Costanzo is also a candidate to replace Briggs, but the 29-year-old is a career special teamer (where he's great though) and doesn't have the athleticism you're looking for in a starting NFL linebacker. Costanzo played 18 snaps on Sunday once Briggs went down, and came away with a -2.3 grade from PFF in that time.

The 6'1", 241-pound Greene was a fourth-round pick by the Bears in the 2013 draft after being the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American last year for Rutgers. Over his career at Rutgers, Greene forced an NCAA record 15 fumbles.

The way I see it, you know what you have in Costanzo, and it's a below average NFL linebacker with limited playmaking ability. Might as well see what you have in Greene, especially after you just invested a draft pick on him and hope he's a big part of the Bears' future. Try to get the inevitable youth movement going and get some valuable game time to evaluate Greene, especially alongside Bostic.

Also, we already know Greene's a better athlete than Costanzo and he clearly has a knack for taking the ball away from the offense. If your defense is going to struggle regardless as this one appears it will, give me the guy that may be able to at least make a game-changing play here and there.

Whatever the case, there's no doubt the Bears can't come close to truly replacing Briggs, and it's another brutal blow to a defense performing brutally on the field. Making matters worse, this defense won't have Cutler to bail them out on offense as he's already done a few times this season.

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The Chicago Bears lost a 45-41 shootout on Sunday to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, to drop their record to 4-3 on the season, and fall out of first place in the NFC North.

And much as we could ramble on and on about the game itself, the main focus for the Bears following the game is without question on Jay Cutler, after the Bears' quarterback left the game with a groin injury, and did not return.

Because, let's be real here: If Cutler is out for an extended period of time, the result of Sunday's game probably doesn't matter for the Bears in the grand scheme of things.

The injury happened as Cutler tried to avoid a sack (and was unable to) from the Redskins' Chris Baker in the second quarter. Here's GIF evidence of the play that may be haunting Bears fans for a while:


Source: GIFD Sports

Cutler, a free-agent-to-be (something else worth keeping in mind here), then rolled around in obvious pain, and eventually got up and walked like a 95-year-old man to the tunnel, where finally the FedEx field crew just got him a cart. 

NBC Chicago's Peggy Kusinski tweeted a photo of Cutler grimacing in pain as he got on the cart:


Cutler reportedly underwent an x-rays at the stadium, and the Bears announced that he will have an MRI on Monday:

After seeing the pain Cutler was in, learning it was a groin injury, and learning that he would get an MRI on Monday, my immediate thought was 'torn groin' and I visualized Nomar Garciaparra falling to the ground in excruciating pain with that injury in 2005 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Minutes later, I saw that I was not alone with that thinking, as the Bears are apparently worried Cutler's injury is similar to Garciaparra, according to CSN Chicago's David Kaplan:




NFL.Com's Michael Silver is hearing from two Bears sources that the injury "could be bad":


That is of course a very obvious statement, but I'm taking that as people around the Bears are worried the groin injury is a tear.

Additionally, less than an hour after the Bears-Redskins game ended, ESPN's Adam Schefter and other reporters said that the Bears are going to re-sign quarterback Jordan Palmer :
Getting quarterback depth if you're concerned at all about Cutler is a no-brainer as there is no other backup quarterback on the Bears roster after Josh McCown (more on him below), but immediately after the game ended? That's showing some noticeable urgency, especially when you factor in that the team doesn't even play for two weeks (Monday night, November 4th in Green Bay).

So, I'm pretty much just going to tell myself Cutler is out for the season, or at least for a while, where his absence may as well be the length of the season given the massive impact it has on the Bears' playoff chances. And if I'm wrong and it was just a painful pulled groin or something, I will consider that absolutely awesome, potentially season-saving news for the Bears. Again, the Bears are on their bye in week eight too, so that's certainly a nice thing for a potential Cutler return if the MRI reveals the injury isn't a long-term thing.

McCown really did a remarkable job in replacement of Cutler on Sunday, completing 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He even led a touchdown drive to get the Bears the lead in the final minute. Frankly, I was stunned with his performance. Bears head coach Marc Trestman was fantastic with his play-calling to get high percentage passes out of McCown and into the hands of the Bears' playmakers.

However, McCown is a 34-year-old journeyman that was recently out of the league for a while for a reason. And with the way the Bears' defense is playing, McCown would likely have to do more than just "manage" a game to get the Bears wins. That's especially the case with the Bears facing high-scoring offenses in huge divisional games in weeks 9-10 (Packers and Lions). Cutler can win you such potential shootout games, and unless McCown surprisingly keeps playing like the guy we saw on Sunday, he'll make it very tough for the Bears to come away with wins in games like that.

