The Bears (4-5) return home riding a 3-game winning streak to host the Indianapolis Colts, who are led by Peyton Manning. Manning is on pace to surpass Dan Marino's single season record for touchdown passes of 48. The Bears will need to prepare for the Colts without Brian Urlacher. Let's take a closer look at this and the other injuries and their impact on the matchups.
Rookie Craig Krenzel is set to make his fourth start, and has yet to face defeat. He'll encounter a Colts' defense that has been very opportunistic in terms of sacks and interceptions, although it is 31st in both gross yardage allowed and passing yardage allowed. The Bears are hopeful halfback Thomas Jones will make his return after missing the last three games with a toe injury. Anthony Thomas has filled in capably during that time (280 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns in the last 3 games), and will look to share the burden with Jones as he is eased back into the lineup. The interior of the Bears' offensive line suffered through a difficult game against Tennessee. They've been playing through a lot of pain, as Ruben Brown and Olin Kreutz had surgery during the bye week, while Rex Tucker is returning from a dislocated elbow suffered in training camp. Tucker was so ineffective last week against Tennessee that he was lifted for Steve Edwards. Fortunately for the Bears, Indianapolis' best pass rushers come from the outside, in Dwight Freeney (6 sacks) and the surprising Robert Mathis (8 sacks).
Strong safety Mike Doss has had a difficult timing getting on the field, thanks to a nagging groin injury. In his stead, rookie Bob Sanders has been making an impact in spite of a lengthy contract holdout. Cornerback Nick Harper (3rd leading tackler, 3 interceptions) is nursing a shoulder injury. Von Hutchins would take his place if necessary. Hutchins had an interception last week. All of this makes the Colts' pass defense even more vulnerable. The Bears' passing offense has disappeared since Rex Grossman was injured early in the season. This could be an opportunity for Craig Krenzel and the Bears' receiving corps to surge back to life.
Look for the Colts to follow the lead of the previous teams that have shut down the Bear offense by loading 8 men at the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and by sending a blitz from multiple areas and all at once. Craig Krenzel will have to be smarter about more quickly getting rid of the ball, especially to the suddenly nonexistent running backs and tight ends, which were a staple of the passing offense during the early part of the season. They need to become his safety valve or security blanket against the blitz. Expect the Bears to keep running into that loaded front, hoping for Jones to find a crack and break a long run. He will also seek to keep the defense off balance through the use of screens and draws, and to minimize the impact of the blitz by running some quick drops and short patterns. This will help him get the ball out of his hand quickly, and keep the defense on their heels. While the rollout might be an option if the defense isn't blitzing, and the line is getting beaten, it can be deadly if there are 8 men at the line, and blitzes coming off the edge.
Hunter Hillenmeyer will play middle linebacker for Urlacher. He played well there when Urlacher missed time at the beginning of the season because of a hamstring injury. Joe Odom returns on the strong side. He should have a better feel for his role in this defensive scheme than he did early in the season. However, he might not see a lot of action against the Colts, who will likely dictate a lot of sub packages, which call for extra defensive backs and for the strong side linebacker to take a seat on the bench. Lance Briggs was a surprise addition to the injury report. He has made progress and is expected to play. The Bears will especially miss cornerback Charles Tillman this week, since the Colts boast 3 very dangerous weapons at wide receiver. Marvin Harrison (588 yards, 7 touchdowns), Reggie Wayne (636 yards, 7 touchdowns), and Brandon Stokley (665 yards, 5 touchdowns) have been a lethal trio. Safety help is likely to be occupied by either of the excellent tight ends in Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark. All of this means the onus will be on the defensive line to provide pressure on Manning without sacrificing as many players from the back 7 for the blitz.
Guard Tupe Peko (ankle) will not play. Guard Rick DeMulling (chest) is also banged up. Jake Scott will likely start at right guard and the healthier of DeMulling or Makoa Freitas will start at the other. Ryan Lilja could see action if things get really bad. This is good news for rookie Tommie Harris and second-year player Ian Scott. They'll have an opportunity to disrupt the running plays, force pressure back into Manning's face, and alter his passing lanes. All of this can combine to slow his release time and allow ends Adewale Ogunleye and the surging Alex Brown enough time to get to the quarterback.
For the Bears to be successful, Manning will need to feel pressure from the front four alone. This will not be an easy task, since Manning has only been sacked 6 times this season. To aide in the slowing of his progressions, the Bears will have to do their best to camouflage some of their coverages, or give him some false reads. Manning has only been intercepted 6 times, and the Colts have only lost 5 fumbles. If the Bears can continue to force turnovers at the high rate they have over the previous month, they'll have a chance to be competitive in this game.