It’s been one of those seasons for the 1-6 Chicago Bears. Injuries have a taken a huge toll and what looked like an easy schedule has turned into the hardest schedule in the league through the first seven games.
Injuries continued last Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, as both starting quarterback Brian Hoyer and right guard Kyle Long were lost in the game.
With Hoyer placed on injured reserve due to a broken arm, Jay Cutler was magically cleared to play and should be ready to go Monday night against the 5-1 Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings took their first loss of the season coming out of the bye week and will be looking to get back on track against the Bears, who have lost three in a row.
Here are five things to watch for in Chicago's final prime-time game of the season.
He’s back, Bears fans. After missing the last five and a half games with a sprained thumb, Jay Cutler will be back under center as the team’s starter for what most assume will be for the rest of the season, barring injury.
While Hoyer put up big yards and helped the offense post top-tier numbers, the points never materialized, as the club currently ranks dead last in the NFL in points per game (15.9). With Cutler behind a much-improved offensive line and rushing attack, the offense will look to turn that yardage into points.
This will likely be Cutler’s last season in a Bears uniform. Is there anything he can do to change their minds or possibly build up any trade value down the stretch? Monday night will be the first of nine games in which he can provide some clarity to the situation.
Through seven games, Alshon Jeffery has yet to catch a touchdown pass. With Cutler back under center, that could change very quickly.
While Hoyer was able to involve Jeffery more in the offense over the last six quarters he played, a lot of it was forced. Jeffery's situation is worth monitoring in the second half of the season, especially with the return of a gunslinger quarterback that has the ability to throw the ball downfield, where Jeffery is at his best.
It will be tough sledding against Minnesota's 4th-ranked pass defense but don’t be surprised if Jeffery has one of his best games of the season on Monday night.
For the second straight week, the Bears abandoned rookie ball carrier Jordan Howard after a slow start. He ran the ball just 7 times against the Packers, his lowest carry total since since Week 2.
Head coach John Fox has always had the reputation for using a committee backfield and going to the hot-hand, so it's not all that surprising. But in a lost season where offensive development is needed, why continue to go away from Howard following two straight 100-yard efforts?
To make matters even more cluttered, Jeremy Langford may return Monday night from his ankle injury, which could push Ka’Deem Carey or Howard to the back of the line as the third running back.
A three-headed approach appears to be on the horizon, which doesn't bode well for Howard's overall development as a rookie.
First-round pick Leonard Floyd had his coming out party Thursday night against the Packers, racking up 2.0 sacks, a forced fumbled, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.
On top of that, the team finally got Pernell McPhee back from the PUP list, although his snaps, and thus his impact, were limited.
With things finally coming together with Chicago's top three pass rushers -- Willie Young ranks 6th in the NFL with 6.0 sacks -- the entire defense should improve, especially a banged-up secondary that has been taxed the past few weeks. Health is still a big key up front but a strong, consistent pass rush should help a secondary that struggled mightily in Green Bay.
For the second straight year under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, talent and overall depth in the secondary continues to be a large issue.
Cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Bryce Callahan are banged up, with Callahan playing sparingly the past two weeks. The harsh reality is that no one has stepped up behind them.
DeVante Bausby was torched against the Packers, while Jacoby Glenn was demoted to the practice squad this week. CreVon LeBlanc has shown some upside in the slot but he's clearly a work in progress. The one bright spot could be fourth rounder Deiondre Hall, who has missed two straight games with a sprained ankle. Hall is a player the Bears absolutely need to develop into a starting-caliber cornerback but, like many other young players on the roster, health and availability have been an issue.
Outside of safety Adrian Amos, who has been very ordinary, the safety position is still a question mark, as neither Harold Jones-Quartey nor Chris Prosinski has shown much this year. With a ton of youth, someone needs to step up and show they are worthy of a roster spot moving into next year. Deon Bush, who has been active the past two weeks, could see some reps on defense in the near future.
A Few Thoughts
- The offensive line will be a big key to Cutler’s success. The front five has been outstanding in pass protection the past five games but the Bears could be without their two Pro Bowl guards, Josh Sitton (ankle) and Kyle Long (tricep), for Monday night’s game, which could affect both the run game and Cutler's ability to stay upright.
- Brian Hoyer is Chicago's 11th player to hit IR this season.
- How will WR Cameron Meredith’s targets be affected by the return of Cutler? Meredith was an obvious favorite of Hoyer but that chemistry may not translate over to Cutler right away, especially with Jeffery seeing more targets.