McCown pretty much summed up his quarterback abilities in comparison to Cutler with this simple (yet fantastic) quote:

Hopefully, Cutler's MRI results come back with much more encouraging results than we fear, and we can get to see No. 6 throw a lot more this year.

UPDATE: Cutler is out four weeks.

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The Chicago Bears play the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, before heading to their bye week (and then not playing again until Monday, November 4th in Green Bay).

Let's take an overall look at where things currently stand for the Bears, looking at the NFC North and NFC standings in general, the Bears' remaining schedule, the Bears' health situation, statistical leaders on the Bears, and much more (including grades from the outstanding Pro Football Focus).

Standings


(Via ESPN.Com)

Quite a cluttered, competitive situation we have right now in the NFC North, and that's certainly nothing new. Last year we saw the Bears be left out of the playoffs and finish third place in the NFC North, while going 10-6. We could have a similar situation brewing this year (and hopefully with the Bears on the good end of such a situation this time around), with three NFC North teams having winning records. In fact, the NFC North is currently the only division in the NFL that has three teams with winning records.

After beating the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football in week six, the Bears are currently tied for first place with the Detroit Lions. The Lions hold the tiebreaker after beating the Bears in week four, but keep in mind these two teams meet again in Chicago in week 10, so the Bears will have the chance to eliminate the head-to-head tiebreaker scenario there.

The Green Bay Packers are 3-2, and I think most still consider them the divisional favorite, or at least the team to beat until the Bears or Lions prove otherwise. Right now, those three teams seem pretty even, and their records would indicate that. Injuries are hitting the Bears and Packers very hard right now though, and it will be interesting to see how much those injuries impact each team's performance going forward.

It sure looks like the Minnesota Vikings are on the outside looking in when it comes to this NFC North race, but maybe newly acquired quarterback, Josh Freeman, improves their passing game (he'll need to play much better than he has over the last year+ though). Even still, the Vikings are at least two games behind each of the other three teams, so it would take them dominating the rest of the way while all three of the other teams disappoint. Unlikely scenario, but crazy things are constantly happening in this league so who knows.

Looking at week seven specifically, the Lions are slight favorites at home against a solid Cincinnati Bengals team, the Packers are quite likely to win as they host the Cleveland Browns, and the Vikings travel to New York to face the winless Giants on the road for Monday Night Football.

As for the NFC in general, the Bears enter their week seven game as the current No. 6 seed, behind the No. 5 San Francisco 49ers due to conference record, where the Bears hold a 2-2 record (the 49ers are 3-1). This is where a win against the Redskins would also help when looking to potential playoff tiebreakers down the road.

Currently, nine NFC teams are .500 or better, and I wouldn't count out a team like the 2-3 Carolina Panthers just yet either (they have three straight very winnable games coming up too).

The best bet at this point is certainly that the two NFC wild card slots are represented by teams in the NFC North and NFC West. The NFC East doesn't have a team over .500 (although that will change after the Eagles and Cowboys, each 3-3, meet Sunday), and no teams after the New Orleans Saints are .500 or better in the NFC South.

Remaining Schedule

Week 7- at Washington Redskins (1-4)

Week 8- BYE

Week 9- at Green Bay Packers (3-2); Monday Night Football

Week 10- vs Detroit Lions (4-2)

Week 11- vs Baltimore Ravens (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 12- at St. Louis Rams (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 13- at Minnesota Vikings (1-4); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 14- vs Dallas Cowboys (3-3); Monday Night Football

Week 15- at Cleveland Browns (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 16- at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 17- vs Green Bay Packers (3-2); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Given the Bears' injuries and the team trying to find itself defensively, the bye week really couldn't come at a better time. Especially when you factor in that they get some extra time to heal and prepare for the dreaded annual trip to Lambeau Field (and on Monday Night Football), and then the crucial Lions game I talked about earlier.

There's really nothing close to a gimme on the schedule, but there also aren't any "Oh god, that's a surefire loss" games either.

We should have a better idea soon about a Bears game that could be 'flexed' to Sunday Night Football, but weeks 11, 16, and 17 all would appear to be legitimate possibilities unless any of those teams (Bears included) go downhill over the next month.

I have a hard time seeing the Browns keep up their level of play enough to be considered a very realistic flex right now in week 15. I certainly would love to see them prove me wrong on Sunday in Green Bay, of course. The Rams are 3-3 but have been blown out in a couple games and have a difficult schedule over the next four weeks. They're also not a ratings getter, so they're not going to be selected for a flex spot unless their record cries out for it (and that won't be the case).

