For the Chicago Bears, Injuries have played a big part in the team's 3-10 record. To their credit, the Bears have done an impressive job keeping games close despite 16 players on injured reserve, the second most in the NFL.
This week, the Bears face a red-hot Green Bay Packers team in what is expected to be a very cold game.
While the Bears are officially eliminated from playoff contention, they will be facing three teams with playoff hopes down the home stretch of the regular season.
As usual, wins and losses aren’t a big motivator when watching these last few games but there's still a lot to watch for in Week 15.
QB Matt Barkley
Barkley will continue to be a top headline for the Bears until the season closes.
His efficiency has rivaled that of both Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, yet the Bears are just 1-2 with Barkley under center. Yes, his receivers have let him down but the proof is on the scoreboard, as Barkley led Chicago's offense to just one touchdown drive against the Lions last week.
These next three games will be important for Barkley, an impending free agent. He’s all but shown he deserves a cheap look for the 2017 season to at least compete for a backup job and will now have top receiver Alshon Jeffery back for the remaining three games, which should help accurately evaluate his 2017 potential.
OC Dowell Loggains
With strife reported between head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, there has been speculation this rumored issue centers around Loggains and his play-calling tendencies.
Week 14 was yet another game in which the offense went with a pass-heavy attack, while refusing to lean on the run, particularly in the second half.
In Detroit, Loggains had a standout rookie running back in Jordan Howard and a third-string quarterback with his top four receiving targets out. In that scenario, logic tells you to run the ball early and often, thus controlling the clock and riding your best offensive weapon.
Against the Lions, Howard averaged 6.6 yards per carry, yet received just 13 carries in the game, and just four in the second half -- despite the Bears being within a touchdown, or ahead, for all but 2-plus minutes in the game.
This continues to be a major issue, not only as to the success of the Bears this year but it could fracture the coaching staff, compelling Fangio, by far the best coach in Chicago, to walk at season's end.
Tracy Porter and Bryce Callahan are playing good football when on the field but both have struggled to stay healthy. Cre’Von LeBlanc has shown flashes in the nickel and was outstanding last week against the Lions, yet there are still question marks throughout the secondary.
Safety remains the biggest area of concern. Against the Lions, Adrian Amos was benched for the first half, while Harold Jones-Quartey continued to show he’s not an NFL-caliber starter. Deon Bush has been just a guy, although he might have the highest ceiling of the group. Outside of that, there is very little starting upside in the current safety unit.
Intrigue is the right label for the remainder of the cornerbacks. Deiondre Hall is finally healthy, while Jonathan Banks is expected to make his first appearance in a Bears uniform this Sunday. All of this while waiting for the return of Kyle Fuller, whose 21-day practice window closes next week.
Overall, this is a secondary with a lot of questions and only three games to find answers. For Bears fans, hopefully that starts this week against a high-flying Packers offense.
Akiem Hicks has been a rock for Chicago's defensive line but there are concerns about the remaining interior defenders. Eddie Goldman is unlikely to play this week due to an ankle injury, which will leave Mitch Unrein, Jonathan Bullard, C.J. Wilson and Cornelius Washington to rotate alongside Hicks.
For Washington and Bullard, now would be a great time to take advantage of those reps. Bullard, the club's third-round pick, was benched two weeks ago and needs a strong finish to his rookie campaign. Washington has struggled to maintain positioning at the point of attack and will need to shine for the next three weeks if he plans on being back next season.
Hicks appears Pro-Bowl bound but will any of his fellow defensive linemen step up against the Packers?
Jeffery is returning from a four-game suspension but the offense will still likely be without Eddie Royal, who hasn't practiced this week, and Marquess Wilson, who re-injured his foot in practice yesterday. With Kevin White's season over as well, many of the club's inexperienced receivers have a great opportunity to stand out.
- Jeffery is an impending free agent.
- White has played four games in two seasons.
- Royal can’t stay healthy and will be 31 soon.
Despite the increased snaps, no receiver has stepped up to stake his claim as a reliable receiving target in 2017.
Cameron Meredith has been the closest thing but he's been inconsistent, although not nearly as much as Josh Bellamy, but this is something to monitor over the final three games of the season.
If no one steps up, this could ultimately force the Bears to either re-sign Jeffery at a costly price or spend a high pick on yet another receiver.
A Few Thoughts
- With a Jets win last Sunday, the Bears move into sole possession of the 4th overall pick. With just three games left, this spot is looking more and more likely baring another win from the Jaguars.
- How impressive has this rookie class been? OLB Leonard Floyd notched 9 pressures last Sunday, ILB Nick Kwiatkowski continues to drastically improve, RB Jordan Howard is second in rushing yards among rookies and should break 1,000 yards despite not starting the first three games, and Cody Whitehair has consistently played at a Pro-Bowl level most of the year.
- The Bears defense currently ranks 7th in total yards and 15th in points allowed, but just 28th in turnovers. The defense has improved this year but playmakers are still needed on this unit.