1. Can Brown wrestle his starting job back from Anderson at defensive end?
Second-year pro Mark Anderson was a steal in the fifth round two Aprils ago and is going to be a special pass-rusher one of these days, but he still has a long way to go if he wants to become a complete football player. Despite 16.5 sacks in his first 24 games, he's only compiled 15 tackles this season and keeps getting pushed around by bigger offensive tackles in the ground game. He has a tendency to race up the field off the snap in an effort to force the issue off the edge, but enemy offensive coordinators are starting to recognize that and have exploited Anderson with running plays off his inside shoulder.
Alex Brown may not be a double-digit sack guy, but he's capable of getting after the quarterback, holds the point of attack very well, and has never had fewer than 46 tackles in any season since 2003.
2. Will Brown's absence make the offensive line even less effective?
Ruben Brown has been to nine Pro Bowls and looks to be a lock for a bust in Canton one day, but he hasn't done much to help the Bears' 31st-ranked rushing attack this season. He gets a little bit of a pass since he's been battling a sore shoulder all year and essentially played one-handed at times, and the organization has apparently seen enough. Brown was moved to injured reserve Thursday, which means that his 2007 is over and backup Terrence Metcalf will be forced into the starting lineup.
Metcalf is a big body and can certainly create some space in the trenches, but he isn't able to pull and block in space the way Brown can and isn't nearly as experienced.
3. Could Vasher also be on his way to injured reserve before too long?
CB Nathan Vasher
M. Spencer Green/AP Images
The longer the Bears are on the outside of the NFC playoff picture looking in and the longer Vasher continues to sit, the more likely it becomes that he'll be shifted to injured reserve – albeit begrudgingly – so the organization can protect its $28 million investment.
4. When will Berrian finally emerge as the go-to target he was expected to be?
Fourth-year receiver Bernard Berrian in on pace for 76 catches and 1,036 yards this season, but the fact that he's only found the end zone once is evidence that he's not making the kind of big plays he did last year. Not to mention the fact that he's dropped as many passes in 2007 as he probably did his first three full campaigns in the league. Berrian signed with super agent Drew Rosenhaus recently and wants to get paid like a No. 1 guy in free agency after the season, but he hasn't been a difference-maker to this point and his yards per catch (13.6) is down a full yard and a half off his career average (15.1).
Both Oakland cornerbacks, Nnamdi Asomugha and Fabian Washington, are dealing with leg injuries and will not be at 100 percent Sunday, so now would be a good time for Berrian to prove that he's the primary receiver he thinks he is.
5. Is this the beginning of the end for arguably the best Bears linebacker ever?
Brian Urlacher was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and has made it to five Pro Bowls in six NFL seasons, but he's been dealing with some considerable pain this season caused my chronic arthritis in his back. Urlacher may lead the team in total tackles (58), but the big plays have not been there for most of this year and he's missed a fair amount of stops the last few ballgames. While he's a very proud guy and never makes excuses for anything, Bears fans may need to lower their expectations with regard to the face of the franchise for the rest of the season – and possibly for the foreseeable future.
Urlacher isn't really answering questions from the media – aside from his blog on FOXSports.com, as he constantly reminds us – these days, but it's gotten to the point where questioning his play on the field is more than fair no matter how blasphemous it may be around Chicagoland.
John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
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