Bears-Packers at Soldier Field in week 17 would obviously make all the sense in the world for the NFL and NBC, especially if it's for the NFC North division crown.

Bears' Injury Report

We wrote about the Bears-Redskins injury report twice this week, with the notable injury concerns for the game being the 'Questionable' tags for the Bears' Martellus Bennett and Charles Tillman.

Looking at the big picture rather than just this game, the defensive front-seven continues to be decimated by injuries with Henry Melton, Nate Collins, and D.J. Williams all being lost for the season in recent weeks. The good news is at least that Stephen Paea should be good to go vs the Redskins. Paea's absence was noticeable against the Giants.

The bottom line is that the Bears can ill afford to lose another starting defensive lineman or linebacker to injury. It's hard to imagine the pass rush and run defense getting better if you have to keep playing undrafted rookie free agents or guys signed off the street in the middle of the season.

Bears' Statistical Leaders

Note: Overall NFL ranking in parentheses; statistical ranks among NFL players based on games before Sunday; Bears players placed on Injured Reserve are not included.

Passing Stats

Jay Cutler: 143-217, 65.9 Completion % (6th), 1,630 Yards, 7.51 Yards/Attempt, 272 Yards/Game, 12 TD (Tied for 6th), 6 INT (Tied for 7th), 9 Sacks Taken, 95.2 QB Rating (8th).

Rushing Stats (Running Backs Only)

Matt Forte: 100 Carries (9th), 442 Yards (7th), 4.4 Yards/Carry, 73.7 Yards/Game, 3 TD (Tied for 6th), 1 Fumble, 1 Fumble Lost, 22 1st Downs (Tied for 7th).

Michael Bush: 24 Carries, 44 Yards, 1.8 Yards/Carry, 7.3 Yards/Game, 1 TD, 0 Fumbles, 3 1st Downs.

Receiving Stats (Top 5)

Brandon Marshall: 40 Receptions (5th), 58 Targets (Tied for 9th), 465 Yards, 11.6 Yards/Reception, 5 TD (Tied for 6th), 77.5 Yards/Game, 109 Yards After Catch, 25 1st Downs (Tied for 7th).

Matt Forte: 33 Receptions, 38 Targets, 244 Yards, 7.4 Yards/Reception, 0 TD, 40.7 Yards/Game, 211 Yards After Catch, 10 1st Downs.

Martellus Bennett: 31 Receptions, 45 Targets, 349 Yards, 11.3 Yards/Reception, 3 TD (Tied for 6th), 58.2 Yards/Game, 190 Yards After Catch, 21 1st Downs.

Alshon Jeffery: 29 Receptions, 50 Targets, 456 Yards, 15.7 Yards/Reception, 2 TD, 76.0 Yards/Game, 75 Yards After Catch, 18 1st Downs.

Earl Bennett: 8 Receptions, 15 Targets, 47 Yards, 10.0 Yards/Reception, 2 TD, 13.3 Yards/Game, -1 Yards After Catch, 5 1st Downs.

Tackling Stats (Top 5)

Lance Briggs: 56 Tackles (42 Solo, 14 Ast) (6th), 7 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 4th).

Major Wright: 45 Tackles (33 Solo, 12 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 4th).

James Anderson: 33 Tackles (27 Solo, 6 Ast), 3 Tackles For Loss.

Chris Conte: 31 Tackles (28 Solo, 3 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 0 Forced Fumbles.

Charles Tillman: 23 Tackles (17 Solo, 6 Ast), 2 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 4th).

Sack Stats

Lance Briggs: 2 Sacks.

Julius Peppers: 1 Sack.

Corey Wootton: 1 Sack.

Shea McClellin: 0.5 Sacks.

Stephen Paea: 0.5 Sacks.

Coverage Stats

Tim Jennings: 3 INT (Tied for 6th), 2 INT Returned For TD (1st), 8 Pass Deflections (Tied for 9th).

Charles Tillman: 2 INT, 3 Pass Deflections.

Major Wright: 2 INT, 1 INT Returned For TD (Tied for 2nd), 3 Pass Deflections.

Zack Bowman: 1 INT, 2 Pass Deflections.

Chris Conte: 1 INT, 2 Pass Deflections.

Special Teams Stats

Devin Hester: 19 Kick Returns (2nd), 575 Yards (1st), 30.3 AVG (3rd);  6 Punt Returns, 35 Yards, 5.8 AVG.

