Injury Impact

The Bears (2-7) visit the Rams (4-5) Monday night in a game that many thought should have been last year's NFC Championship. Neither team is as formidable as they were a year ago, and some of it can be attributed to injuries.

The Bears have faded fast after opening up 0-2. Winners of 4 in a row, the Rams are headed in the opposite direction.

Jim Miller (elbow tendonitis) and Chris Chandler (neck strain) are both banged up. It is very likely one of them will start, while the other will serve as the back up. Both should be able to play Sunday. Third string quarterback Henry Burris (healthy) is an option Jauron has stated he'd rather not see in game action. The Bears added former University of Minnesota star Cory Sauter to their roster on Monday.

Fullback Daimon Shelton might be healthy enough to return, but Stanley Pritchett's play over the last two weeks may merit his staying on the field as the starter.

Chris Villarrial was able to hold off his back spasms for most of last week's game, and he should be in better shape for this Monday. He'll face a big challenge from outstanding defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. Olin Kreutz (stomach) is questionable, and if he cannot play will likely be replaced by veteran Kevin Dogins, who filled in well for Chris Villarrial two weeks ago. Kreutz had his appendix removed Monday night. Left guard Mike Gandy continues to be surprisingly steady for injured starter Rex Tucker. He'll be working against veteran tackle Jeff Zgonina.

In David Terrell's absence (foot), Marcus Robinson and Ahmad Merritt have had to step up into the third wideout role. Merritt has had some drops, while Robinson showed some signs of regaining his old form with a long touchdown reception against the Patriots. Since Aeneas Williams is out, depth at cornerback becomes important, especially in multiple receiver sets. Starting cornerbacks Dre' Bly and Travis Fisher will need to step up for the Rams.

Tight end John Davis should be near full strength after a rib injury. He'll need to be ready, since Fred Baxter was released Tuesday. Dustin Lyman and John Gilmore are the backups. It's quite possible that Stanley Pritchett will serve as the second tight end or "move" tight end while Shelton is also in the game at fullback.

The Bears' running game has started showing signs of life over the last two weeks. Look for them to make this a quick game with a lot of running plays. Additionally, neither Chandler nor Miller will be at full strength, and the Bears will try not to leave them overly exposed to the pass rush. It wouldn't be surprising for the Bears to open up with a few passes, and then grind it out. Saying this, don't expect the Rams to be surprised either. Look for them to force the Bears to pass to win, keeping a safety close to the line. It will most likely be tackling machine Adam Archuleta who serves as the extra man. The Rams have used a 4-1-6 alignment in some instances this year. Against a Bear team that is battered at quarterback and other than Mary Booker has questionable talent at wide receiver, it might not make sense to go with that look very often.

Although Kurt Warner appears to be close to ready after injuring his thumb, the Rams will opt to go with Marc Bulger. Bulger has done the unthinkable, in leading a struggling 0-5 team back to playoff hopeful. He did this despite being the 3rd string quarterback after perennial MVP candidate Warner (finger) and #2 Jamie Martin (knee) went down with injuries. The Rams only wins are in his starts, and have averaged 30 points per game over that time. Prior to his taking over, the much-vaunted Ram offense could only muster 14.8 per game. How ironic is it that Bulger's success is the very same kind of Cinderella story that Kurt Warner enjoyed just a few years ago?

Superstar running back Marshall Faulk is not likely to play, meaning unheralded rookie Lamar Gordon of North Dakota State will probably carry the load. During the preseason, safety Larry Whigham delivered a crushing hit on a long play to Gordon, who fumbled the ball. Whigham is questionable, and may not get to reacquaint himself with Gordon. Trung Candidate has fallen out of favor to some extent, but his speed is a mismatch for most defenders. He'll likely serve some role as well, especially with reserves Bobbie Howard and Mike Caldwell sharing time on the weak side for the injured Warrick Holdman.

The Bear defense will face an offense similar to New England's in that they have great depth at receiver, and will use a lot of short passes. The difference is that the Rams will take a few more chances down the field. To that end, the Bear defensive line will need to be extremely disciplined. Against the three-step drop, they will need to get their hands in the air to disrupt the passing lanes. They'll need to get a good rush against the play action and long passes, especially working on right tackle John St. Clair. Defensive end Phillip Daniels, who has taken numerous practices off since returning from his foot injury, will work on him. If Daniels is near full strength for this matchup, he could have a big day. Rookie Alex Brown and rush specialist Rosey Colvin will work on Orlando Pace. Pace has been banged up with a calf injury and a concussion in recent weeks.

The rotation at defensive tackle alongside Keith Traylor has changed since Ted Washington went down early in the year. Alfonso Boone has lost out on the majority of the reps to Christian Peter and Bryan Robinson. Azumah and McQuarters will have more opportunities for interceptions than they have enjoyed in recent weeks. It will be up to them to make game-changing plays. Neither has contributed at that level during the current campaign.

This report based on,,,,,, and The Score, subject to change and modification.

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