Robbie Gould: 10-10 On Field Goals (Tied for 1st in percentage, obviously), Long Field Goal Of 58 Yards (1st).

Adam Podlesh: 26 Punts, 43.0 AVG, 39.3 NET, Long Punt Of 59 Yards, 11 Punts Inside The 20 (Tied for 8th).


Bears Grades From Pro Football Focus

Before looking at some grades of individual players on the Bears, let's look at Pro Football Focus' cumulative Bears grades (combining the grades of each player that apply) in specific departments through week three.

Note: Grade ranks based on games before week seven; Bears players placed on Injured Reserve are not included.

Bears Cumulative PFF Grades

Offense Overall: +14.9 (12th)

Passing Offense: +19.6 (7th)

Rushing Offense: +2.4 (8th)

Pass Blocking: -19.4 (28th)

Run Blocking: +11.9 (10th)

Penalties (On Offense): +11.9 (4th)


Defense Overall: -41.9 (29th)

Run Defense: -27.4 (31st)

Pass Rush: -13.6 (26th)

Pass Coverage: -8.6 (19th)

Penalties (On Defense): +7.7 (Tied for 8th)


Special Teams: -7.7 (28th)


And here's some PFF grades of individual players on the Bears...

Bears Individual Player PFF Grades

Top 4 Overall Grades On Offense: 

1. WR Brandon Marshall, +11.5 (2nd)
2. QB Jay Cutler, +8.1 (10th)
3. WR Alshon Jeffery, +6.3
4. G Matt Slauson, + 4.8

Bottom 4 Overall Grades On Offense:

1. OT Jordan Mills, -13.0
2. HB Michael Bush, -4.1
3. TE Steve Maneri, -2.4
4. TE Martellus Bennett, -2.1

Top 4 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. CB Tim Jennings, +3.6
2. DT Stephen Paea, +2.8
3. DE David Bass, +0.8
4. CB Isaiah Frey, +0.3

Bottom 4 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. S Major Wright, -11.9
2. DE Shea McClellin, -10.2
3. CB Charles Tillman, -4.3
4. DT Landon Cohen, -3.6

Top 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. K Robbie Gould, +8.6
2. LB Blake Costanzo, +5.5 (Tied for 2nd in ST coverage)
3. KR Devin Hester, +2.4 (+3.2 as a returner, tied for 4th); Eric Weems, +2.4

Bottom 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. LB Jon Bostic, -3.5
2. P Adam Podlesh, -3.3
3. CB Zack Bowman, -3.0

Looking at the PFF cumulative team grades... you get the message rather easily. The Bears' offense has been good and the defense has been bad. Pretty simple. And it's like the bizarro world for the Bears, right? It would be nice if the offense and defense could ever be clicking at the same time.

But looking at the offense, what's really nice is the Bears have definitely not come close to peaking there. They're just six games through a brand-new, complicated offense, and with some key new pieces (we could even consider Alshon Jeffery a part of this given his injury-plagued rookie season). There's plenty of room for improvement across the board. It speaks to the talent level of the offense and what Marc Trestman can get out of that talent in his system.

Additionally, keep in mind that the team is starting two rookies on the right side of the offensive line in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, and perhaps they improve as the season goes along. As you can see above, Mills has graded quite poorly this season, but he hasn't killed the team out there either, and he has exciting potential at right tackle.

Take out Jay Cutler's brutal half against the Lions, and he's been as good as any quarterback outside of Peyton Manning this season.

PFF had this to say about Cutler in their "Three To Focus On: Bears-Redskins" article:
He’s been able to be a game manager while still taking timely shots down the field. His +8.1 grade is 10th overall and his PFF QB rating of 95.38 is fourth in the league. His overall Accuracy Percentage has also seen a 6% uptick from last year, and at 76%, it ranks seventh. Having the second- and 11th-ranked wide receivers has definitely given him a boost as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have combined for a +17.8 grade, 69 receptions, 921 yards and seven TDs.
As you can see, they highlight the performances of Marshall and Jeffery as well. Much was made about Marshall's quiet few weeks leading up to week six, but he quickly put those doubts to rest with a stellar game against the Giants, reeling in nine catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Marshall and Jeffery have graded very well as run-blockers as well.

Defensively, the Bears only have four guys on their active roster that PFF has graded positively this year. Not good.

There are some very ugly grades, particularly from Major Wright and Shea McClellin. Wright has two interceptions on the season but has frequently found himself out of place and has missed a lot of tackles. McClellin, well, he hasn't done anything well this year. He's been especially terrible against the run, where his -8.9 PFF grade is the worst for 4-3 defensive ends, and he hasn't done much in the pass rush department either. It's definitely time to be concerned about his ability to handle being a 4-3 defensive end, although many were as worried about that the day he was drafted.

Our Overall Take

Between the injuries to the front-seven, and healthy players on the front-seven like Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin not performing nearly as well as the Bears hoped coming into the season, there's plenty of reason to be concerned about the Bears' ability to generate a consistent pass rush and stop the run.

The good news on defense is that the takeaways are still there, with the team ranking second in the NFL in takeaways with 17, before week seven started on Thursday night. But you don't want to have to basically rely on turnovers defensively, especially when you're facing quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers that won't give you many chances to take the ball away. So the Bears need to show improvement in their pass rush and against the run, but it will be tough to make a ton of progress in each department, given the loss of Melton, Collins, and Williams.

However, the offense overall looks very good, and can get much better as the year goes on. And in the modern-day NFL, it's about quarterback play and putting points on the board. If Cutler and the offense keep improving, the Bears certainly can get by with deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball.

Sunday's Bears game against the Redskins is a big one. You'd feel much, much better about things going into the bye with a 5-2 record instead of a 4-3 one. It's especially the case with the Packers and Lions games to follow.

I mean, really, even with the defensive concerns and the season-ending injuries, you would have to be pretty satisfied with being 5-2 headed into the bye week, right? Hopefully the Bears can get it done.

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Bears linebacker Jerry Franklin (pictured right)

With linebacker D.J. Williams being lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, the Bears will promote linebacker Jerry Franklin from the practice squad to the 53-man roster before Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Franklin, 25, is expected to only play on special teams, barring more injuries at linebacker of course. He'll essentially take Jon Bostic's role on special teams, as Bostic is replacing Williams as the starting middle linebacker.

The 6'1", 245-pound linebacker bounced around the league after being an undrafted free agent in 2012. He spent time with the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, and Dallas Cowboys, but never appeared on those teams' 53-man roster. However, he eventually landed with the Bears, and appeared in the final three regular season games for the Bears in 2012, recording two tackles on special teams. He also had 10 tackles and an interception for the Bears this preseason.

Trestman had this to say about Franklin according to the Chicago Tribune:
“We’ve seen him since the OTA’s, he’s a young guy, he’s been working and active, and he’ll get some playing time,” Trestman said.
Look for Franklin to be active on Sunday, and keep an eye on him in special teams coverage (an area the Bears have greatly struggled this season).

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The Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins released their official injury reports on Friday for their Sunday game at FedEx Field.

The Bears list tight end Martellus Bennett (knee) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) as 'questionable' to play Sunday, while linebacker James Anderson (back), Stephen Paea (toe), safety Anthony Walters (hamstring), and safety Major Wright (knee) are 'probable'.

However, all of those players were able to participate in the Bears' practice on Friday (although in limited fashion for Bennett and Tillman), and are expected to play against the 'Skins.

Tillman played through injuries in the Bears' first five games, and clearly wasn't himself. Playing the Giants in week six on a short week, the team finally elected to give Peanut a game off and the hope is he'll finally be at least near full health for the Redskins game. The Bears could greatly use the star cornerback's coverage and takeaway abilities, and he's one of the best cornerbacks vs the run in the NFL, so he should help the Bears in that department as well.

Bennett has been terrific in the pass-catching department at tight end for the Bears this season, reeling in 31 catches for 349 yards and three touchdowns. And this matchup really shapes up well for him on paper, so it would really help the Bears' offense if he's able to go.

It's especially encouraging to see Paea listed as 'probable', as the Bears could desperately use him at defensive tackle with Henry Melton and Nate Collins out for the year with torn ACLs. Paea's absence was very noticeable last Thursday when the washed-up Brandon Jacobs ran all over the Bears.

For the Redskins, cornerback David Amerson (concussion) is listed as 'questionable', and tight end Fred Davis (ankle), linebacker Brandon Jenkins (ankle), center Will Montgomery (knee), cornerback Jerome Murphy (ankle), nose tackle Chris Neild (calf), and tight end Logan Paulsen (knee) are 'probable'. All of those players had full participation in practice on Friday, so they all seem to be good bets to play in the game.

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It looks like there's a very good chance the Chicago Bears will have their full squad (of what's left) available when they take on the Washington Redskins Sunday at FedEx Field.

Tight end Martellus Bennett, defensive end Julius Peppers, and cornerback Charles Tillman sat out Wednesday's Bears practice at Halas Hall, but all are expected to play Sunday according to head coach Marc Trestman.

Bennett is dealing with a knee injury, but he played while banged-up in the last few games and still played quite effectively as a pass-catching tight end (although his usually good blocking has been negatively effected by the injuries). It's worth noting that Bennett at least did some side work in sweats in the portion of practice open to the media.

Tillman finally sat out a game -- last week against the Giants -- after playing playing through numerous injuries that were noticeably bothering him and taking him from one of the NFL's best corners to a guy with a -4.4 grade on the season (88th of 104 cornerbacks) from Pro Football Focus.

Here's Trestman on Tillman's injury status:
“He's expected to play,” Trestman said. “We're going to ease him in this week and give him a little more [Thursday] and Friday, but he's feeling good and we expect him to play.”
Source: ESPN Chicago

Peppers' absence from the practice field is one generating the most curiosity. It's been no secret that Peppers has been a big disappointment overall this season (although he looked like himself against the Steelers and Lions), and the only explanation given for his Wednesday practice absence was "Coach's Decision".

Is Peppers dealing with an injury (this would certainly explain a lot) ? Did he just need a mental day off? Just a veteran's day off to get some rest? Whatever it is, we don't know, but it's something to keep in mind going forward.

Linebacker James Anderson (back), Stephen Paea (toe), safety Major Wright (knee), and Anthony Walters (hamstring) were all limited in the practice session. Trestman said that Anderson and Paea "looked good" in practice, and he's optimistic that all four of those players will available to play.

Paea's return would particularly be huge, with the Bears already losing defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins for the season to torn ACLs. The Bears really looked bad against the run vs the Giants, and have struggled to generate pass rush all season. Paea would add a boost to both departments, especially the run-stopping one.

The Redskins listed cornerback David Amerson (concussion) and nose tackle Chris Neild (calf) as limited in their Wednesday practice.

John Keim of ESPN wrote more about Amerson's situation:
Washington Redskins cornerback David Amerson was limited in practice, three days after suffering a concussion in the 31-16 loss at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. But Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he's hopeful that Amerson will be fine Thursday. Amerson said earlier on Wednesday that he has not felt any lingering affects from the concussion, which occurred thanks to a blindside hit on a second-half kick return. The Redskins can't afford to lose Amerson in a week where they're facing two big receivers in 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery. At 6-foot-1, Amerson is the Redskins' tallest corner.
We'll have more on the injuries for this game as the week goes on, so check back.

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The Chicago Bears are on a short week as they prepare to play the winless New York Giants on Thursday night at Soldier Field, in hopes of avoiding their third straight loss after starting the season 3-0.

Let's go to the links to get caught up on the happenings (and there's a lot going on) in the world of the Bears, and as always, I'll add in some of my own thoughts to the topics.

Nate Collins out for season with torn ACL- After losing Henry Melton to a torn ACL in the team's week three win at Pittsburgh, the Bears lost his replacement in the starting lineup, Nate Collins, to a torn ACL as well in the team's loss on Sunday against the Saints.

And now, here we are with a "Yikes" defensive tackle situation.

Stephen Paea is still around, but a toe injury kept him out of Sunday's game, and at the moment, he's considered a game-time decision for Thursday night.

After that, the only traditional defensive tackles on the roster are Landon Cohen, whom the Bears signed off the street when Melton went down, Zach Minter, an undrafted rookie that has yet to play an NFL snap (even after while being 'active' against the Saints), and Christian Tupou, a guy that was signed to the practice squad this week and ultimately promoted to the 53-man roster once Collins was placed on IR.

Tupou, 24, is an undrafted rookie out of USC, and spent training camp with the Bears. He's 6'2", 290 pounds.

Here's Pro Football Weekly's draft scouting report on Tupou

Positives: Engages quickly off the snap. Good upper-body and point-of-attack strength. Active hands and feet. Plays hard and gives effort in pursuit. Three-year starter. Solid personal and football character. Well-respected — motivated, hardworking and coachable. 

Negatives: Pedestrian length. Marginal foot speed. Not an explosive athlete. Can be displaced by double-teams. Tested poorly at the Combine — managed just a 24-inch vertical leap, 7-foot, 8-inch broad jump and clocked a DT-worst time of 8.07 seconds in the 3-cone drill. Average eyes and recognition. Tight hips (cannot work edges). Limited pass-rush value. Played in rotation. 

Summary: Relatively small-framed, stout, intense, unflashy nose tackle who rebounded from a torn ACL in 2010 to regain his standing as a senior. Plays better than he tests and could develop into an effective two-down plugger in a 4-3 alignment.

So what you gather from that, is Tupou should handle himself just fine against the run in the NFL, but won't offer much as a pass-rusher.

We'll also likely see a lot more of Corey Wootton kicking inside from defensive end, particularly on passing downs. But again... he's much more of a defensive end than defensive tackle, at least until he gets used to the position. (ChicagoBears.Com)

Bears GM Phil Emery hosts live fan chat- Phil Emery did a Q&A on Tuesday with Bears fans on the team's official website. While much of it was your typical robotic general manager speak, Emery actually provided some pretty interesting thoughts. Much more than I was expecting, anyway.

I highly advise giving the whole thing a read/skim, but I'll go through some excerpts from the chat that particularly caught my eye...

Emery on the idea of the Bears switching to a 3-4 defense after this seasonThat type of transition would require almost a total commitment to our draft and to any UFA signs towards defensive. I see that as possibly unbalancing the team and not giving us the best chance to consistently be in championships. We have a group of players who were acquired to fit within our current scheme that we run, and that is what gives us the best chance to win championships going forward.

Well, that pretty much shot down the 3-4 possibility, didn't it? The idea of the Bears switching to a 3-4 within the next year or two has been fair to wonder, and has been a big discussion topic ever since Emery and the Bears used a first-round draft pick on Shea McClellin in 2012.

McClellin was considered a better fit by most pundits as a 3-4 outside linebacker than how the Bears are using him as a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end. And so far, it's looking like those pundits were probably right. This season, McClellin has a -7.2 grade from Pro Football Focus, ranking him 44th of their 49 graded defensive ends. He's especially been bad against the run, with a -6.3 grade, ranking him last among graded defensive ends. Really, all of the concerns people had about McClellin being able to be a three-down defensive end are proving to be, well... concerns.

Then you add in the upcoming free agency for Henry Melton, the Bears currently having five quality linebackers on the roster (and it could be six if you count McClellin as an outside linebacker), Mel Tucker having a past coordinating 3-4 defenses in addition to 4-3 ones, etc, etc, and the 3-4 speculation has been natural. But those comments Emery made certainly make it appear he feels it would take an unrealistic overhaul to switch to a 3-4 in the next year or two.

Emery on the defensive tackle position: Our fans can anticipate that they'll see a lot of Corey Wooton at defensive tackle like they did last week... We also are pleased with Landon Cohen and his positivity since he's been here, and we hope that Steven Paea wil be ready to play and we are confident that Zack Minter will supply quality reps.

Now, the main thing I took away from this part: Was Phil typing this or an employee for the Bears' website, because he had the spelling wrong for three of those players' names (should be Corey Wootton, Stephen Paea, and Zach Minter).

But moving along from playing the role of spelling nazi, what you notice in that excerpt is Emery immediately talks about Corey Wootton at defensive tackle, so clearly that's a big part of the Bears' plans at the position on passing downs, with Shea McClellin and Julius Peppers being the defensive ends.

Emery on Jay Cutler (his performance and future as a Bear): Jay has had several excellent performances through the first 5 ball games. I myself, along with our fans and everyone in the Bears organization is excited about everything he has brought to the table. He continues to improve in all areas as a player and we look forward to his continued contributions.

He handled this answer beautifully. Talked well of Cutler, but made sure to not tip his hand on the organization's plan at the moment in regards to Cutler's Bears future.

Emery on Marc Trestman: Very confident about what Marc has done - he has definitely gotten team buy-in on all phases, offensive, defense and special teams. He, like our players, takes accountability. He is truly a head coach in every sense of the word - he has developed a trust in our players and our staff and I know that each phase has continued to improve in some ways each and every week. Mark has become not only a leader in terms of our position in terms of our players, but he has rather quickly become a leader in all areas of our organization. He knows how to build genuine relationships that are positive for everybody.

Okay, back to being a spelling nazi again- "Marc" (the correct spelling) in the first sentence and "Mark" later on? Yeah, this has to be some Bears social media intern.

But Emery speaks very well of Trestman and he's obviously going to after just hiring the guy.

Emery on scouting college players: This year I'll see approximately 45 schools play on the field either in practice or in games. This is up from about a dozen schools from last year. Obviously with the expansion of technology and Ipads and what wer're able to see with those devices greatly helps what I'm able to see on the road. When I'm on the road, I'm able to see what is going on with those devices. Coach Trestman, myself and Kevin Turks are able to make those adjustments dialy throughout the week. Scouting is the lifeblood of what we do and something I extremely enjoy, and I don't ever see myself being away from the road and being able to do that .

So, that's good to know. Emery should have a much better idea of some college prospects before the college All-Star games, the NFL Combine, etc.

Emery on drafting the best player available vs drafting based on need: It's always a combination of both. You want to get a player who you feel has dynamic athletic ability and will improve the chances to win championships. You can't totally ignore needs to simply go after the best player, because if you do, you won't be able to build the best roster possible to put you in position to win championships

Emery on signing Christian Tupou to the Practice Squad: Every situation is unique whether they played for the Bears or another team. Obviously their situation helps - that is why we brought Christian Tupou. He has been coached in our system and he knew our verbiage.

Like I said earlier, Tupou was with the Bears in training camp, so the scheme and principles of the defense will be no issue for him.

Emery on Bears guard Matt Slauson: When we brought Matt here to be a Bear, both parties expressed their interest in Matt being a Bear for the longer term. Matt understaoood the salary cap and the neccessities of a one-year contract at that time. He clearly has played well, and at the appropriate time, we will approach Matt about the opporutnity to remain a Bear.

Slauson has been a very nice value signing for the Bears, and has a solid +3.3 grade from PFF this season, ranking him 22nd among NFL guards.

Emery on free-agent quarterback Matt Blanchard: Matt is a player that we like - he is well aware of that. If we have the opportunity to bring him back in a Bears uniform, we would be excited about it. The key is our ability to bring him back before Matt may have other opportunities in the League. Due to the conditions of his injury settlement, he would not be available to come back to the Bears until our 10th week, so Matt may have other opportunities before that timeline. (ChicagoBears.Com)

Know your opponent: New York Giants- Dan Durkin with a detailed breakdown of the New York Giants (670 The Score).

Pleased to meet you, New York Giants- Windy City Gridiron's Steven Schweickert also with a great look at the Giants. (Windy City Gridiron)

Bears-Giants Matchups- Rotoworld's Evan Silva writes one of my favorite articles every week where he, in detail, breaks down each NFL matchup of the week for fantasy football purposes, but they're just great general NFL breakdowns in general. This guy is really good. Give him a follow on Twitter if you aren't already following him: @EvanSilva. (Rotoworld)

Keys to a Bears victory over Giants- Bear Goggles On's Mike Burzawa breaks down what the Bears need to do to get back into the win column on Thursday night. (Bear Goggles On)

Bears thankful for short week after long day vs Saints- Mark Potash reports on the Bears being happy to have a Thursday game to focus on and forget about the ugly loss vs the Saints. Quotes from Trestman included (Chicago Sun-Times)

Bears Sackwatch: Week 5 vs Saints- Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. breaks down the tape to examine the three sacks the Saints had on the Bears on Sunday, giving the Bears nine sacks taken on the year (which is down from 14 after five games in 2012). This is a great read with GIF evidence of the sacks, so check it out. (Windy City Gridiron)

Statistically speaking about the Bears, powered by PFF- Each week, the Chicago Sun-Times is showing off an interactive graphic section supplied by PFF and their stats. It's very cool. Nice time for a reminder that we frequently show off PFF stats and analyze them on here (as well as on our Twitter feed). (Chicago Sun-Times)

Four Downs: Concerned about Marshall?- Jeff Dickerson and Jon Greenberg give fact/fiction responses to four Bears topics.

And let it be known that, no, I am not concerned with Brandon Marshall's frustration. He wants to be productive. He wants the ball. He wants to be the No. 1 wide receiver he is. Good for him. This is a story completely blown out of the proportion by the media and especially Chicago columnists/talking heads.

If it starts effecting his play, then yes, I am concerned, but I don't expect that to be the case. And Alshon Jeffery's emergence will take some defensive attention off Marshall. (ESPN Chicago)

Emergence of Alshon Jeffery should open up passing game for Marshall- As I was just saying :). (Chicago Bears Huddle)

Bears' Stock Watch- Jeff Dickerson provides his "rising" and "falling" guys for the Bears after week five. (ESPN Chicago)

Bears Week 5 Rookie Report- Bear Goggles On's Mike Flannery takes a look at the progress of the Bears' rookies. (Bear Goggles On)

Da Bears Blog on the Radio (Audio)- Da Bears Blog's Jeff Hughes talks Bears with 1490 The Jock (Des Moines). (Da Bears Blog)

Bears could play Falcons in London next season- The NFL will have three games in London next season, and they announced on Tuesday that the Atlanta Falcons, one of the eight opponents the Bears will face on the road in 2013. So, it's possible that the Bears are the team the Falcons play in London. (Chicago Tribune)

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